Chinese Language Blog

The Gaokao – The Most Important Exam in Chinese College Admissions Posted by on May 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Next month, millions of high school seniors will take the most important exam (考试 kǎo shì) of their lives – the Chinese National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Shortly known as the 高考 (gāokǎo, higher education exam).

The gaokao is the sole criteria for determining university (大学 dà xué) admissions in China. Failure in the gaokao, a prerequisite to enter university, means the student can’t continue to higher education. Passing the exam is not enough either: its score is the deciding factor for the student’s university placement. For Chinese high school students (中学生 zhōng xué shēng), the future is at stake. This one exam will define their life. A high score on the gaokao can open the gates of prestigious campuses, and with their certificates it’s easier to find a job. Ryan Thorpe teaches a creative writing class at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. One class, he asked his 18 students to write about 60 important (重要 zhòng yào) seconds of their lives. Almost all of them wrote about the gaokao.

  • 这场考试将会决定学生未来的人生。

Zhè chǎng kǎo shì jiāng huì jué dìng xué shēng wèi lái de rén shēng.

This exam will determine the future of the students.

The gaokao is held every year in June. It lasts two exhausting days, nine grueling hours each day. Most students start preparing (准备 zhǔn bèi) for the notorious exam a year before. Websites count down the days remaining until the crucial test.

The content of the gaokao varies by province, but there are generally four subjects (科目 kē mù): Chinese (语文科目 yǔ wén kē mù), math (数学科目 shù xué kē mù), a foreign language, usually English (英语科目 yīng yǔ kē mù), and one comprehensive subject depending whether the candidate chooses to major in liberal arts or sciences.

The competition is huge: in 2016, only 2 percent of the 9.4 million participants were admitted (录取 lù qǔ) by the top 38 schools in China. Parents (家长 jiā zhǎng) hope their children will get into a top-tier university (一本大学 yī běn dà xué). Maybe to even one of the universities in the 211 or 985 projects (工程 gōng chéng). The projects (both initiated in the 90’s) aimed to enhance the research standards and to promote Chinese universities as world-class universities in the 21st century. The projects focus on the development of top 100 and 40 universities respectively. Applying to one of the universities in the projects requires high scores on at the gaokao.

  • 家长希望孩子被985名校录取。

Jiā zhǎng xī wàng háizi bèi 985 míng xiào lù qǔ.

Parents hope their children will be admitted to the 985 prestigious schools.

Last June, the public transportation department in Zhengzhou city, Henan province, placed the buses that service number 211 and 985 routes outside the test venue for the waiting parents. The company offered the anxious parents water and magazines to spend the nine hours test session. The parents got on the bus to rest but mainly for good luck. The verb for getting on the bus 上 (shàng) also means to attend university. The phrase “上985” or “上211” can refer to bus number as well as to one of the universities in the famous projects.

  • 公交部门祝福考生都能考上985,211高校。

Gōng jiāo bù mén zhù fú kǎo shēng dōu néng kǎo shàng 985,211 gāo xiào.

The bus department wish the candidates admission to 985 and 211 universities.

This short film presents two mothers that are willing to do everything to help their kids pass the exam:

In Ordos city, Inner Mongolia province, the Bó Yuán Háo Shēng hotel set up a small booth and distributed mineral water for the candidates and their parents. On the red banner hung over the booth was written the slogan: 金榜题名 (jīn bǎng tí míng). This expression is a useful greeting during June. It refers to the honorable list of participants who passed the exam during the period of Chinese imperial examinations. Those people could enter into government or political offices and acquire fame and power. Simpler ways to wish someone good luck in the gaokao are:

  • 高考考试祝你成功!

Gāo kǎo kǎo shì zhù nǐ chéng gōng!

Good luck in the gaokao!

  • 祝你取得好成绩!

Zhù nǐ qǔ dé hǎo chéng jī!

I wish you’ll get a good score!

  • 祝你高考顺利!

Zhù nǐ gāo kǎo shùn lì!

I wish you success in the exam!

  • 加油,我为你祝福!

Jiā yóu, wǒ wèi nǐ zhù fú!

Do your best, good luck!

“I’m glad that I survived”, says one of the Interviewees in the next video about memories from taking the gaokao:


Text vocabulary

考试 kǎo shì = exam

高考 gāokǎo = higher education exam

重要 zhòng yào = important

大学 dà xué = university

一本大学 yī běn dà xué = top-tier university

中学 zhōng xué = high school

中学生 zhōng xué shēng = high school students

工程 gōng chéng = project

家长 jiā zhǎng = parent

准备 zhǔn bèi = to prepare

录取 lù qǔ = to admit

科目 kē mù = subject

语文 yǔ wén = Chinese

数学 shù xué = math

英语 yīng yǔ = English




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