How the new SAT test will instil US values into impressionable young Chinese minds

How the new SAT test will instil US values into impressionable young Chinese minds

In August 2014, Kelly broke the story in the South China Morning Post on how the new SAT may influence Chinese youth and increase US soft power. Her story went viral, with The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Xinhua, etc all reporting Kelly’s findings.

By Kelly Yang, Published in the South China Morning Post, August 2014

By now, most people know that the SAT, the test for US university admissions, is changing. There will be a longer essay and a new scoring system. What they don’t know is that the new test, with its heavy emphasis on knowledge of the country’s founding documents and civil liberties, has the potential to change the mindset and world view of an entire generation of Chinese youth.

Until now, American culture has been largely exported through Hollywood. And until now, the SAT has largely been a predictable and monotonous examination full of tricky words like “legerdemain” and “ignominious”. Its “crammability” led to its popularity in this part of the world. Every year, tens of thousands of mainland students flock to Hong Kong to sit the SAT. Last year, China sent about a quarter of a million students to study in the US.

I’ve been teaching the SAT exam for nearly 10 years. Those of us in the Asian SAT test prep industry understand that perfect scores are no indicator of future academic or workplace success. They’re an indicator of a willingness to memorise.

All that’s about to change.

From 2016, every SAT will include passages from the founding documents, including the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Further reading will come from the texts inspired by these documents, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, works by Henry David Thoreau, and essays by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on women’s suffrage.

Ask your typical Chinese kid today about voting rights and they’ll draw a blank. To do well on the new SAT, Chinese students will need to cover the breadth of these foreign issues and philosophies, from American political parties and individual civil liberties to protecting the individual against potential abuses of power by the state. How, exactly, does the average Chinese student cram for that?

In some ways, the US College Board has created a test as un-Chinese as they come.

Not surprisingly, the new test has people in Asia worried. Within the industry, test preparation giants are scrambling to put together material based on the sample questions released. Critics say that the new focus on US founding documents unfairly puts international students at a disadvantage. The fact is, Chinese students may want to go to America, but most have no clue what America’s about.

But this, to me, is the beauty of the new SAT. I believe it will trigger a new type of test prep, one that can change the world. In a couple of years, hundreds of thousands of students all over China will be poring over the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights with the same zeal and tenacity they once reserved for quadratic equations. I hope they’ll come away with more than just high test scores.

If the new SAT succeeds, it will be the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students every year, not through a popular television show or a politician’s speaking tour, but through what the Chinese care about most – exams.

China’s Academic Obsession with Testing

China’s Academic Obsession with Testing

By Kelly Yang, Published in the Washington Post, Dec 2013:

This month, for the third time in a row, the Asians kicked American butt — academically, that is. On reading, science and math, students in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore earned the top scores on the international PISA test. U.S. students scored below or near the worldwide average, prompting suggestions that American education as a whole is failing. As a Hong Kong educator, I’m confident that the last thing the United States needs to copy is Chinese education.

Here in this city of 2 million parents , there are 2 million school principals, all ordering after-school academic courses like appetizers in a restaurant. Parents are the headmasters because our schools no longer control the education process. A 2011 survey estimated that 72 percent of Hong Kong high school students receive tutoring outside of school, often until late in the evening. So when our schools get out, the school day is just beginning for most kids.

Long before the term “tiger mom” was coined, Chinese parents had a history of obsessing over academics. The other day, I overheard two parents talking about their sons. One mom turned to the other and shrieked, “I found him in his room, just sitting there. Not doing anything!” The other gasped and shook her head in disbelief.

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On the Importance of Learning to Lose

On the Importance of Learning to Lose

By Kelly Yang, Published in the South China Morning Post in Nov 2015.

Recently, I got a phone call from my son’s soccer coach. My son’s team didn’t win the tournament but the coach called to ask whether I’d like to order a trophy for my son anyway.

I didn’t know what to say. Sure, I’d heard of participation prizes, but I was expecting little pencils and erasers, not full-blown trophies that looked exactly like the ones the real winners got.

These days, even the term “winner” could land you in hot water in some circles. Today, it’s all about every child at his or her own pace and how we’re all “winners”. It’s little wonder that coaches now hand out awards like sweets, and trophies and awards are an estimated US$3-billion-a-year industry in North America alone. And while I understand that, in things like art perhaps there’s no clear winner, we’re talking about sports here; clearly not every child is a winner in every sport.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at sports. In fact, I don’t remember winning a single game in any sport. That’s because I have the hand-to-eye coordination of a chicken.

I’m the type of person who manages to fall over even when I’m just walking on a perfectly flat surface. And, while growing up it was painful to always be the last person to be picked for the team, I did learn something really valuable , too – how to lose.

Learning how to lose, I think, is one the most important lessons for a child, perhaps even more so than how to win. It teaches resilience, perseverance and patience. From losing constantly in sports, I learned that things don’t always go my way. And that’s OK. And to pick myself back up.

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