Entry requirements change for arts students
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2023-12-25  ·   Source: NO.52 DECEMBER 28, 2023
A student practices guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither, in an arts training school in Gaomi, Shandong Province, on July 29 (XINHUA)

There are widely circulated tales about how stars have accidently stumbled into an acting career. Several actors and actresses, upon attaining stardom, have reminisced about how they were unexpectedly selected by examiners while merely accompanying a friend to the arts college examination for students aspiring to major in acting.

Such coincidences, though, are unlikely to happen in the future as China has just substantially reformed its college entrance exams for arts students, including for acting.

To study in arts universities, students used to need to take the regular gaokao, or the national college entrance exam, and an independent exam offered by their target arts school.

At esteemed arts institutions like Beijing Film Academy and the Central Academy of Drama, applicants used to pack campuses and temporarily dominate social news headlines for few days every January or February. In 2024, a decrease in the number of applicants to these institutions is expected because of a reform setting a threshold for them—their gaokao score must reach a higher level than before.

A new step 

"In previous years, colleges offering acting majors independently designed entrance examinations, enabling senior high school students across China to directly apply and participate in these tests," Zhang Guopeng, an acting tutor at a Beijing-based training school, told Beijing Daily.

From 2024 onward, applicants for arts schools will be divided into three categories, and the application process varies by category. The first type, those who want to major in fields such as art history, art theory and film and television literature, only need to take the gaokao. The second category of applicants need to take gaokao and a provincial-level unified exams that correspond to specific areas of focus for arts applicants. Their scores in gaokao and scores in the provincial-level exam will be combined to produce a final score, with the gaokao accounting for at least 50 percent. They will be admitted on the basis of the combined final score. The third category involves applicants for a small number of arts universities that are authorized to conduct their own institutional examinations. In this case, candidates must pass the provincial-level unified exam, and reach the minimum threshold before they are admitted based on the candidate's performance in the institutional arts examination. 

The introduction of a unified exam and an increase of weighting on gaokao scores in the admission process for arts students in universities are two key components of the adjustment, said Qian Jun, Secretary of the Communist Party of China Committee of the Beijing Film Academy.

As per the new arrangement, some universities are still authorized to conduct independent admission tests. "But there will be a substantial reduction in the number of universities organizing independent enrollment tests," Qian said.

These reform measures were initially introduced by the Ministry of Education in 2021, allowing for a three-year transition period until their complete enforcement in 2024. This novel arrangement represents a departure from previous practices and signifies a transformative shift in the admission process for arts education in China. It reminds students not to overlook academic performance while honing professional art skills.

Fan Anyi, a senior high school student in Beijing, recently completed the provincial-level unified exam in the city on December 8. "The exam has significantly saved time and energy for both students and parents," she told Beijing Review. "In the past, students used to travel to different cities and take exams at multiple colleges to maximize their opportunities."

This process demanded a substantial investment of money and time for families. The introduction of the unified exam has greatly alleviated the burden of such extensive travel for students and parents.

As one of the pioneers in undertaking the inaugural unified exam, Fan acknowledged that it meant they could not rely on experiences shared by former students. Consequently, she and her peers devoted a greater amount of attention to preparing for this new exam.

Following the exam, Fan expressed her satisfaction with her performance, which comprised four distinct sections: recitation of literary works, singing of a self-selected song, demonstration of physical skills, and improvisational performance based on a given prompt. Reflecting on her efforts, she modestly rated her overall performance an eight out of 10.

If she successfully passes the unified examination, she will become eligible to participate in the independent admission tests of her preferred institutions, such as Beijing Film Academy and the Central Academy of Drama. Even if she is fortunate enough to pass the exams at either of these two academies, she will still diligently prepare for the gaokao.

"In the past, although students needed to surpass a gaokao score threshold, the score was set significantly lower than that for non-arts students," Fan said. "These two universities used to admit students based solely on their arts exam scores."

Qian disclosed that there are multiple factors driving these adjustments, such as societal criticism directed at the entertainment industry. "A succession of scandals involving entertainers violating laws and exhibiting a profound lack of fundamental morality and academic knowledge have plunged the entertainment industry into controversy," Qian told People's Daily.

A new choice 

In colleges, there are several categories of arts majors, including music, dance, fine arts, acting and directing, broadcasting and hosting, and calligraphy. In the past, fine arts was the only category to require a unified exam, but this year, the other categories have followed suit.

All arts majors will now adhere to the principle of enrollment based on a combined score. The significance of gaokao scores in the admission process has been increased from the previous 30-40 percent to a new 50 percent.

The introduction of the unified exam and reduction in school-specific arts exams has also encouraged a larger number of students who previously had no intention of pursuing studies of the arts to give it a try, particularly in areas that do not demand extensive professional skills, such as broadcasting and hosting. This shift has broadened the pool of potential arts students and may lead to a more diverse and inclusive arts education landscape.

Wu Tongyu, a senior high school student in Beijing, made the decision to take the unified exam for broadcasting and hosting in the city just two weeks prior to the examination. After reviewing the exam content and reference materials, she believed it was worth a try.

"Had it not been for the unified exam, I would have never even considered attempting it," Wu shared with China News Service. She observed that many students around her had similar thoughts and decided to give the exam a shot despite the short preparation time.

"In the past, some students chose to pursue arts studies primarily because they perceived it as an easier pathway to university enrollment, given its significantly lower gaokao score requirements," Huang Shi, a tutor from a training school in Beijing, told China News Service. However, the introduction of the unified exam has brought about a transformative change.

"Now, this exam encourages them to explore their artistic talents and interests in a more serious and dedicated manner," Huang said.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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