Autonomy in a High-stakes Exam Context: Chinese University Students’ Perceptions

  • Xiaoli Jiang Renming University of China
Keywords: learner autonomy, high-stakes exam context, perceptions


Autonomy literature is largely based on Western experience, which might not be appropriate for the promotion of autonomy in China. The research presented in this paper was carried out from a Chinese perspective and is therefore seen as significant for informing autonomy-oriented practices with Chinese students. Interviews were carried out with students from three universities. Two different procedures were applied to the data analysis. Firstly, informed by grounded-theory, the data reveal Chinese conceptions of learner autonomy in two distinctive domains: Learner Autonomy for Academic Success, and Learner Autonomy for Communicative Ability. Secondly, case analysis focusing on domains of autonomy in the Chinese context explored the findings and reported four main types: teacher-reactive, exam-reactive, semi-proactive, and proactive autonomy. The results reveal Chinese learners’ conceptions of learner autonomy in an exam-driven context and suggest that both school and family are crucial in shaping learners’ conceptions. The paper suggests that when promoting learner autonomy teachers should distinguish domains as well as types of autonomy. The paper also argues for further context-based research to inform both theories and practices of autonomy in China.