Skip Nav

Facts about China's National College Entrance Exam

Is It Just Me, or Do China's "SATs" Make Ours Look Like ABCs?

If you still wake up from nightmares about missing your SATs consider how you'd feel if they had lasted two days instead of a couple hours! Slate's Dispatches put together an book-cracking profile of China's SATs in time for the country's 31st annual National College Entrance Exam, also known as the "gaoko." Here's what you should know (I promise, it will help put a halt to those "show up at school naked" dreams. . .):

  • The exams take place over two days the first week of every June and at least 10 million Chinese high school students took them this year. Test takers are competing for an estimated 5.7 million university spots. If you're too tired to do the math that means almost half the people who take the exam won't get a university spot.
  • About 70 million Chinese have taken the gaokao and more than 30 million have enrolled at universities over the last three decades, according to Reuters.
  • Forget extra curricular activities and merit awards! Students become aware of the gaokao at an early age because it is the sole criterion for university admission.
  • The entire country stops and accommodates "millions of nervous gaokao-takers," says Slate. "Traffic cops will redirect vehicles away from test centers, and construction sites will pause their incessant drilling. Even in Sichuan, tents have been erected in case aftershocks require students to be moved from testing centers. Many Chinese citizens find the system painful, inflexible, and ineffective."
  • Wondering what happens if you don't ace the test and why the system can help lower classes, then


  • The gaoko is only offered once a year, but students that aren't happy with their scores can retake the test the following year.
  • The test has been criticized for squashing creativity or individuality, but is perceived by some to the the only "objective yardstick by which to measure academic success."
  • In theory students' social and economic statuses don't matter. One of the girls Slate profiles said the test "allows someone very poor the opportunity to rise out of poverty."
  • The test is supposed to be uniform nationally, but is actually modified by each province to accommodate the quality of local education.
  • Feel like testing your skills? Danwei has translations of some of the essay questions from the 2007 exam as reported by the Beijing Evening News and the Xinmin Evening News. No #2 pencil required.


Latest Love
Looking for the perfect gift this holiday season? Order our POPSUGAR Must Have box now >>