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Chinese college entrance exams stress students

Jenna Johnson

Okay all you high school students needing a break from studying for the SAT and ACT tests: You won't believe how tough the college entrance exams are in China.

The "gaokao" is an annual two-day exam taken by about 10 million high school seniors in China to compete for about 6.5 million university slots. If a student does well, he or she gets into a university. If not, off to find a low-paying job. This year the test was administered on Monday and Tuesday, and about 68 percent of students were expected to pass, according to the Associated Press.

Needless to say, those two days were the most stressful in the lives of many students.

Several foreign news agencies, including the Hindustan Times, have reported that at least two students committed suicide just before the test began. The death of a third student is also being investigated.

Police arrested at least 64 people for allegedly selling devices such as "wireless earphones, signal emitters, scanner-embedded pens and watches" to students hoping to game the high-stakes test, according to Xinhua News Agency. Once the exam began, officials say they caught seven students using such devices to cheat.

Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote about the test, which he says "makes the SAT look as grueling as a crossword puzzle." He vividly described the scene in Beijing this week:

While the students took their exams, parents were streaming into the vermillion gates of the temples, to burn incense and pray for good scores. (One friend told me today about a fellow mother who is so crazed that she has been visiting Catholic churches as well, just for good measure.) The city itself even got into the spirit, ordering drivers to avoid honking, which might disturb students, and, in some places, closing down Internet cafes in the days before, to encourage studying.

The Associated Press reports that Ministry of Education officials are reviewing the stress-inducing testing process to see if they should consider other factors -- like leadership and volunteer experience -- when admitting students to college.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  June 9, 2010; 11:18 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags: Admissions  
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The stress & pressure is on once (or even earlier than)students enter high school. They've been preparing for the college entrance exams (Gaokao) for 3+ years. As for my personal experience, the days when I took the exams were not the most stressful time, since we had had hundreds of practice tests prior to Gaokao. The time, energy and money families invest throughout the process (at least 3 years during high school, it's common to start the plan at the beginning of 7th grade) can't even be measured.

Approximately, 100 million students took Gaokao this year in China, which means over 150 million US-dollar value going into the economy within a couple of weeks, with families spending from taxi rides, hotel rooms, multiple after parties to travelling, etc.

I'd be interested to see more thorough and precise researches done in terms of the economic impact that Gaokao has.

Having experienced the tough exams and college admission process in China, I truly understand that Gaokao is way beyond the $$ sign. Highest respect and best wishes to the students and parents who work so hard for Gaokao.

Posted by: usaz09 | June 9, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

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