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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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Chapter 8 Theorizing the impact of the CET


The previous chapters have outlined the findings of our study of the educa- tional and social impacts of the CET. What we have presented is a small but, we would argue, indicative glimpse of the way in which a national language test can have far-reaching personal and societal implications, well beyond those envisaged or intended by the authorities responsible for initiating it. As the review of the literature in Chapter 2 shows, the evidence from research is that any test will have certain consequences beyond those of simply evaluating and enhancing learning. The consequences become wider and more profound the larger the number of test-takers and the higher the stakes attached to test outcomes, reaching the point at which a national test becomes a societal phenomenon. The CET, as the largest national language test in the world, is an instructive case-study of what this means for the lives, behaviour, and attitudes of huge numbers of stakeholders, and the implications for policy and practice in a range of social issues. The research reported in this book appears to be the first to attempt to describe and analyse a high-stakes national language test as a societal as well as an individual phenomenon. In a country as vast and varied as China, and in relation to an undertaking that in one way and another involves millions of people, any research can only begin to address this topic. There is a rich field of research waiting to be explored. For convenience, Chapters 4 to...

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