Face Off: should universities have their own entrance exams?

Face Off: should universities have their own entrance exams?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...


The Gaokao should be a familiar looking sight to HK students, but are standardized public exams the best way to select for university students?
Photo: Xinhua

Joshua Lee, 18, Cardiff University, Britain

In many countries around the world, standardised tests, such as the SAT in the United States or gaokao in China, are used to assess students’ education levels and select who can be accepted into local or international universities. However, these tests don’t improve education standards; they only restrict students’ skills.

Standardised tests mean that students are often only learning for the sake of passing an exam, and not developing the skills they need to succeed in life. These tests often play a significant part in determining a student’s education path and future career. As a result, subjects which are not deemed important by education authorities, such as arts or music, receive less attention compared to “core” subjects such as maths or science. This significantly hinders efforts to develop students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. Under this system, they blindly memorise information without truly understanding it; in other words, they are being drilled to answer specific exam questions. What’s more, by making students memorise loads of data, standardised tests fail to pinpoint their strengths, making it difficult for universities and colleges to judge which candidates to accept.

Finland is regarded as a global leader in education. Many experts attribute this to a liberal and progressive education system that values knowledge and skills development.

Therefore, I believe that standardised tests should be scrapped and replaced by entrance exams run by each university.

Your school grades don’t have to determine your success in life after you graduate

Tacye Hong, 19, University of Toronto, Canada

Having a standardised test means that students only have to prepare for one exam regardless of how many different universities they want to apply to. This can spare them a lot of time and expense. If universities are allowed to have their own entrance exams, they will charge a hefty fee because they know that students would be willing to pay a lot to get into their “dream programme”. On the other hand, standardised tests give everyone, including the poor, a fair chance of gaining a university place.

There are other problems, too. If a student, for example, wants to apply to four universities, they will have to prepare for four exams. This will be a nightmare for students, who already have a heavy workload.

Having a standardised test also provides a safety net for students. Under this system, there is a good chance that a candidate would be accepted by a university if they achieve a certain grade. But if students have to take different exams run by different tertiary institutes, they might end up missing out on a university place altogether. Imagine the emotional and financial toll such a system would have on the students who would no doubt take as many exams as possible to ensure they get a chance to pursue higher education.

In addition, it is easier for students to prepare for standardised tests than university entrance exams. They are able to access study materials more easily, while the test is better administered and monitored. An examination board makes sure that everything runs smoothly and the test is fair and consistent. There are tighter controls making sure that the questions are not leaked. The same cannot be said about university entrance exams. Examiners would be able to get their hands on the questions more easily to help certain students or to make a fast buck.

In conclusion, I think it would be in everybody’s interest not to allow universities to conduct their own entrance exams. Standardised tests are just fine.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should universities have their own entrance exams?


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