Richard Garner: Pressure is intense – but system is not unique to China

The Chinese are not alone in using a national university admissions test that is taken by all students at the same time.

Several countries whose higher education institutions punch above their weight in international university rankings use similar tests.

More than 54,000 students in Ireland will begin sitting the Leaving Certificate today – the national exams which determines whether they go to university and where. It is an enormous logistical exercise in which all students sit the same paper at the same time.

Increasingly though, students in countries which stick to this rigid system, such as Japan, are beginning to seek to study abroad. One Japanese university has set up a "Route H" course, which prepare students applying to overseas universities such as Harvard.

Some countries, though, are recent converts to a rigid approach to university entrance – Georgia adopted the national test model earlier this decade. Most US universities rely on the SAT test, which functions as an intelligence test.

The UK, France and Germany rely on exams such as A-levels, the French Baccalaureate or Abitur – topped up by entrance tests for the most highly popular and selective subjects such as law and medicine.

However, the country which tops most international education league tables, Finland, does not use any entrance tests. Its youngsters instead undergo professional counselling to help them make realistic choices about their future plans.

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