now that i understand the complexities of the high school entrance exam, i can share them with those of you who have been wondering: why is the shenzhen high school entrance exam (中考) considered more difficult and and more important than the college entrance exam (高考), which is itself notorious for the anxiety it generates in parental hearts?
more important because most of the shenzhen graduates who head to good colleges do so from one of 3 or 4 high schools. more difficult because the ratio of students to number of seats in the good high schools is higher than that of good students to college seats.
students are admitted to high school based on test scores. there are a total of 490 points on the exam. each high school has a minimum score, below which it will not accept students. for example, shenzhen high school (深中) does not accept students who get less than 444 points, shenzhen foreign languange school (外国语) requires 440, and the shenzhen experimental school sets the bar at 439 (实验); there are no exeptions, not bonus points for extracuricular activities. inded, one of the most common tragedies of the season is missing a school by one point.
here’s where it gets complex:
students do not simply take the test and get ranked. instead, they apply for admission to schools before they take the exam. moreover, they do so not knowing what the minimum score for a given school is. instead they have to take tests from those schools to get a sense of where they rank against a given population. this is important because students rank the schools they want to be admitted to and are considered for admission to the school in rounds of three schools.
for example, a student wants to go to the experimental school. in the first round of admissions, she puts down (in order of estimated ranking): first choice–sz experimental school; second choice–sz gaoji (423 points); third choice–honglin (roughly 390, but i’ll have to check). this means, she has to receive at least a 390 to have her application forwarded to one of the schools she listed. if she scored 389, for example, her application will not be forwarded to any school during the first round of admissions.
the first round is important for two reasons. first, it’s when students have the best chance of being accepted because seats have not yet been filled. once a school has filled all its seats, it stops accepting applications. not unexpectedly, the top schools usually fill their seats during the first round. this is why many good students will not risk putting down three top schools during the first round. instead, their first round, second choice school is often 30 to 40 points lower than their first round, first choice. this guarranties that they will get into a shenzhen high school.
second, during the first round, the rate of acceptance is 1 to 1.2. this means, 1.2 applications are sent for every seat. usually a top school will accept all students with scores over 450. however, those students who scored in the 440s range must compete for the remaining seats. in the few days before admissions lists are published, parents go through backdoor relationships in order to get their children into a top school. in this way, during the first round, a student scoring 441 may get in to the experimental school, while a 445 does not.
importantly, it is only in this borderline cases that extracurricular activities might make a difference on a student’s application. this is why many parents and students put off extracurricular activities until college.
here lies the difference between education for the person (素质教育) and education for the test (应试教育). for many parents and students, the arts and sports are beside the point. many parents and students have clear priorities: get into a good high school and college and then “indulge” in their interests. those students who do pursue total education do so knowing the risks. what’s more, they tend to be either well-off, carry foreign passports, or prodigiously talented.
the process repeats itself again, during the second round. this time first, second, and third choices are for much lower ranked schools. also, the the acceptance rate is 1 to 1.1, leaving even less space for manouevering at the lower score range. finally, during round three, schools have to accept every student who is sent to them.
the system also explains why success breed academic success. the top schools admit the best test takers (and admittedly some of the brightest kids) in the city, while the rest of the students are distributed according to test scores throughout other schools. a completely different level of education.
makes it very difficult for schools to turn around their reputations. more often than not, rankings become self-fulfilling profecies.
on june 17, 2007, 45,000 shenzhen middle 3 students finished the high school entrance exam.
results were announced on july 5, 2007.
art and sport high schools will announce special admissions on july 12-3, 2007. normal high schools announce first round admissions on july 14-15. second round admissions take place on july 17-18. the third round (part one for some of the provincial and professional schools) takes place on july 21-28. third round (part two for normal and vocational schools) finishes up on au 1, 2007.