Starting the 2006 fall semester, universities will not be allowed to give English reading texts or test knowledge, such as asking for problem-solving processes or the solution to a mathematical or scientific question, in their essay examinations.
In addition, if an advisory council for essay tests comprised of teachers and university professors find that the essay tests can be deemed as individual university entrance exams, harsh administrative and financial sanctions will be imposed, including reducing student quotas.
As universities say they will accept these essay guidelines, they denounce the measures as an excessive violation of their right to autonomy, giving rise to controversy over the new essay standards.
In order to avoid charges in 2008 college admissions that some universities essay tests are similar to individual entrance exams, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MOE) announced on August 30 its criteria for essay tests and plans for essay reviews.
As examples of what do not constitute essay tests, the MOE gave short-answer or multiple choice questions, questions on specific facts from certain subjects, mathematical or scientific problem-solving or solutions, or questions requiring a translation or interpretation of a foreign language text.
Arguments for and against allowing foreign language texts were equally strong, but the MOE said it decided to side with the view that if writing an essay is impossible because the text cannot be understood, then it is in effect an assessment of foreign language skills.
The 18-member advisory council for essay tests, made up of professors, teachers and experts on college admissions, will be examining essay tests not only after they are carried out, but also beforehand if requested by the university in advance.
When results from the council reviews are put together, the MOE will be exercising sanctions such as reducing the student quota, suspending student recruitment, or cutting down on budget support, according to the types and frequency of violations. Colleges that repeatedly commit offenses will receive heavier penalties.
The MOE, however, has decided not to apply these rules either to the 2005 regular admissions process or to the essay tests in the rolling admissions of the 2006 spring semester.