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.