Chinese Exams Are Not Fun

I haven’t updated for the past few days because over the weekend I was feverishly preparing for my one exam this semester. It was the Modern Chinese (现代汉语) exam. I’ve actually already taken another version of this exam before in order to get into grad school, but my advisor thought it might be beneficial for me to study it again more in-depth in order to make up some credits.

Preparing for this exam was not fun. I have already learned the material once, and it’s all fairly easy to understand, but I had to memorize so much material this time. The focus of the exam was grammar, so it was mainly focused on categorizing. That means memorizing tons of lists: the 14 Chinese parts of speech, the 12 types of phrases, the 10 types of complex sentences, etc. There were many such lists. I found the actual analysis (such as by 层次分析法) to be OK, but the memorization was killing me.

I think the experience of taking an exam with Chinese undergrad students really gave me a good look into what it’s like to be a Chinese college student. It also reminded me that I’m not a college kid anymore, and that my memory is much less accepting than it once was. More than anything, I just don’t have the patience for that kind of learning anymore; we live in a world of limitless resources at our fingertips. Memorization of this kind of thing is for chumps!

I noticed that the one essay question on my exam was the same as one of the ones on the first Modern Chinese exam I took: what are the main distinguishing grammatical features of Modern Chinese? On the one hand, this is a very important question directly relevant to anyone who wants to teach Chinese. But on the other hand, it kind of strikes me as tied to the Chinese pride issue.

The exam wasn’t too bad, but I really hope it’s the last exam of this type that I have to take.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. 语法难度好像接近国内初中文法教学程度.

  2. yeah, that’s the way we surffered a lot. Bah! they put them on u too?!

  3. Lantian Says: July 5, 2006 at 12:47 am

    About “the 14 Chinese parts of speech, the 12 types of phrases, the 10 types of complex sentences, “, this kinda sounds manageable, I take it the devil is in the details though, is there a Cliff Notes version/source that you know of, online, it would be interesting for me to see what I don’t know! (I’m stuck with this kind of non-complex speech in my Chinese, I’d like to notch it up a bit)

  4. John,

    Maybe you’ve blogged about this before, but what you plan to do after graduation?

  5. 华侨学生可以不参加任何考试

  6. Sonagi: I believe the question you’re looking for is: “What’s next?” It was one of the questions I disliked answering during graduation.

    John: I really feel you on the patience thing. Glad you made it through the exam preparation! Memory is a precious thing, there is so much noise in life that it’s already hard to focus as it is, and add to that memories and life experience. About the only thing I have found thus far to combat memory fatigue is photography, pen/pencil and paper.

    Good memory or memorization skills OWNS. Having “limitless” knowledge at our fingertips (i.e. cramped in front of a computer terminal) is a plus, but once you experience a “technologically defected” situation in the real world, you’ll discount that “limitless resource.”

  7. I think your blog is really interesting. I especially like the apolitical aspect of it. Too many people get worked up over Chinese politics and it’s just not worth it. There’s better causes in the world. And I like reading about culture much more than politics. I need to live vicariously through people like you because I miss China.

    But yeah, one thing I don’t get. Why’d you major in Japanese and end up living in China?

  8. 在中国学习应用语言学 这专业,应该就算比较难的了,很多靠记忆,况且还是对于不是很熟悉中国教育以及中国语言的外国人呢。

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