Chinese and American Education Differences: Results vs. Process-Oriented

Discrepancies in class sizes and teaching styles are the most striking differences between Chinese and American education. However, there is another fundamental difference that garners considerably less attention but nonetheless has a major impact on your Chinese students’ academic habits and mindset. Namely, Chinese schools typically prioritize results, whereas American schools, particularly private schools, tend to prioritize the process through which a student achieves results. Essentially, the Chinese school system places more emphasis on the quantifiable “product” students produce (e.g. test scores, getting the “right” answer, etc.), while the American school system tends to give more consideration to the process by which they created the “product.”

In order to better understand this distinction, let us take a quick look at how this discrepancy in grading philosophy between the two countries arose and the subsequent impact it may have on your Chinese international students’ academic performance.

The genesis of this discrepancy in grading rubrics can be attributed to many factors, some of which are culturally embedded. Nonetheless, the current grading system in China has as much to do with infrastructure and logistics as anything else; since class sizes in China are considerably larger than those in the United States, it is unfeasible for Chinese teachers to provide their students with the individualized attention that is necessary to accurately evaluate each student’s thought process. Subsequently, Chinese schools opt to evaluate student performance strictly based off of their final product.


Here are three key social insights into the far-reaching influence that American and Chinese grading styles have had on an international student’s academic habits and mindset:

1. Open-ended questions are intimidating 

You may find that Chinese students are not used to answering open-ended questions that lack a “right” answer and are geared towards evaluating a student’s thought process. For Chinese students who are taught to provide only the “right” answer, these types of questions can be both confusing and intimidating.

2. Homework is practice for and less important than the test

Moreover, you may see that Chinese students do not approach daily homework the same way as American students. This is because Chinese students are not used to viewing homework as an important piece of the graded “process,” but rather as an aid which prepares students for what really counts – the test.

3. There is a “right” answer, and no one owns it

Finally, this difference in grading styles can go a long ways towards elucidating the differing attitudes Chinese and American schools take in regards to plagiarism. Unlike American students, who are taught to cite their sources in order to demonstrate the deep thought and research they have carried out, Chinese students believe that the goal of education is to simply provide the “right” answer, regardless of who first articulated it. Consequently, Chinese students don’t see plagiarism as intellectual thievery, for it would be impossible to “own” facts or the correct answer to a question. 


As you can see, the disparate grading rubrics of Chinese and American schools impact Chinese international students long after they leave China and can affect their performance at your school. By better understanding the root of these differing educational styles and some common manifestations of these discrepancies, the staff at your school can better prevent any misunderstandings and help your students adapt to the American educational style.