Vietnam: How Pressure Is Alleviated In Examinations


Bao Duy Thai

The first days of July this year witnessed the successful collaboration of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) with about 83 affiliated institutions of tertiary education, and its harmonious coordination with many other social sectors in implementing two nation-wide university entrance examinations in the spirit of 'order, discipline, fairness and cleanliness'. Having employed more than 100, 000 staff for the various stages, from writing to invigilating the exams, MOET expects to select as many as 150,000 successful candidates out of 950,000 examinees for the upcoming academic year’s intake.

What is worth acknowledging pertaining to this examination season is MOET’s 'Three Same-ness' approach, which means having examinations organized at the same times in different localities, using the same examination papers for students in the same discipline areas, and employing the same results for the tertiary selection process. This approach has been targeted at widening the autonomy of MOET-affiliated institutions in their recruitment process, whilst ensuring fairness to all; alleviating possible pressures in various forms on recruiters and candidates; as well as making colossal savings in expenditure as compared to previous years. For its own part, MOET has proven to be much 'more proactive and self-confident' (according to the Head of The Examination Steering Committee), especially in dealing with the number of 'no-show' candidates (20 per cent of the registered number, while at the same time this year there was an increase of 15 per cent in the number of high school graduates as compared to 2002). Moreover, according to testing specialists at both secondary and tertiary levels, a number of factors contributed to the general public's acceptance of, and confidence in, the new measures, including the examinations' confidentiality, its suitability as well as its reliability in testing and discriminating the ability of candidates.

MOET has made remarkable progress in re-establishing a 'discipline' in the examination process, taking a resolute attitude toward cheating. However, the public cannot but help be concerned about the unusual number of cases of people found violating examination regulations (nearly 4,000 cases, which is 37 per cent higher than that for 2002). About two-thirds of these were found in the second examination where 'substitution examinees' attempted to sit the exam on behalf of someone else. Even here private enterprise prevails! Media reports in July indicated that police had busted an exam forgery ring, which recruited high-flying students to sit exams for prospective university students for a fee of between US$2-3,500.

However, the greater concern for this year’s examinations is still for what lies ahead - over the fairness of the grading process as well as over the level of coordination among recruiting institutions in their selection processes so as to ensure both equality and excellence principles. Currently, a new form of selection examination using multiple-choice tests is being planned (for 2004 onwards). It aims to provide an overall assessment of the fundamental knowledge gained in the previous schooling levels and, at the same time, to establish a more equitable screening process. This is to be as part of the process of establishing a National Testing Service and Educational Quality Assurance Department within MOET (which is to include a 'Test Bank' for University Entrance Exams). Meanwhile, many among the tertiary level leadership have long stressed the need to standardize the quality of training at previous education levels so that high school graduation results can be used for university admission as is done in many other countries.

WATCHPOINT: For the selection examination to be organized smoothly and become routine, there should be comprehensive reforms, including of the teaching and learning styles at various levels of education. An 'examination culture' will, in the process, be formed and practised, though what impact this will have on the quality of graduates ultimately entering the workforce will remain to be seen.


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