Cram Time


Nothing motivates Asian blood like exams, especially Vietnamese blood.

Before first grade (ie. before kids are first taught to read and write), 5 year old Vietnamese kindergarten kids take an English exam to determine class placement in first grade and/or if the prestigious school will accept them at all. (this is becoming common in big cities like Hanoi and Saigon and thankfully haven’t spread to smaller cities and towns yet).
Personally, I think the main purpose of the test is to determine how much the parents will shell out when the kids attend those schools (rich parents have money to send kindergarten kids to English cram school. Good test scores? Rich parents. Will spend a lot on kids’ education)

Pass this first hurdle, the kids then enter a lifetime of continuous and rigorous testing (they get tested almost every other day, or every day, on different subjects) for as long as they stay in the Vietnamese school system. 5 years in grade school. 4 years in middle school. 3 years in high school. Total 12 years. Add another 4 if the kid is lucky/good at taking tests and đỗ đại học (got accepted to university).
Good test scores in the natural sciences toán, lý, hoá (math, physics, chemistry) earn high regards from classmates, family, friends, and neighbors. They may even confer “hot” status with the opposite sex (as opposed to the unsexy “geek” status in the US), and earn approval from potential family in law.

Coming out of this system, since test scores are so valued and appreciated, the product (me) develops an excellent method for getting good test scores (no one ever questioned me if I actually learned anything, except myself).

The method is called… Cramming. Capital C.

Well, anyway, what brought this on? Even though I’m out of school (and out of Vietnam), next week there’s a Chinese Mandarin midterm. Students who get less than 70 out of 100 on the test get kicked out of class.
It’s the only free Chinese class I know in town and it’s fun so I don’t want to get kicked out. I only knew about the class and started attending after half the school year had passed. Tons of stuff at intermediate level for me to catch up with. Only half a year worth of stuff.
Cramming. Capital C
Who says my “education” didn’t prepare me?


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