Monday, July 12, 2010

University Entrance Exams

(PICTURE: Here's an entrance exam in English. I have no idea when this one is from. However, I looked over Su's and can guarantee that I would have gotten zero correct.)
Vietnamese readers, correct me if I'm wrong about any of this post.

The past two weekends Hanoi has been swarmed with 18-year-old high school students who are hoping to attend university the fall. In order to get into a university, students must take university entrance exams. From what I've gathered, these exams are like the SATs on crack. Unlike in the USA where you have an elaborate application process -- for example a student who scores a 1200 on the SATs could get into a university over someone who scores a 1400 because the 1200 applicant was the President of Key Club or something -- here it all comes down to the score.

Let me point out a few things:
1. There are multiple tests you can take. Su took a two day test that covered three subjects: Physics, Chemistry and Math...or as I like to call them, the subjects I would fail the easiest. Tomorrow is the second round of testing which I believe is Literature, History and Math. Students usually only take one test. Depending on the university they are applying to, certain test are accepted.

2. Students can only take a test for one university during round 1. This is where the pressure really starts. Say a student wants to go to Huyen's university -- Foreign Trade University -- well, they're gonna need to get higher than that year's threshold on the test. FTU, is the hardest university in Vietnam to get into, and last year had a bottom score of 28 (to put it into perspective, the university Su is applying to had a bottom score of 17). If a student doesn't get above the threshold then most likely they will NOT GET INTO A UNIVERSITY. Let me repeat that, if a student doesn't get a good enough score then they're probably gonna have to take a year off before they can go to university. (Note: There is a second round of acceptances but I've been told this is a very difficult way to get into a school).

3. Because of #2, students must strategically plan which school to apply to. For example, Su applied to the Transportation University. I'm pretty sure Su has no interest in transportation. However, the school he really wants to go to is highly competitive and hard to get into. I've argued with Huyen that it doesn't make sense for him to aim lower if he has no interest in a career in what a particular school teaches. However, Huyen has told me that it is better to just get into one of the universities and that people can work in an field once they graduate. I guess that is true in America too.

4. Have I mentioned the pressure? The students here are under crazy pressure from their parents to pass the test the first time they take it. As soon as the test was over, someone took their test and published it online. Within an hour all the answers were online and basically every student in the city was comparing their answers to the key online. Huyen, Huyen's sister and seemingly everyone else related to Su knew his score at the same time as he did.

5. Students are not told if the qualified for the school for one month. Su scored an 18 on his test which was higher than the threshold for his school last year. However, Huyen said that often the threshold is raised every year. There's a lot of people biting their fingers in the Nguyen family...actually in probably every Nguyen family around the country.

On a funny note, I dropped off and picked up Su at his test almost every time. Every student was being dropped off and picked up by seemingly their parents. I felt like a) a parent b) everyone was starting at Su wondering why a foreigner was dropping him off at his entrance exam. Okay, maybe it's a had to be there moment.


lvu said...

Yes, it is very sad. Many Vietnamese want to go to college but the college opportunity for them is slim. Only those who do well in high school could be able to pass the entrance exams. Very different from the US higher education system where you can get to a lower ranked school if you fail the higher ranked ones.

I have a nephew who passed the last year entrance exams and another nephew who has just finished this year exams. So nervous whether he makes it or not.

rebyn said...

Ok, there are a few things that need correcting.

There are two times in July that students take this national test. One in around July 3 - 4 for A block (Math - Physics - Chem) and H block (Math - Physics - Drawing). One in around July 8 - 9 for B block (Math - Chem - Biology), C block (Literature - History - Geography), D (Math - Literature - English).

Multiple-choice format is only applied for Physics, Chem and English.

Speaking of FTU, it's the most prestigious university in Vietnam about economics, finance and business administration. Respectively in other majors there are other universities at the top of the rank.

2009's bottom score to get admission into FTU is 25/30 (A block), 23.5/30 (D block).

PS: Glad to know Huyen is an alumni of my university.

Anonymous said...

certainly there are those genius underachievers who did horribly in high school but are amazing at taking tests ..

Minh Ha said...

Getting into FTU is not very tough. Usually, 80% of questions in uni entrance exam aims at testing students' basic knowledge that for sure is taught in school. Around 10-20% (yearly different) is extraordinary tough questions.

Ben, you can try English exam! it's always difficult to get the maximum score!

Benjamin said...

It's funny that you wrote that Ming Ha. One of my private students took the English exam yesterday and got about 90% correct. She's 14 and finished the exam in 45 minutes. I went over her mistakes and found that I disagreed with one of the "correct" answers in the reading comprehension section.

As far as it being easy to get into FTU, well, the majority of my students would tend to disagree!

rebyn said...

Can't get you, Ben. If a 14-year-old girl can do the test that well, how come the majority of your students find it difficult to enter FTU?

Benjamin said...

Um, the 14 year old is obviously ridiculously good at English. I'm also gonna go out on a limb here and say that the majority of students taking the university entrance exam don't have a private tutor.

As far as the "Harvard of Vietnam" comment: I have no doubt that there are many schools in Vietnam that are better at certain subjects than FTU. Equally the real Harvard isn't the best in every subject. The point is though that over 2+ years out here, every Vietnamese person I have met has referred to FTU as the best school in Vietnam. Again though, I'm sure lots of school are great for specific majors.

Anonymous said...

Med school is always the toughest, not FTU. It is true everywhere including Vietnam. If you don't get 27 out of 30 points, you cannot be a med student (general doctor type).

Anonymous said...

Havent been here in awhile but..
1. The writing is as 4D as ever. Stil great.

2. That entrance exam is no joke. I have class with a smart woman who has a masters in electrical engineering and some type of math -- I am going to show her this page.

3. The Su Stories could be a reality show. I want to see "Ben and Su" in the City.

4. Interesting that your commenting community constituency has flipped from mainly USA to mainly Vietnamese nationals.