An exploration into the similarities and differences

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Assessment of learning, as pedagogical practice, plays an indispensable role in the education system. It is an essential part of the education system in every country. It exerts a strong impact on learners and learning, teachers and teaching, policy and society.

Assessment of learning carries much potential for transforming teaching and learning processes in ways that enhance learning outcomes and influence on the performance of students. Worldwide, there have been many arguments about the most effective assessment methods .Whilst there are many types of assessment, usually, it is sorted two broad categories - summative and formative assessment.

Formative assessment will support judgments by teachers about the student's learning progress and level of attainment and it is concerned with the short term collection and use of evidence for the guidance of learning, mainly in day to day classroom practice .It is a way for teachers to self-evaluate and adapt their teaching methods whilst it is a way to help students to change the strategy and tactics of study .

Summative assessment tends to judge the overall picture of performance in particular time and it will identify the learning that has taken place by the end point (Gardener 2006 ). It is usually considered as a evidence to prove what students have achieved. Consequently, formative and summative assessment exert various impacts in different ways in different countries. However, how to enhance its positive impact and reduce negative effects has been discussed for centuries.

Examination, as a main way of summative assessment, originates from China. Selecting talents through exam is an age-old tradition in China. The earliest exam(imperial competition examination ) can be traced back 1300 years to the Sui dynasty. This is a hard-won examination system with a complex impact in Chinese educational system .It is different to that of Britain, a great powerful nation of education.

However, even though many studies have reported assessment reform has been paid attention in China. The result of reform is not expected. This report will explore why examination is popular summative assessment in China and analyse the reasons for its occurrence, and will then go on to identify principles of assessment in England how it impact teaching and learning; The final part of the essay will compare and contrast assessment methods in China and England

Status of assessment of students in China

It is clear that assessment can be done in many ways. In general, the formative assessment and summative are all applied in most countries. In China, although formative assessment is used in class, the main approach to assessment is formal examinations and tests, in short summative assessment. Examination as a way of summative assessment is always a basic method for making education assessment and teaching survey and also an important way for selecting talent in China. That is why exam-oriented education is feature in China. Students in China have to confront numerous examinations and tests from primary school onward.

Most of examinations are written tests. As a traditional testing format, it has been maximized for use in basic education. In China, teachers look at the performance of students in class by asking questions, setting homework and marking written tests. Teachers set up a series of written tests in a particular time to judge where students have reached in most curricula with the exception of some special subjects (eg .music ,PE,and art). The effectiveness of this is acknowledged, namely, these practices and tests help teachers, students, parents ,and schools to collect evidence showing what the students have achieved and how well they perform in school. At the same time, for teachers, it is a way to reflect on the effectiveness of their teaching methods, then to update their teaching strategies and tactics accordingly. The confidence of students would be built up for further study following feedback from these tests.

The word 'formative 'was used to identify assessment that promotes learning by using evidence about what students have achieved in relation to the goals of their learning ,thereby planning the next steps in their learning and how to take them (Harlen.W 1998).That is to say , the key feature of formative is to characterise its effects. In China, teachers also use formative assessment in common with diagnostic assessment, but not too often.

In the past, cramming system is traditional method in China. Commonly, teachers prefer exams and tests to prove what students achieved. Summative assessment is often used with difficulties in learning and to analyse positive achievements. That is why exams and tests written as assessment in classroom. These assessments are regarded as common approaches in Chinese schools. Admittedly, this extra practice improves the students' performance, but these exams and tests are designed to grade. Monthly-exams and mid-term exams are organized in almost all of Chinese schools. The score from the exam would be the sole measure of the student's performance in school to provide evidence to report to their parents by teachers in parents' meetings.

Such series of informal and internal tests become an essentially continued and repeated cycle of events in which teacher and students use information from on-going activities to determine the next steps in learning and how to prepare for summative assessment. In China, most families have only one child and family life often revolves around this child. Exam-oriented system gives rise to family and teachers run around endless exams.

Although some of tests are informal, they still cause huge pressure on students .It seems that students learn more exam skills rather than gaining knowledge. There is a wealth of research evidence to prove that the endless exams and tests to students in school is beset with problems and short-comings (Black and Wiliam, 1998).In China, this phenomenon is summarised below:

Teachers' tests encourage rote and superficial learning.

The questions and other methods used are not shared between teachers, and they are not critically reviewed in relation to what they actually assess.

There is a tendency to emphasize quantity of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning.

During the process of summative assessment of learning ,overemphasis on marks and grades whilst underemphasize on the advice and learning gives rise to wrong guidance of learning for students. Since the result of examinations is the only source of information about learning and teaching, they believe the learning of examination skills is more important than knowledge itself. Consequently, all the focus of the students is on school rank and student rank. In this case, students have to compete with others in examinations and strive for high marks rather than personal improvement .It seems that feedback from the teachers about the students is to serve social and managerial functions rather than learning.

It is well known that, as a method of assessment, the purpose of tests and examinations is to help teachers to better their teaching skills and help students to improve their learning skills. The fact for Chinese student's life is that, the score determines all things to some extent. If formative assessment is not paid attention in class and it is only small part of daily studying life, the summative assessment is the typical and traditional approach in China.

Summative assessment like the standard assessment is often in the form of national tests to give an overall picture of performance of students. It is to evaluate the ability against a standard or normative performance of a group and provide broad induction of relative standing. (e.g. a score in an exam reports a learner's standing compared to other students .) In China, it is widely utilized. In the Chinese educational system from basic to higher education there are three formal national examinations during the basic education: in primary school, secondary school and high school.

To be more exact , at the end of primary school ,students have to pass the national examination to enter secondary school .It is well known that this exam score is a priority that decides which level secondary school the students will enter. Although other factors should be taken into account, it is evident that the score is a key condition .As a Chinese student, this examination is the first challenge in their studying life, because the secondary school that students choose will dictate the next step of high school .That is to say, better secondary school leads to better high school . In this context, the final exam at the end of secondary school decides which high school the student will attend. In general, the key secondary school (like a grammar school) and the key high school are very difficult to enter. Because of a high stake examination for students to enter, the final national examination score is a deciding element.

To enter the key schools, students have to get high scores in their examinations due to the very limited capacity of the schools. So students who want to enter the key secondary school or the key high school (these key schools have the highest quality teachers and facilities locally than common school) have to achieve high scores because competition is very fierce. All students strive to enter the key schools as it is the only route to the top universities. In these schools, the possibility of getting high scores in the college entrance examination is higher than that in common school. High school is the most important stage in the Chinese education system and the college entrance examination (called 'GaoKao') is the biggest and most important examination for a student during their studying life. It is common sense, there are hardly any chances for students in common school to get high score to the top universities in China. When it comes to GaoKao, it is a relatively just and fair way to select talent; people from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds can still pass the GaoKao.

What is worthwhile to note is the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping delivered a speech entitled "Respect Knowledge: Respect Talents", indicating the possible re-introduction of the national college entrance exam that had been stopped three decades ago. The national college entrance exam was restored in 1977 after the "Decade of Cultural Revolution". According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, over the last three decades, around 36 million students have been admitted into universities, colleges, and vocational and technical schools across China. Enrolment rates have risen from 4.7 percent in 1977 to 65.85 percent in 2006. Nowadays there are more than 10 million high school students each year entering the university or college through the national college entrance exam(GaoKao)., During the time of the National college entrance examinations every year ,across China ,thousands of parents pray outside the 8000 test centres and it can be called the biggest examination in the world .

In china, this examination is considered as a battle to determine student's fate, although university and school campuses have become a place of mass education for all rather than gardens of Eden for only fortune-favored scholars. In the education system of China, Gaokao is the final opportunity for students to validate their whole studying life .That is why the score of GaoKao is extremely important because it is held only once a year by written test. There are few opportunities to rectify a poor result, even if the result was caused by circumstances outside the students' control. Crucially, it is the only way to enter university especially the top university .That is why the examination skills and abilities of students in China are much higher than their counterparts in other countries. A key feature of the Chinese education system is this focus on the examination system. Examination centered is a feature of Chinese education system rooting in this reason. (see Table 1.for an explanation of the examination system).




Of test

Format :written test

Target of test and examination

Type of education

Primary school





There are mid-term tests and final exams in one term and total four formal exams every year

The last final exam is the national Entrance exam to secondary school (xiao sheng chu)

the final examination score in last year as key reference decides what level secondary school (key school or common school ) student will enter

It allows schools to see whether they are teaching effectively by comparing their pupils' performance to national results












the other foundation subjects

There are mid-term tests and final exams in one term and total four formal exams every year

The last final exams is the national Entrance to high school(zhong kao )

the final examination score in last year is the main evidence that decides what level high school (key school or common school )student will enter

It allows schools to see whether they are teaching effectively by comparing their pupils' performance to national results












the other foundation subjects

Every term has lots of examinations

The last final exam is the national college Entrance examination to university (zhong kao )

At present, the score of the national college entrance exam is the only criteria used by the universities .





Table 1

Over three decades, the college entrance examination is continuing to reform, but up to now, there has not been an alternative to replace it. Although it is hard to abandon the national college entrance examination, the college entrance examination should at least be spread across the year to help the admission rate to university and loosen the direct connection between score and admission.

Principles of student assessment in the UK

Compared with China, in the UK the purpose of assessment is mainly to provide the information from school about how well the students are performing in school. Compared with summative assessment, formative assessment is widely accepted and used as a mature method of assessment in schooling. In general, the Chinese education system adopts standard assessment to rank or select students. But the British education system takes more formative assessment to see who can achieve set goals or standards. That is to say, this approach is to assess achievement of performance against a cut-off score that is determined as a reflection of mastery or attainment of specified objectives. This approach is used to see whether a respondent has met certain instructional objectives or criteria and focuses on ability to perform tasks rather than group ranking.

In the UK, During Key Stages 1-3, progress in most National Curriculum subjects is assessed against eight levels. At the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, the report would be sent to parents by the school to clarify what level their children are working at. The format of assessment in the UK is different from that in China. To assess a student in British school, various tasks and tests would be taken rather than just written examination. For example:

At Key Stage 1¼Œ the level will be based on the teacher's assessment, taking into account students performance in several tasks and tests instead of just written tests . The results are not reported separately but are used to help the teacher assess students work.

At Key Stage 2 and 3, the level will reflect the teacher's assessment and students' national test results. These tests are intended to show if the Student is working at, above or below the target level for their age. This helps the school to make plans for their future learning. It also allows schools to see whether they are teaching effectively by comparing their pupils' performance to national results.

Rather than depending solely on the score of tests as in China, in the UK the results of the tests and the teacher's assessment may be different, and it's important to look at both to get an all-round view of students' progress. For example, a teacher may feel that pupils are doing better in a subject as a whole than in the parts of the subject covered by a test. At the end of each key stage, parents will get a report from the school telling them: the results of the child's tests (for Key Stage 2 only), the teacher assessment levels students have achieved, the results for all the children in their age group in the school and the national results for the previous year.

(To summarise this information further in Table 3 below)


Age of student


Of test

Excepted level

Target of test and assessment

Key stage 1

7 years old


Writing (handwriting and spell)


Most students are expected to achieve level 2.

The results are not reported separately but are used to help the teacher assess your child's work

Key stage 2


years old




Most students expected to achieve level 4

National tests at the end of Key Stage 2 are intended to show if your child is working at, above or below the target level for their age.

Key stage 3

14 years old





 geography modern foreign languages

Expected to achieve level 5.

The teacher assessment levels your child has achieved

the results for all the children in your child's age group in the school

the national results for the previous year



Years old

Your school or college can advise you about the subjects available to

more than 40 academic and nine 'applied' subjects.

GCSEs are graded A*-G and U (unclassified):

higher tier exams leads to grades A*-D

foundation tier exams leads to grades C-G

If you complete GCSEs at level 1, you could move on to other courses or work-based training at levels 1 or 2.

Completing GCSEs at level 2 can lead to other level 2 courses and level 3 courses of all types.

If you're thinking about higher education, you may need GCSEs in certain subjects. Most universities and colleges will ask for five GCSEs grades A*-C

A level

After completing their GCSEs

about 80 AS and A level subjects available.

A and AS levels are one of the main routes into higher education or go straight into a job

If you want to study a particular subject in detail, AS and A level qualifications may be for you. They are highly valued by schools, colleges and employers.


Comparing and contrasting

The different history, tradition, culture and social environment led to different educational systems and assessment systems between in China and England. Although examination and tests as the methods of summative assessment are applied by two countries, there are three differences that should be mentioned.

Fist, summative assessment is the main way to assess students in China, while it is likely a supplement to formative assessment for learning in England. It is a fact that assessment is often associated with testing, so when it comes to assessment methods, many teachers immediately think of tests in China. Because of the exam-orientated system, all teachers, students and parents focus on the exam .That is why Chinese students have high ability and skills to pass exams. Unfortunately, Chinese students can pass the exam and get high marks only through learning by rote. Most of their knowledge will disappear into oblivion after the national college entrance examination, because some of knowledge should not be used after entrance examination.

According to an investigation by the International Assessment of Educational Progress in 21 countries last year, the mathematics ability of Chinese students ranks first in the world, but they come last for imagination and fifth bottom for creativity. (Global Times August 17 2010). The Changjiang Daily stated that, of the 20 most important inventions of the 20th century, selected by professional institutes in US, none came from the mind of a Chinese. Over 2,000 Chinese students gain doctorate degrees in the US every year, more than all other non-American students combined learning there, although American experts comment in the report that Chinese students get outstandingly high exam scores, but lack imagination. (Global Times August 17 2010)Lacking creativity and with little imagination, it is hard for them to deal with problems of society.

By contrast, the ability-orientated education is advocated in England, individualized instruction is one of the hotspots of education; diversity of assessment is useful for learning and teaching, which contributes to development of all-round personalities.

Secondly, the format of assessment is diverse as well as the method of examination in England. Assessment is less varied in China, the main of assessment is summative assessment and the methods of examination tend to be written examination.

Summative assessment gives an overall picture of the performance of students. Both reliability and validity of assessment are important features. In the UK, summative assessment usually consists of a series of pieces of evidence instead of only final written tests. An example of this taken by Morland in 1994 is an A-level physics examination. This was taken by pupils who specialized in studying about three subjects in school between ages 16 and 18 .In this examination ,pupils do written tests ,one on multiple choice ,one on short problems ,one on comprehension of an on unseen passage ,and one on analysis of data ,together with two pieces of teacher assessed work ,one an open experimental project and one essay requiring library research ,both on individually chosen topics.

Finally, the impact of results of the national examination for students is different. In China, the result of important examination mostly decides the whole study life of student. But in England this bias can be removed. Black (1998) suggested this variety serves both to reflect a range of aims of the learning in authentic ways, and to reduce bias which can arise because different candidates respond better to some kinds of contexts and challenges than to others. It is quite different to that in China where the summative assessment depends on a score on the final examination paper. Like physics, other national curriculum assessments also depend on written examinations. In other words, the outcome of learning of students is easy to bias at examination time

To be exact, In the UK, it's important to look at both to get an all-round view of your child's progress. For example, a teacher may feel a student is doing better in a subject as a whole than in the parts of the subject covered by a test. At the end of each key stage, parents get a report from the school. But in China, the score usually is considered as the outcome of studying. Last but not least, the test and the examination is more flexible in the UK than in China. For instance, if you think something may have gone wrong with the marking of your exam, your school or college can ask for a re-mark or recount. If you are still unhappy, your school or college can appeal to the awarding body, and then finally, if necessary, to the independent Examinations Appeals Board. Compared with a single examination, with no right of appeal, it seems to be more humane as college entrance examinations will likely kill some talents who have low examination skill.


Arguably, assessment in school must, primarily, directly and foremost serve the learning of all the students. Assessment is embedded in a pedagogy of which it is an essential part (e.g. constructivist). The purpose of assessment is to obtain information on how effective teaching has been and provide feedback to learners on their progress, particularly their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, assessment also gives learners an incentive to study and it helps to clarify for both teacher and learner what learners need to achieve in future. In other words, it identifies what and how to learn, including the quantity of learning and the d level of performance.

It is known that Chinese students in schools are among the most assessed inside and outside of schools that state education system produces, overuse of examinations and tests has exerted huge impacts on society. Admittedly, the test is one way to collect information as assessment. However, it is not the only way to estimate and judge students' performance. Testing is only one of the different ways to collect information. Testing is a single-occasion, one-dimensional, timed exercise, it is formal and often standardized, which means that everyone takes the test under the same conditions. In other words, everyone is given the same procedures for administering and scoring, the same test materials and items, and the same norms against which they are compared.

Similarly, British students are also among lots of assessment in school, the examinations and tests are the ways to improve standard of learning and teaching , collect talents and as a way for entrance to university made by state. One difference is British educational system more prefer formative assessment; other difference is that examinations and tests in Britain are more flexible.

Admittedly, China has never stopped in their reforms of assessment during three decades, such as enrolment expansion, college mergers and exam paper evolutions. However, all these efforts have not offset increasingly negative comments, as the reforms never touch on the fundamental problem - exam-oriented system.

A fact that the exam is main assessment method in China cannot be replaced by formative assessment. However, educationists and teachers have recognised this issue, therefore, it is suggested that more formative assessment in class would be useful¼ŽExperientially, what we should do is to use formative assessment to improve the result of summative assessment.