ABCs of China’s Gaokao

June 7 is a big day for people in China aiming to undertake higher education as gaokao falls that day. The national college entrance examination (NCEE), called gaokao in Chinese, is not an ordinary test.

The exam is taken by students in their final year of senior high school without age restriction. Each year, millions of young Chinese sit the exam which is held normally on June 7-8. Last year 9.12 million students took the exam. The two-day test will decide whether the students get into the universities of their choices. Although university admission is rising, with more than 90 percent in some provinces, to enter a good university one still needs to go through fierce competition. So, it is a make-or-break challenge, or a life-changing exam, for the young people, especially those from poor families.

Here, you will find something you may want to know about what students achieve by sitting the test, how it is continually changing and what gaokao has in store for students and their families, this year.

1. Basic facts about gaokao

Basic facts about China's gaokao.

2. How much does it cost to prepare for gaokao?

Preparing for the entry exam is no easy feat – for the brain cells, or the hip pocket. In fact, it can cost up to 100,000 yuan when paying for extra classes, nutrimeals, school housing and private tutorials.

Many hotels within easy reach of the exam centers offer special gaokao packages for students, with hotels in Beijing charging up to 2,000 yuan per night. Despite high prices, many rooms have been fully booked by parents who hoped to buy extra rest, or cram, time for their children.

And, there appeared professional gaokao nannies who are usually highly educated students or recent graduates. They will move in with students to study with them in the run up to the exam. For example, a Shanghai university freshman is paid a daily wage of 300 yuan to chat with his client and stay up with him during all-nighters.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s – less than 50 years ago – it would cost no more than five yuan.

How much does it cost to prepare for gaokao.

3. Gaokao reforms

Few people question the importance of the gaokao, but it has flaws, such as an over-emphasis on academic performance. And the exam has long been controversial for imposing uniformity in picking talents.

Several changes about Gaokao are in the pipe. Those include spreading out assessments over multiple tests, giving students second-chance exams, making the exams uniform across all regions and significantly cutting bonus points.

And, this year’s exam will also be the first in which cheating is a criminal act.  According to the revised law, cheaters can be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison

4. Top scorers

How many students take the first spots, also known as zhuangyuan, in gaokao? And what do they do after? Thankfully, an annual report has answered those questions by tracking down top-scorers over the past decades.

It seems Peking University is the college-of-choice among the most gifted students. A recently published report by a consultancy company showed that a total of 835 top-scorers at the provincial-level in the country’s national college entrance examination, or gaokao, became Peking University students between 1977 and 2015. Tsinghua University, another top university, followed Peking University to receive 668 top scorers. Fudan University enrolled 55 to rank third, while the University of Science and Technology of China received 54.

The economics major has been the most popular among top scorers, attracting 343 students, followed by business administration and electronic information engineering.

5. Interesting news about gaokao

Gaokao isn’t just a stressful time for students – it’s a time of year that sees parents praying, teachers battling traffic to reach tests on time, and entire communities undertaking grand celebrations to cheer on the college prospects.

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting stories about gaokao in recent years.

Before last year’s gaokao, an online game company gave a vacation during the gaokao test, noticing that its more than 2000 employees had no need to go to offices for work on June 8 to relieve the traffic jam during the gaokao period. The company’s employees, who had children take part in the national college entrance examination, were granted subsidies on travel and accommodation while accompanying their children to the tests.

A gaokao robot, developed under China’s super brain project, will take part in the national college entrance examination, or gaokao, in 2017. The robot will be tested on three subjects: Chinese, maths and social sciences. Its aim is to achieve a score higher than the enrollment mark for the key universities in China.

Robot aims for first-class Chinese universities in 2017.

An interactive robot named Jiajia, who looks very much like a real woman, is unveiled by the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, capital of East China’s Anhui province, on April 15, 2016.

Interesting news about gaokao-1

A special team of traffic police was formed on June 4, 2016, in Weinan, Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, to secure the traffic, and help students get to the test venues in time. The exam is so important that the police would prevent drivers around the exam sites from blowing their horns.

Interesting news about gaokao-2

People set off fireworks in the shape of the Chinese character “Zhong” (中), which means to win in gaokao, at a high school in Dandong, Northeast China’s Liaoning province, on June 5, 2016.

6:China’s ancient gaokao system

Many Chinese parents see NCEE as an opportunity to help their child change his or her destiny. Then, how did people in ancient China manage to change their destiny? Basically – they would take the imperial examination, or keju, which began during the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and lasted for 1,300 years before it was abolished in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Keju, the earliest “gaokao”, played a very important role in selecting qualified personnel to work for the imperial court.

A model of an examination hall for the keju imperial examinations in ancient China.

The photo shows a model of an examination hall for the keju imperial examinations in ancient China.

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