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Gaokao, Aka 3 Days of National Education Examination Hell

GB Times - The Gaokao is the National Higher Education Entrance Examination in China and each year millions of Chinese students take the exam.

The test determines the fate of many students - testing their physical fitness, intelligence and psychological preparedness for the challenges that await them in their academic and professional careers.

An Exam that Makes or Breaks

The college entrance examination is one of the most competitive test in the world. After three years of high school study students are allowed to take the exam and a passing grade is a requirement of all students who wish to attend college. In most years only 70 percent of students pass the exam.

Students in China are motivated to achieve the highest level of academic success and most strive for admission to the most selective universities.

It is not uncommon that one hundred students will struggle for one place and if a student fails to gain admission to the university of their choice they will try again and again rather than settle for the second best. For this reason the exam becomes more competitive each year as holdovers from the previous year often re-take the exam in the hope of achieving a better result.

In 2005, there were 8.67 million examinees but only space for 5.04 million students in China’s universities. More recently the number of examinees has increased to 10.5 million with the number admitted to schools increasing to only 5.99 million in 2008.

The number of students entering college is rising but not as rapidly as the number of students taking admission tests producing intense competition for spots at top universities in China.

A Three-day Battle

The Gaokao is a three-day event which tests the willpower, mental fortitude and strength of Chinese students. Held in early June each year it tests students in Chinese language, math, arts or science and on foreign language proficiency over the course of several days.

Except for arts and science, which require 90 minutes, each subject is allotted two hours of exam time and students are required to take the test on time or their test will be canceled. During the examination, police and doctors are on duty at all testing locations.

Near the exam sites, there cannot be any whistling or other noise. On the morning of the exam it’s customary for local citizens to make way for those who will attend the exam. Traditionally there are volunteers offering help near the sites. Parents will ask for leave from their jobs to accompany their children to the testing location and oftentimes the scene outside the testing center is one filled with nervous parents.

Tragedies Caused by Gaokao

The Gaokao is a spotlight in China but it is also the cause of some controversy. Some argue that the test evaluates grades of students rather than serving as an accurate measure of ability.

Sadly there have been some tragic incidents resulting from the pressure associated with the Gaokao. In 2012 a boy jumped from a school building because he was late and barred from attending the exam. A nineteen-year-old girl named Yan Zi jumped into a river because she failed the Gaokao on three occasions.

As a result of these and other tragedies China has gradually reformed the Gaokao and Chinese schools have begun to pay closer attention to the mental health of students taking the test.