The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or so-called TOEFL exam, appears to be losing its magnetism in China, with a sharp decline in the number of people taking the test nationally.
The latest test was just administered on Saturday.
Sources from the National Examination Centre under the Ministry of Education said that it is still hard to say whether the number of TOEFL participants this year hit a record low.
In Beijing, TOEFL participants totalled around 10,000 this year, a sharp decline from more than 30,000 per year in previous years, Beijing-based China Youth Daily reported yesterday.
The number of TOEFL examinees stood at 100,000 in peak years,the report said.
Officials at the Beijing-headquartered New Oriental Education Group, an English training centre in China, also witnessed an acute fall of TOEFL applicants in its training school, around 30 per cent decrease against the previous year.
Wang Haibo, director of the TOEFL, GRE and GMAT Project in the education group attributed the drop of the number to the hard applications for US visas.
It became difficult for Chinese students to apply for US visas after September 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked the United States, Wang said.
Chinese students also have additional choices for studying abroad compared with years ago when TOEFL was a major channel for them, Wang said.
Besides TOEFL, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is also widely accepted by Chinese students, a partial reason for the decrease in the number of TOEFL participants, he said.
Wang predicted that the situation will go on if the United States continues its stricter visa policy.
In China, most of the participants of TOEFL are college students. Xu Qiongli, a graduate student in Beijing Broadcasting Institute, is among them.
Xu, who had planned to apply for the scholarship from the American Universities, sat for the TOEFL examination on Saturday.
She complained that the number of people who are fortunate to succeed in applying for scholarship from American universities dropped largely in recent years,which had dampened the enthusiasm of her friends to sit for TOEFL examination.
Analysts say that Chinese students are increasingly practical about their plans for studying abroad, and more and more students are trying to seek opportunities for personal development instead of paying the huge financial amounts for studying overseas.
Up to press time, US-based Educational Testing Service, the organizer of TOEFL examination, could not be reached to probe the reason for the decline.