Essay questions from China’s college entrance exam

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s teenagers took the dreaded gaokao 高考 — the two-day national college entrance examination — two weeks ago. The gaokao tests specific knowledge of literature, politics, history, math, science, English and Chinese (putonghua 普通话), and requires an essay in putonghua. This year, almost 9.4 million students sat the gaokao. That’s more than the entire population of New Jersey! Students have an hour to wrote an 800-character response to the essay prompts. (Some versions require 1,000 characters.) Each province has a slightly different gaokao version from the others, and that includes the essay prompts, which are pretty cryptic — much worse than the freshman essay prompt I had, about the many uses of the paper clip. Shanghaiist has compiled translations of several gaokao essay prompts, some of which I share here. Hunan Province (where I live): There was one a place where everyone was very poor. Most of the people who worked here left after two years. However, someone stayed for years and turned it into the most beautiful village with the others. Write an argumentative article or a descriptive article on this topic. Sichuan Province (west of Hunan): The world belongs to you only after you stand ...

Test-taking time 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I gave my last test of the term today. Now I will spend the next few days reading 90 Western Culture exam papers. Here’s one to keep you busy: the US Citizenship Test, which applicants must pass in order to get US citizenship. Can you pass it? **No cheating.** The Christian Science Monitor website has the test online. There are 96 multiple choice questions. The vast majority of applicants pass it on the first go. So, if you’re already a citizen and fail it, sorry, you have to leave the country. Or at least feel very, very ashamed. They should administer it to politicians as a qualification for office, too. Some seem rather civics-challenged.

Another day in the life 3

JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday was unusually busy for me, so I want this chance to take to chronicle it. Every Sunday, I teach spoken English (and some reading) to five 9-year-olds for two hours. These kids are the children of police officers — friends of my friend Smile, whose husband is an officer, too. One of my student friends helps me in this project, since I need someone to translate English to Chinese. Though the kids are rambunctious, they are also very bright, so the job is not as awful as it sounds (unless the reader happens to be a primary school teacher, who would know what I mean). At 11, Nora and I left the police residential compound (警公安局 jing gong an ju) and headed for lunch at the university dining hall. There we were joined by four of my students (roommates), our friend from the PE college and a senior in the chemistry college who wanted just to talk with me. Afterward, three of us went for a walk and a sit in the sunshine, which has been in short supply these last four weeks, and the rest went off to their own things. Our conversation in the ...
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