Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

China's college entry test an ordeal for many

Once every year, students who hope to attend college in China take the gao kao – the high test. This test is the sole determinant of whether or not a student will be admitted into college. About 3 out of 5 students generally achieve the necessary score. The pressure weighs on students and their families. Students spend up to 16 hours a day for three weeks without a break at boarding schools to prepare for the test. Parents aid their children in cheating using high-tech equipment. Lavish prizes are used as incentives for students to do well. When a student doesn’t do well enough on the test to gain entry to a top-tier school, his family doesn’t speak to him for a week. Critics assert that the test reflects flaws in the education system in China. Rather than educating students to be free thinking, creative and resourceful, students are pressured to memorize. Education is less about the quality than the quantity. It's difficult to determine which country does a great job educating their students. In my article "Is the United States preparing students for higher education and future jobs as world leaders?" (, I make note of the differences in teaching methods between the United States and Asian countries (who seem to do a better job educating their students), but the pressure that students endure in those high academically achieving countries seems to outweigh the benefits of their education system.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

U.S. and Chinese Admissions: How Similar?

The Chinese entrance exam, known as gaokao, is administered each June. The exam contains includes Chinese, math, and English along with history, geography, biology and chemistry and lasts nine hours over two days. It is the only criterion used for entrance to Chinese universities, generating much anxiety. In contrast, the SAT and ACT are shorter exams that, while important, are looked at along with many other requirements such as the transcript, recommendations and essays. While in a sense the SAT and ACT are similar with their emphasis on English and Math, U.S. applicants can select which SAT Subject Tests they want to take, allowing them to shine in their favorite subject areas.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

The Chinese National College Entrance Exam ("gao kao" - big test in Mandarin) is a three day exam that is the sole determining factor for the vast majority of colleges in China. About 10 million students take this exam each year, and it has about a 40% failure rate. Many students study 12-16 hours each day for this exam. If they don't do well on this exam -- they must wait (and study) for an entire year before trying again. Makes the SAT look pretty great, doesn't it? A 4 hour test given multiple times a year. Not too onerous, right? Also -- consider that the gao kao is the ONLY thing that matters in Chinese college admissions. In the U.S., SAT/ACT scores provide only part of the picture, as grades, curriculum, teacher's recs, essays, interviews, extracurriculars, etc.. are all considered by admissions committees. In fact, there are some schools that are even test optional -- so you don't need to send in your test scores if you don't feel that they reflect your abilities as a student. (For a list of test optional schools, please check out

Dr. Skarlis
Owner/President The College Advisor of New York

Chinese domestic college entrance exam and US admissions

There are very few similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Apples and Oranges

In the USA standardized testing is only a portion of the admissions process. Some schools do not even require standardized testing and are called "test optional" schools. Many of these schools do require some admissions testing for international students and that may range from the SAT to the TOFEL. When I work with international students I like to begin by showing students and their families an American college application. I show them the many different sections on a college application that students will need fill in to show a complete picture. I show them that there is a small space to list test scores. Test scores are an important part of an admissions application, but they are a part and not the whole part of a complete application. When Burton College Tours takes international students to visit schools I teach students about the elements of a good fit. "Fit" means is the school the best school for that student. The above question asked me to address the differences between the US and Chinese exams. There are differences in the testing approach, the length of each exam and the level of reasoning that the testing measures are different. I chose to address how each exam plays a role in the admissions process. In the US, at most schools the test scores are a part and not the sum total of the admissions process.

David Allen
Managing Director Global College Counselors Ltd

No idea

I am sorry I have no idea about this one.

Don Tamminga

Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

I have no idea but I am sure you can look it up on line.

Dr. Stabile

Are there similarities between US college admissions and the Chinese domestic college entrance exam?

The Chinese test is somewhat similar to the US SAT in some ways except that it lasts more than twice as long and the nine-hour test is offered just once a year.

Tony Bankston
Dean of Admissions Illinois Wesleyan University

No Answer

No Answer

Hamilton Gregg
Educational Consultant Private Practice

Wouldn't that be nice!

I suppose there are some similarities but also big differences. I suppose the similarity is that both are look at in the admission process. But ends about there. The GaoKao is a much longer test, over a couple of days (2-3). It usually takes students about a year to prepare as they try to memorize every possibly answer to questions (generally speaking). There are more subjects on the test- Chinese, English (and/or another language), Math, Biology Chemistry, Physics, History, Geography, Political Education. How students score on the test determines which university or not, the student can apply for. The university sets the target score and students hope to meet that target or exceed it. As you may know, the US is generally more person oriented, big long application, possible essays, grades, scores activities. In China it is all about the score.