The Examination System in China, the Case of Zhongkao Mathematics

WU Yingkan, via a kind Richard Askey email (PDF):

xamination is a critical issue in education system in China. Zhongkao is a kind of graduation examination of junior high school, and at the same time, the entrance examination to senior high school. This paper describes the structure, features and changes in zhongkao mathematics in China based on a detailed analysis of 48 selected zhongkao mathematics papers from eight regions in recent six years. Examples of examination items are given to illustrate the identified features and changes. Zhongkao Mathematics, examination, features, changes, junior high school graduates
China is the birthplace of examination system. The imperial examination was started in 597 during the Sui Dynasty, and was banned in 1905 during the Qing dynasty (Li & Dai, 2009; Zhang, 1996). It lasted for about 1300 years. With the influence of the long existence of the imperial examination system, examination is of great importance in China. It attracts attention from parents, educators, teachers, students, policy makers and so on. It is a big issue in education.
There are two significant examinations for students in school education in China, which are called “zhongkao” and “gaokao”. Figure 1 shows the school education system in China. Students start their nine-year compulsory education usually at six years old. Most of them stay at elementary school for six years, and junior high school for three years. In some districts like Shanghai, students stay at elementary schools for five years and junior high school for four years. At the end of Grade Nine, all students take zhongkao, which is summative assessment of the nine-year compulsory education, and more importantly, the entrance examination to senior high school. Nearly 90% of junior high school graduates continue their study. About half of them go to senior high schools, and the other half enter secondary vocational schools (Ministry of education of China, 2010a). The results of zhongkao decide whether students go to key senior high school, ordinary senior high school or vocational school. At the end of three-year senior high school study, students take gaokao, which is the entrance examination to universities. About 80% senior high school graduates are promoted to tertiary education (Ministry of education of China, 2010a). The results of gaokao decide whether senior high school graduates go to key university, ordinary university, college, or other high education institutes.