Thursday, June 02, 2011

China's Test Prep Juggernaut

An interesting Business Week article about how test prep companies in China are helping students game the tests to get into U.S. colleges:

Chinese undergraduates are flooding into American colleges, many of which are financially strapped. In 2009-2010, China passed South Korea to become America's largest source of international undergraduates, with 39,921. Because of China's one-child policy and increasing affluence, larger numbers of its students can afford U.S. colleges that cost far more than Chinese universities. In most cases, they aren't eligible for financial aid. They pay as much as $50,000 a year in tuition and room and board at private colleges and up to $35,000 at public ones. While their math skills are usually impressive, some can't follow a lecture or participate in a class discussion.

Not that it's stopping them. In the year ended Feb. 28, more than 200,000 students in New Oriental classrooms across China devoted weeks or months to cramming vocabulary words and learning shortcuts that help them respond with the accuracy of IBM's (IBM) Watson computer on English-language standardized tests—whether they understand the material or not. New Oriental delivers tiger test prep for tiger parents, dominating the fast-growing market for grooming Chinese students for U.S. entrance exams and fending off American competitors such as Washington Post's (WPO) Kaplan and The Princeton Review (REVU), which have been trying to elbow their way into the lucrative Chinese test preparation business. New Oriental's courses, which are taught primarily in Chinese, rely on exhaustive dissection of old test questions to help inflate students' scores. And because they're so superbly trained to beat the exams, New Oriental students with shaky English not only get into selective U.S. colleges but also test out of the transitional programs many schools have for foreign students who don't speak English well.

"New Oriental seems to have cracked the SAT code," says Phillip Muth, associate dean for admissions at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Its 1,200 applicants from China this year had an average of 610 out of 800 on the SAT's reading section and 670 in writing, as opposed to 641 in reading and 650 in writing for U.S. applicants. In math, they achieved an average of 783, compared with 669 for U.S. students. When the students arrive on campus, Muth continues, "You can tell immediately that English isn't their first language."

Josh Ferchau, coordinator for international admission at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has seen Chinese applicants improve TOEFL scores 20 points in a month. "That's pretty incredible," he says. "I'm sure a lot of that can be attributed to how they prepare for tests."


Features May 5, 2011

China's Test Prep Juggernaut

Test preparation company New Oriental Education is helping a rising generation of Chinese students to ace U.S. college entrance exams

By Daniel Golden, Business Week

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