聯考訪問 ~ Entrance Exams in Taiwan
Entrance Exams in Taiwan
Author: James Smyth
Editor: Huang Xin-hui
I talked to a vocational school student and three college graduates about their entrance exams. They all went to different high schools and colleges, but they all made it into the schools they wanted.
I learned that exams are graded on a bell curve. So if you do well, but other students do better, you’re out of luck, but if you do poorly and the others do even worse, then you actually did well. That’s why the exams are so competitive: if some people bury themselves in books for an entire year, the others have to do the same to keep up. My friends went to several different cram schools for different subjects.
Before going to high school, all the students in the country have to take the Fundamental Examination. Math, English, Chinese, Science, and Social Studies are all worth 60 points. There’s also an essay, but it’s only worth 12 points, 1/31 of the total. My friend at vocational school earned 250 points, good for the 84th percentile. She loves English, and she did very well in that part of the exam. Now she’s going to the National Taipei College of Business and focusing on languages. She’s very bright: she’s studying English, French, and Japanese at the same time.
Before going to college, high school students have to list their preferred universities and departments for their counselors. After the test, the counselors compare their students’ scores with other students with the same preferences to decide who is admitted to which department in which university. Departments give more weight to students’ scores in subjects relevant to their field: for example, the Math Department pays the most attention to a student’s Math score. Some students “choose a department.” They put more importance on getting into a certain field than on getting into a certain school. So on their application, they list the same department, such as Math, at several different schools. Other students “choose a school.” They’re more concerned with being at their dream university than with what they study there.
My friend set her heart on National Taiwan University. That, however, is the most competitive school in the country. Since many students with the same preferences as her fared better on their exams, she ended up going to her eighth choice: NTU’s Department of Agricultural Chemistry. After a couple years, she realized her interest isn’t science; it’s language. A couple years after graduating, she went to England to study Interpreting for a year. She’s just returned to Taiwan, and she’s looking for a job while working at city hall. But employers ask her, “Why did you major in Agricultural Chemistry instead of English?” She thinks that Taiwanese students lack adequate career counseling, so some aren’t careful enough with their choice of department, and as juniors or seniors realize they can’t do anything with their major or don’t want to spend their lives doing that kind of work.
Listening to my friends’ experiences was very interesting. I think Taiwanese people have to decide on their futures earlier than Americans.