Nearly 9.8 million Chinese high school students took the National College Entrance Exam, called gaokao, on June 7 and 8.
The emphasis on a two-day test has sparked criticism from some educators because of the incredible amount of pressure it places on students leading up to just one test. Gaokao has also been linked to China's rising suicide rate because of mounted pressure and poor test results.
Hengshui High School, the highest achieving secondary schools in gaokao over the last 14 years, has these as its two mottos: “Life is not a rehearsal, because you won’t have the chance to live it all over again,” and “If you haven’t died from hard work, just work harder." At Hengshui, students study from 5:30 a.m. to 9:50 p.m., cannot have cell phones and are allowed just one day of vacation every month. Cameras are placed in each classroom to monitor students for laziness. These types of tactics are increasingly common at what many are calling gaokao-sweatshops — schools that exclusively prepare students for gaokao.
“I usually spent three to five minutes eating dinner,” a former student of Hengshui told China Daily.
Needless to say, the stakes are insanely high.
The Ministry of Education reported that students are competing for 6.5 million vacancies in universities across the country, according to Xinhua News agency. Currently the test is divided into three main areas: Chinese, math, and English, though there are other more specialized tests, too. The country's education ministry recently announced plans to reduce emphasis on English and instead bolster Chinese in the near future.