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Chinese students are better at maths than students in western countries?

Liam Phillips

Course Development Tutor

2020/02/05
Chinese students are better at maths than students in western countries?

 

 

A statement that most people now would accept as common sense, the short answer is yes – Chinese students are better at maths than students in western countries such as the UK and US. However, if the answer was that simple, why do many Chinese students struggle with UK secondary school entrance exam papers?

 

Our team of experienced maths tutors have outlined some areas of maths that Chinese students find difficult and how they can work to improve in these areas.

 

▍Linguistic advantage?

 

Chinese, like many east Asian languages, has an advantage when it comes to simple calculations. English is full of unique words that do not sound like the numbers they represent, such as ‘eleven.’ Compare this with the Chinese, literally ‘ten-one’ (十一).

 

 

If a native English speaker is asked to calculate ‘eleven plus twelve’ they then need to first translate it into 11 + 12 to arrive at the complex word answer of ‘twenty-three’. Compare this to the Chinese, ‘ten-one plus ten-two equals two-ten-three’ (十一 + 十二 = 二十三) and you can see why it is quicker and easier to compute.

 

 

One challenge for all students, therefore, is mastering ‘maths English’. Not only can numbers themselves pose a problem, but there are a whole range of wordier maths topics with a completely new set of vocabulary for students to learn.

 

 

Additionally, many students are unfamiliar with the differences between the Imperial and Metric systems. This is further complicated by the UK’s usage of both systems, which means students are tested on how to convert between them!

 

   

 

To this end, BE has created our own CN-EN Maths Dictionary of key terms we recommend students to learn at different levels. This enables students to pick up the required vocabulary quickly with the help of their tutor and fill in any linguistic gaps.

 

 

▍Content

 

Word problems brings us to the next point. Certain topics in maths are taught much later in China than the US and UK or are not compulsory – and unfortunately these tend to be some of the wordiest!

 

The Chinese maths curriculum has an intense focus on mental arithmetic, algebra and calculations but doesn’t introduce other topics until later. For example, probability is introduced in the UK at KS2 level (age 7-11) yet many high school students in China are yet to come across it. Similarly, exposure to basic graph work such as labelling axes and extracting values tend to be taught later in China than in the UK.

 

   

 

When a student comes to BE, they will first complete one of our own pre-tests which assesses students’ areas of weakness. This way, our team of tutors can focus on those areas straight away for targeted improvement.

 

 

▍Teaching method

 

Routine practice of a simple and effective Chinese number system has been proven as the best way of excelling at maths and traditional exams, but at what price? The Chinese education system focuses on preparing for exams which have similar questions in similar formats; this differs vastly from a western-style education system.

 

 

British schools commonly employ a ‘growth mindset’ teaching methodology which encourages students to first understand broader ideas and then to question them. This is applied to maths where students start by studying complex concepts that are then broken down into smaller steps.

 

   

 

By looking at the bigger picture, it enables students to process larger problems or problems framed in different ways.

 

 

Entrance exams for top UK schools and those lower down the ranking will not test students on content beyond their years. However, they may frame it in an unusual or challenging way that requires students to think critically.

 

 

One of the primary goals across all classes at BE is to encourage and develop our students’ critical thinking ability, and work with them to solve these types of questions.

 

 

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