AST Overview

The Aptitude Scholastic Test (AST) is a unique academic standards test first created by the Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research in 2003 as part of CEIS, the China Excellence Identification Scheme.

Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research is an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation that works with leading international universities to help them identify and pre-screen gifted students from state schools in China for undergraduate study overseas.

The AST, a unique test at the heart of CEIS, has enabled outstanding students with a background in the Chinese national curriculum from state schools across China to apply to leading universities; furthermore, it has helped ensure that successful candidates admitted via this non-profit route have been in a position to excel academically without any need for a foundation year, as demonstrated by data gathered since 2003.

2003: A Strong Beginning

In 2003, Ambright worked with academics at the University of Cambridge to create a “Cambridge-Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research Selection Centre”. Today, that centre is known as the CEIS (China Excellence Identification Scheme) Project Centre.

Through that joint effort, students of the Chinese national curriculum could, by sitting the AST, apply to the University of Cambridge for undergraduate study without needing to take A-level courses or other international curricula.

During the pilot year of CEIS in 2003, the first admitted students created a legacy of success. For example, student Hao Zhang graduated near the top of his class and went on to work for a major global corporation. In each subsequent year, the AST has consistently helped pre-select exceptional students for prominent universities.

Rapid Development Over Years

Since 2003, the AST has grown at a rapid pace. Aside from the University of Cambridge, an array of world-leading universities now accept the test results as a basis for admission, which means that outstanding students at Chinese state schools can apply to top overseas universities without studying for international qualifications at international schools.

Participating universities that use the AST as a basis for admission include the following: University of Auckland; University of Bristol; University of Cambridge; Cardiff University; Durham University; University of Edinburgh; University of Glasgow; Newcastle University; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; University of Reading; University of Warwick.

An International Test with Chinese Characteristics

Unlike other international examinations, the AST is tailored for Chinese students, using an assessment system and knowledge focus points based upon the Chinese high school syllabus. This allows Chinese students to participate in normal Chinese high school programs and releases them from the extra burden of particular prep courses. In this way, a wider range of students gain access to study overseas, depending on which universities accept the test as a prerequisite.

Cutting-edge Research and Development

The AST draws on the talent and experience of a dedicated group of education experts who design exam papers at the AST Centre. These seasoned specialists have each – on average – been engaged in educational research work for over two decades.

With their rich testing experience and international insight, members of our AST team work on the steady development of the test to ensure that it exactly mirrors the academic level and comprehensive study ability of test participants under international criteria.

In addition, the exam markers’ group comprises senior teachers from various disciplines. The AST Centre randomly assigns the exam marking to group members, which helps guarantee the fairness and transparency of the exam paper and testing procedure.

A fusion of aptitude and proficiency tests, the AST reflects and respects cultural diversity: it is currently the only test available worldwide, to the best of our knowledge, that balances international assessment standards with the ability to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of candidates with a background in the Chinese national curriculum.

The AST has a rigorous test design, development and validation process. These processes ensure that every version of the test is of a comparable level of difficulty.


AST allows a wider range of students access to study overseas.

The following students are eligible to take the test:

  1. Those who are currently studying on, or have graduated from, a Chinese high school programme.
  2. Those who are seeking study opportunities at overseas universities.
  3. Students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are welcome.
  4. Study level requirement: students who have completed their second year of a Chinese high school programme (or equivalent)
  5. Preparation session: this is an optional 3-day programme that test-takers may register for to gain a deeper insight into the nuances of the exam. Click here for details about this session. 

Examination Particulars

AST Testing Centres

Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research, which oversees the AST, has a firm relationship with myriad Chinese schools – from the northeast to southern Hainan Island and western Gansu province – which serve as certified AST test centres.

All test centre schools (which have undergone a careful screening procedure and the appointment of an on-site administrator) have been invited to join training programmes offered by Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research free of charge.

The purpose of the AST test centres is of course to benefit students across the country – to allow them to access leading overseas universities’ presentations, seminars, or forums organised by the Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research; and to ensure that gifted students can sit the rigorous test without having to travel far.

Since 2003, AST has focused heavily on testing proficiency in English and mathematics. Students may also choose optional test modules based on the requirements of participating universities for which they have opted to apply.


The test helps myriad students realize their dreams

Examination Dates

AST takes place every year at multiple locations across China in August.

Typical Exam Schedule

Day 1:
9:00-12:00 am, Mathematics 
14:00-17:00 pm, English 

Day 2:
9:00-12:00 Physics 

Test Methods

The bulk of the test uses short answers and multiple choice, while the listening portion uses a voice recording plus short written answers.

  • English exam is 180 minutes long (including a 40-minute listening portion)
    • Questions are written in English and must be answered in English. Many of these are essay questions which require the candidates to think logically and independently to express their individual point of view on each topic.
  • Mathematics exam is 180 minutes long
  • Physics exam is 180 minutes long

Test Processing

After the students complete their tests, their scores are sent to the CEIS member universities by request for a small processing fee.

Alternatively, universities can also verify the candidates’ AST results by contacting the AST centre directly. We are glad to provide the electronic transcript for free.

If a conventional hard copy is required, additional processing fees may be charged (it takes at least 5 working days to process these requests).

The AST Network

Spread over 19 provinces, AST currently has 38 testing sites in China, most of which are nationally top-ranked high schools (such as Beijing No.4 High School and Shanghai Gezhi High School). AST administrators have worked closely with these high schools for many years, in order to provide trustworthy, high-quality testing services.

The AST is a powerful tool with nearly a decade of development behind it that effectively bridges exceptional Chinese high school students with world-leading universities. Unlike other international examinations, AST is tailored for Chinese students, using an assessment methodology and knowledge focus that is based upon the Chinese high school syllabus.

The results speak for themselves: over the years many students who have taken the test have gained admission to the University of Cambridge, while several hundred others have been admitted to other schools in the AST network.