Researcher: Gaokao Top Scorers Rarely Have Outstanding Careers

by elbbj on June 16, 2013

high score
Announcer: The curtain falls on another year’s gaokao, and the top scorers on this year’s test are soon to emerge. Facing attention from the media and pressure from society, what path should this special group of individuals take to success? On May 14th, the China University Alumni Association website published its newest China Gaokao Top Score Achiever Survey, an investigation of more than 1,100 gaokao top scorers over a 30 year period, finding that these individuals do not often excel at work, and that their professional accomplishments are not up to societal expectations.

The conclusion that gaokao top scorers are not highly successful professionally has caused much discussion. Joining us today on 新闻会客厅 (program name) is Professor Cai Yanhou, the expert in charge of the working group that produced the survey, to give a deeper analysis of the phenomenon in question. Let’s turn our attention to him.


Li Xiaomeng (interviewer): Welcome to 新闻会客厅. The nationwide gaokao has just ended this year, with more than 10 million students finishing up their exams, and I believe there will soon be a small portion of them attracting the media’s attention, those being the top scorers. What kind of a path will the top scorers take, what will their college lives be like, and what kind of careers will they have? What kind of reflection and reference do the paths of previous top scorers offer them? Today we invite an expert with serious authority on the issue, let’s introduce him, Professor at the Higher Education Research Institute of Central South University, Cai Yanhou. Why does Professor Cai have such authority on the issue? Because for three consecutive years in 2007, 2008, and 2009, his working group published the China Gaokao Top Score Achiever Survey, which I’ve found has attracted attention especially because none of the top scorers surveyed are really outstanding in their professional lives, as people expect them to be. Could you first describe for us what the careers of the top scorers you are familiar with are actually like?

Cai Yanhou: We do our work “backwards” since we’re a university evaluation working group. The work we do when evaluating the production of talent involves the student’s situation and the training of talent. We use outstanding alumni to describe the situations in which student talent can be cultivated.

Li Xiaomeng: So you’ve found that there isn’t much intersection between the outstanding alumni of a university and the top scorers on the gaokao. And you have come to a conclusion about that.

Cai Yanhou: Right, these things go together well. According to our work, the outstanding alumni from a school are talents trained from the among the top ranks of the students. We looked back and thought about if we want to make the comparison, and it’s a hot topic for everyone, so we just got the info on the top gaokao scorers, and looked at what the ratio of them among outstanding alumni was at a given school.

Li Xiaomeng: If you look solely at how the two groups match up and come to the conclusion that the top scorers don’t perform as people would expect, isn’t it a little unscientific? Shouldn’t we get to know the specific work situation of each top scorer to come to a conclusion?

Cai Yanhou: For one thing, now, it’s not necessary. For another, it’s not possible.

Li Xiaomeng: Why isn’t it necessary?

Cai Yanhou: Think about it, how can you investigate all those people? This is pretty difficult work, and it’s already pretty popular with the media paying a lot of attention. We’re analyzing the data we have now, which is all good information. Coming in, the top scorers are the leaders of their classes. Coming out, we still have a few, a Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, as well as a Cheung Kong Scholar, who are outstanding young teachers. To have that Fellowship is the honor of a lifetime, everyone knows that and it’s publicly acknowledged. So when we compare two things without any discrepancy between them, we can see the problem that exists with our entire higher education system.

Li Xiaomeng: Also, for those top scorers, there seems to be a prerequisite set up for them, that is, they should be especially outstanding in their later work, just like on their tests, they should be number one. Is this a necessary conclusion?

Cai Yanhou: No, this is people’s expectation, what parents say and what society says, that good performance while young means you hopefully should do well after you grow up, and always be ahead of others, set a good example. It’s that kind of expectation. But we’ve found through comparison that within the group of outstanding alumni, there wasn’t a top scorer among the many famous names.

Li Xiaomeng: Can you tell us, from your analysis, what kind of performance outstanding alumni had on the gaokao?

Cai Yanhou: Generally, according to our calculations, a lot of people have looked at it and we’re just verifying them, it’s from that sort of perspective… outstanding alumni are around #10. That is to say, the 10th spot after #1 within one class, after the #10 spot and before the #30 spot, since there are about 50 to 60 people in that range, the probability of finding a talented individual within the group is a bit higher.


Original publication date: 6/14/2013



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