Take tests, but not study for them

Q: Why are you learning these words?

A: Because they are in the list of HSK4 vocabularies.

Q: Why are you writing this essay?

A: Because it might appear in the IB Chinese test.

Q: Why are you studying this book?

A: Because it gives all the tricks to get high marks for tests!

Conversations like these are quite familiar to many Chinese language learners. It seems that tests are the ultimate goal of learning Chinese. 

Coincidentally, there are quite a number of tests out there, HSK, SAT Chinese, IB Chinese and GCSE Chinese, just to name a few. These tests have increasingly shaped Chinese programs at countless schools. Get a good mark on tests have become the ultimate goal of learning Chinese.

The test culture

Not only in learning Chinese, this test culture is wide spread in our eduction systems. Educational institutions frequently use test results to measure how successful students are, even their parents are. Every summer, Hong Kong media goes through the motion of which secondary school students have the full marks in the DSE tests, which schools they study at, what is their family background, and so on. 

There is something wrong with this test culture. But it is forcing all of us to comply.

The origin of test

Test (考试) was invented in China. The first record of test can be traced back to 1115BCE. 

In China, Keju Test (科举考试, imperial examination) had been a good vehicle to choose able government officials, and subsequently promoted social class mobility. It was a successful system, and had been implemented throughout dynasties. 

However, Keju Test was abolished in 1905, because this test had become very rigid. Scoring high no longer proved the person had the skill set that the society needed. After dominating the society for thousands of years, Keju Test was replaced by new and different tests. 

Seeing what happened to Keju Test, we could very well speculate that the current tests would face the same end in the future.

Passing a test should not be the end of learning

Things have changed quite a bit during the last few decades. AI technology is advancing very fast. A computer is able to beat all the human students at passing tests. 

However, the traditional method of teaching and learning Chinese remains. The goal remains. 

We need to rethink of setting goals for learning Chinese, aligning the goals with different metrics that encourage us to be curious, to grow, to respect each other, to be open minded, and to learn from our mistakes.  

No machine can do these for us. No test authorities can give us a score on these. 

Learning becomes part of our identify and part of our life. 

I promote setting soft goals for learning Chinese. As for tests, take them, but don’t study for them.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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