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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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We are indebted to a number of people who have, in various ways, contrib- uted to the successful completion of the research reported in this book. Special thanks are extended to Professor Emeritus Bernard Spolsky, Bar- Ilan University; Professor Jin Yan, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Professor Lyle Bachman, University of California, Los Angeles; and Professor Gu Xiangdong, Chongqing University, for their insightful advice, important interviews and useful documents. We also acknowledge the many inform- ants who were willing to be interviewed and/or observed in classes and elsewhere, and/or to respond to our e-mails. Without their generosity of time and advice the study would have been impossible.

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