Recently, I decided to apply for a driver's license in China.Since I already have one from the U.S., the main thing I had to dowas pass a computerized test on the rules of the road here. Ifigured it would be a breeze.
Driving and car ownership have taken off in China. Last year,the country added nearly 18 million drivers. There is so muchdemand for licenses that I had to wait a month for the firstavailable testing date.
The night before my test, I decided to take a practice oneonline. There were 100 questions drawn from a pool of nearly 1,000.You had to get 90 correct to pass.
I got a 65 and started to panic. On the way to the testingcenter the next day, I crammed on my iPad, but still only scored a77.
Why is the Chinese driver's test so hard? For one thing, itrequires a ton of memorization. Consider this yes or no question,taken verbatim from a test:
"If a motorized vehicle driver has caused a major trafficaccident in violation of the traffic regulations which has causedhuman death due to his escaping, the driver is subject to a prisonterm of 3 years to 7 years."
The answer, it turns out, is "no." I eventually answered thiscorrectly, but still have no idea what the actual prison termis.
The other reason the test is difficult for foreigners is someof the translations are, well, challenging. Take this question:
"When theres [sic] a diversion traffic control on theexpressway, a driver can stop by the side to wait instead ofleaving out of the expressway, for continually running after thetraffic control."
I don't know what that means, but apparently under Chineselaw, you can't do it.
'There's Something Wrong With That Test'
I wasn't the only foreigner who struggled with the questions.Others left the testing center shellshocked.
"It's impossible to understand what they're trying to say,"said Hugo Ulloa, an international trader from Chile, as wecommiserated after he'd failed a second time.
A man takes a computerized road rules test at a driving schoolin Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province, in 2011. MostChinese people — accustomed to an education system that emphasizesrote memorization — don't find the test as difficult asforeigners.
"I've been studying for two days," Ulloa continued, shakinghis head. "Last night, it was like three hours and I still cannotpass this. I'm getting really frustrated."
Jeffrey Kelsch, an American who runs a market research firm inShanghai, applied for a license last year because he wanted to beable to take his dog, Dash, a West Highland white terrier, ondriving trips out of town.
Most foreigners here can't read Chinese and people appreciatethat the government offers the test in translation. In Shanghai,you can take it in English, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Italian,German, French, Spanish and Arabic. (Foreigners must have a Chineselicense to drive in China.)
Kelsch took the English version of the test, but it didn'thelp much. After he flunked the first time, "I went out andcomplained," Kelsch recalled. "I said, 'There's something wrongwith that test. I'm sure I got all of them right.' "
A traffic bureau official assured him he had not, but allowedhim to take the test again on the spot. Kelsch, 46, failed again.Then he studied and took it a third and even a fourth time.
"And I actually did worse," Kelsch said, laughing indisbelief. "So, at that point I decided, 'OK, I'm giving up onthis.' "