Big Tests as Fateful Rites of Passage

Some challenges in life loom larger than others, fraught with the potential to immeasurably transform our lives for the better if only we can rise to the occasion. Sometimes, that challenge is a really important exam. Amy and Mike invited author and professor Zachary Howlett to explain big tests as fateful rites of passage.

What are five things you will learn in this episode?

  1. What is the Gaokao, and what makes this test so important?
  2. What is the significance of describing an event as chancy and consequential?
  3. In what ways does a culture grow around very influential exams?
  4. Are there drawbacks to investing great importance into the results of a single day or week?
  5. How is society served by having big tests as fateful rites of passage?

MEET OUR GUEST

Zachary M. Howlett is an assistant professor of social sciences at Yale-NUS College at the National University of Singapore. He is a sociocultural anthropologist who researches education, rural-to-urban migration, and demographic change in China.

Zachary is the author of Meritocracy and Its Discontents: Anxiety and the National College Entrance Exam in China (Cornell University Press, 2021). In Meritocracy and Its Discontents, he contends that the Gaokao serves as a pivotal rite of passage in which people strive to personify cultural virtues such as diligence, composure, filial devotion, and divine favor.

Find Zachary at zachary.howlett@yale-nus.edu.sg or on Twitter at @howlett_zachary.

LINKS

Meritocracy and Its Discontents: Anxiety and the National College Entrance Exam in China
The Future of Higher Education podcast episode with Zachary
Is China’s gaokao the world’s toughest school exam?

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ABOUT THIS PODCAST

Tests and the Rest is THE college admissions industry podcast. Explore all of our episodes on the show page.

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