Thousands of students worldwide struggle every year to get through the university admissions system. The fear of not being accepted and the rigorous process can take a toll on the already stressful final year of high school. There are so many decisions to be made, and not nearly enough time to make them. I, for one, am feeling the pressure. But for us students in Canada, where students do not take university entrance exams, the process is quite simple when compared to other countries. Using high school grades as students’ main academic indicator is smart, and shows the students work ethic better than the results of a single test.
Basing university entrance on grades gained in high school courses presents some problems to the idea of fairness. Projects, group works and re-tests give many students repeated opportunities to bring their grades up. However, some teachers have more stringent grading policies, or less clear criteria. These differences can affect a student’s chance of getting into the post-secondary school of their choosing.
In other countries the system is different. Many countries in Asia, Europe and South America have a standard university entrance exams for the entire nation, while most universities in the US require students to submit SAT scores. The results of these tests covering most subjects in one sitting are used to apply to university.
In Brasil, the ENEM (National High School Examination) takes place at the end of each year and consists of two days of tests about all the subjects studied during high school and an essay in a current topic that affects the society in the country. Every student, from public and private schools, is required to take the test in order to be accepted in a federal or state university. The Brazilian test is the world’s second largest nationwide test, after the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or Gaokao, in China. The Chinese test, which is known to be one of the hardest tests in the world, is for most high school students, the only opportunity to enroll in a post-secondary institution.
In the US the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is used by most universities and colleges as an entrance exam for admission decisions. Some universities, like the University of California, have debated for long about dropping the test. Last December, a lawsuit was filed challenging the University of California system’s use of the SAT or ACT as a requirement for admission arguing that the tests are biased and present no meaningful information about the students aptitudes therefore not being a useful requirement. The ones that support the test system say that this is the only accurate way to compare students from different high schools because a student can get straight As in a less challenging school while another gets worse grades in a more challenging school. However, the lawsuit says that the tests are biased against children of color and those with disabilities, who have to work extra hard to have a chance against the other students.
Beyond that, having a single test determining your future brings so much pressure to a teenager’s life, that it makes one question if that is a good system or if schools are putting students through enormous stress for no good reason. The test is a really poor indicator of the students ability because of things like test anxiety and different learning styles. A really good student can freeze during a test and not do well, throwing out years of dedication and hard work. This happened with a friend of mine in Brazil. I can clearly remember him saying that he felt horrible after doing his best for four years and having all his dedication not been taken into consideration because he didn’t pass a single test.
In the Canadian university entrance system, your future will not be determined by one single test. One or more of your school years will be taken into consideration and this takes a bit of the pressure off. But there are other reasons why Canadian provinces don’t set standardized entrance exams. Having a great school system in which most students have access to a pretty equal quality of education makes Canadian grading more consistent than in some other countries. Also, reference to the student’s school transcript allows universities the opportunity to analyze different aspects of the student’s abilities.
“The vast majority of high school students enrol in schools where there’s enough government oversight to foster reasonably consistent grading standards good enough for post-secondary institutions to get a good sense of each student’s abilities,” says Dr. Robert Cowin, writer of the book Postsecondary Education in British Columbia.
Furthermore, in the countries with nationwide standardized tests, the differences between a great post-secondary program and an adequate program are clear, and that is one of the reasons why the test system works in those countries. For a student to be accepted to a great university, they need to be outstanding and have a well-rounded education. On the other hand, according to Dr. Cowin, “Canadian universities are also fairly consistent at the undergraduate level and, compared to some countries, Canadians are therefore less concerned about getting into a prestigious university.” Because of this consistency among the universities, they tend to have a series of different applications from different types of students rather than applicants with the same range of grades earned in high school, meaning that they are able to choose the students that deserve to be accepted to their university based in more than one aspect, instead of only looking at grades, making the system work.
As a high school senior that lived in Brazil for most of her life and is getting ready to apply to universities in Canada, I can assure you that it is not an easy process either way. But the pressure of having to get ready for an exam that will determine your future is 1000 times worse than what we have to go through in Canada.
Photo Credit: Piqsels