Record 13.42m Chinese students take fiercely competitive college exam

Tens of thousands of students headed to take China's 2024 national college entrance examination on Friday morning.
Record 13.42m Chinese students take fiercely competitive college exam

An examinee claps hands with teachers outside a national college entrance examination site in Beijing, capital of China, June 7, 2024.

With rain easing summer heat in Beijing on Friday morning, conditions were cool and fresh as tens of thousands of students made their way to venues to take China's 2024 national college entrance examination.

Buses have been ordered to take detours and construction operations have been halted, as authorities implemented steps to avoid noise at the city's 105 entrance examination test sites during the four-day exam period, according to the municipal government's notice.

On Friday, a total of 13.42 million young people across China began participating in this year's college entrance test, known as the gaokao. This number is a record high since matriculation resumed in China in 1977, and marks an increase of 510,000 students compared to last year, the Ministry of Education revealed.

Wearing a red dress, Liu Jinhuan gave her daughter a big hug and then watched her walk toward a gaokao test site inside Beijing 101 Middle School in Haidian District in the northwest of the Chinese capital.

"I chose this dress for an auspicious start on the first day of my daughter's exam. I believe taking the gaokao exam is quite an experience for young people like my daughter, preparing them to learn how to face future challenges in life," she said.

The exam is considered crucial for young Chinese people, with results determining their university admissions and even shaping their career prospects.

This year, the seven provincial-level regions of Heilongjiang, Gansu, Jilin, Anhui, Jiangxi, Guizhou and Guangxi have introduced changes to the exam. In addition to the unified national exam for the three major subjects, namely Chinese, mathematics and foreign language, students in these regions are allowed to choose between physics and history when taking the exam, and select two among the other four subjects – ideology and politics, geography, chemistry and biology.

Meanwhile in Beijing, following two days of the unified national exam for the three major subjects, students will need to take exams for three of the other six subjects – ideology and politics, history, geography, physics, chemistry and biology.

Record 13.42m Chinese students take fiercely competitive college exam

Examinees wait to attend the national college entrance examination at an examination site in Beijing, capital of China, June 7, 2024.

Fair game

China's college admission rate has seen a significant rise in recent years. Nonetheless, the gaokao, the largest exam of its kind in the world, is still widely recognized as one of the toughest college entrance exams globally.

Although the pressure is intense, it is considered a fair game for those who study hard, rewarding them with good scores and access to the country's institutions of higher learning.

The Chinese government and the whole society have shown great determination to ensure the fairness of the gaokao.

Special provisions are in place for students with disabilities and other special needs, according to authorities. These include the creation of Braille exam papers for 15 visually impaired candidates across 11 provincial-level regions. Notably, support is available for over 11,000 candidates with disabilities this year.

To ensure the fairness of the exam, police departments are targeting cheating in all forms, from providing exam papers or answers ahead of exams to relaying answers to students via wireless devices during exams. Those who cheat during the exam run the risk of being stripped of their college enrollment qualification prospects for a period ranging from one to three years.

In south China's Guangdong Province, advanced technology including artificial intelligence is involved in checking for exam cheating.

All examinees can only reach the test sites in Guangdong after passing two checks using detectors and another when passing through a security machine gate – all of which are designed to detect electronic devices.

Meanwhile, intelligent inspection systems are used to monitor exam venues in the province, where radio signal shielding equipment is also used to prevent cheating.

Record 13.42m Chinese students take fiercely competitive college exam

An examinee enters a national college entrance examination site in Kaili, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Guizhou Province, June 7, 2024.

Social support

Chinese society, renowned for valuing young people's education, is enthusiastically mobilized to give a helping hand to gaokao candidates.

Outside the exam venue of Beijing 101 Middle School, traffic police appeared on the street as early as 6 am on Friday to help smooth and reduce the flow of vehicles and pedestrians, as the school is located near the famous Summer Palace scenic spot as well as Tsinghua University and Peking University.

Parents of examinees waited quietly outside the school, which has prepared beach umbrellas and benches on the sidewalk for them.

In Shanghai, four major taxi dispatch centers started as early as June 1 to accept taxi bookings for students taking the exam.

The public security department of Liaoning Province in northeast China has also been active in assisting students, setting up service booths at test sites to provide an on-site ID verification service in case gaokao candidates lose or damage their ID cards before the exam.

In addition, police vehicles on street patrol make a point of assisting gaokao examinees in case of traffic congestion and other emergencies that may prevent them from taking the exam.

Thankfully, gaokao is no longer the only option for young people in China seeking to pursue higher education.

"I passed an enrollment exam at the Liaoning Rail Transit Vocational College in April to study mechanical manufacturing and automation," said Kang Yuhan, a high school senior in Liaoning.

He feels the vocational college qualification will give him an advantage in securing better job prospects in the country's thriving railway sector.

Higher vocational colleges, which are currently booming in China, make independent decisions concerning enrollment of students. Such enrollment tests took place ahead of the gaokao. In the manufacturing hub of Liaoning, a total of 54,000 high-school candidates were admitted to such vocational colleges in April 2024.

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