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Testing a Nation

The Social and Educational Impact of the College English Test in China


Mark Garner and Dayong Huang

Many countries have national policies in relation to English language teaching that are monitored through standardized tests, and students’ performance in these tests may have a significant impact on their career prospects. When such high stakes become attached to a language test, it begins to play a far greater role than originally intended.
A preeminent example is the College English Test (CET), taken biannually by upwards of ten million students in China, which makes it the world’s largest national English test. Its impact is evident in many areas of Chinese society. Specified grades on the CET are requirements for graduation from universities, many job applications and even some residence permits. Consolidated CET results are widely used for rating teachers for promotion and for competitively grading institutions, hence influencing strategic planning by universities, government departments and companies, particularly those engaged in publishing or bookselling. The CET has, furthermore, given rise to a highly organized cheating ‘industry’, which is the subject of frequent governmental disclaimers and warnings.
This book reports on an extensive study of the impact of the CET in China, both on the lives of students and teachers and on educational and governmental institutions. The authors also draw theoretical and practical implications from their study for educational planners in other countries.


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Table 1 The large-scale English tests in China 16 Table 2 The revisions to the CET content and format since 1987 (written test) 23–24 Table 3 Dif ferent CET score requirements for a bachelor’s degree 66 Table 4 English requirements in job advertisements 71 Table 5 Shanghai Electrics Group 2008 campus recruitment plan 73 Table 6 The CET requirements in recruitment by government departments 74 Table 7 Costs for taking dif ferent English tests in China 76 Table 8 Employers’ CET requirements 76 Table 9 The amount of CET preparation in class 99 Table 10 The admission scores for some regions in 2004 153

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