Every June, millions of high school seniors in mainland China take the test known as the gaokao, or the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE). This test, which spans multiple days, is typically the sole determining factor for which colleges, if any, the student is able to attend.

In U.S. college admissions, standardized test scores are still considered, but many are phasing out these requirements. In addition, an applicant’s extracurricular activities, employment history, leadership achievements, and often demographic information such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, are considered.

In June, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,095 Americans aged 18 and up to find out how many would be in favor of a college admissions system modeled after China, in which eligibility is determined by a single test.

Survey results include:

  • 1 in 4 Americans say they would support single test-based college admissions
  • Parents with college-bound children are more likely to support this model
  • There is equal support among political parties
  • 14% of Americans revoke support when informed this is the system used by China

One-Quarter of Americans in Favor of Single Test-Based College Admissions

When respondents were asked if they would support college admissions being based only on the results of a single test high school seniors would take each year, 23% say they would ‘strongly’ (9%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (15%) with such a policy.

Write-in responses from those who would support this policy included statements such as:

  • “To level the field. Some students have abundant free time to do all kinds of activities. Others must work part-time to help pay for college or even help the family. Some get to visit relatives in a nursing home. Others may have to help care for relatives who can’t get into a home.”
  • “A single test would provide the opportunity to compare applications on the same basis.”
  • “It gives everybody a chance at going to the college of their choice.”

Of the three-quarters of Americans who said they would not support single test-based admissions, write-in responses included:

  • “A single exam doesn’t give the proper perspective of a child’s academic capabilities.”
  • “One’s achievements and their influences on future scholastic abilities cannot be evaluated in one testing session. A more comprehensive type of admission system would provide a more rich and diverse population of students.”
  • “Because there are a lot of people that simply aren’t great test takers. Not only that, it sounds asinine to base a person’s entire future just on one measly test performance. Outside factors that are not expected to happen could easily reduce a person’s focus.”

Please note that all write-in responses have been edited for clarity.

Diane Gayeski, Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College and higher education consultant to Intelligent.com, offered her take on why the U.S. should not adopt single test-based college admissions.

“More than 80% of U.S. colleges and universities are now ‘test-optional’ which means that applicants can choose whether they want to submit their test scores. There are compelling reasons behind this – the most significant of which is that, at least for many majors, test scores are not an accurate prediction of student success in higher education,” Gayeski explains.

“Standardized tests often reduce the diversity of applicants, especially in a country with a population and school systems that are not at all homogenous. For instance, students who receive specific tutoring on test preparation in schools or through private tutoring have an edge – and these opportunities are generally associated with higher family income and more affluent neighborhoods or private schools. Students whose first language is not English or who have learning differences also are at a disadvantage.

“The best predictor of student success in college is their passion and prior track record in the specific area in which they are going to pursue a degree. For instance, a student who wants to major in screenwriting or opera performance or art history can excel despite having poor math placement scores since they likely will need to take very few pure math courses, even if their degrees require a broad liberal arts background in addition to courses in their major. Knowledge of English grammar doesn’t predict how well a student will do in sculpture or biology. Often, students lack the motivation to study in high school and don’t blossom until they find a passion.

“As a professor and former dean, I’ve talked with thousands of college applicants during my career, and without a doubt, the best measure of success for students who were looking at a degree in communications was whether their eyes lit up as we took them on a tour of the facilities and they were able to observe current students discussing topics in a class or working together on a TV or film shoot. Even students who hated specific topics like math or science were turned on to it when the concepts were related to their interests, such as social media statistics or the physics of sound recording, and wound up getting good grades in those subjects in college,” she finishes.

Parents with College-Bound Kids More Likely to Support Test-Based Admissions

Respondents who identified themselves as parents with college-bound children expressed a higher level of support than the general population (31% vs. 23%). There was not much difference in level of support among Republicans (24%) vs.respondents identifying as Democrats (25%).

Respondents with a high school level of education or lower were slightly more in favor of single test-based admissions (24%) than those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (22%).

Support Dropped When Respondents Were Informed That China Uses Single Test-Based Admissions

At the end of the survey, respondents who stated earlier that they would support a single test-based admissions system were informed that this is the method used in China’s higher education system.

When asked if they would still support such a system, 14% of respondents in this category said they no longer would.


This online poll was commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted by SurveyMonkey beginning June 14, 2023. Respondents consist of a national sample of 1,095 Americans age 18 and older.

Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Learn more about SurveyMonkey’s methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.

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