24 photos of China's insanely stressful college entrance exam process

This month, millions of Chinese high school students will take the National College Entrance Exam, also called gaokao or the big test. Last year, 9.4 million students sat for the test.

Notoriously stressful, the big test has sparked harsh criticism for its high-stakes nature. It’s basically a prerequisite to get into college that puts an incredible amount of pressure on students and has even been linked to student suicide.

At least 2 million of the students who take the test will get rejected from college, according to Quartz. This intense pressure of course spurs some students to cheat, so one province is even reportedly deploying an anti-cheating drone this year.

The stress surrounding the test bolsters the claims the Chinese educational system is only interested in transmitting a narrow amount of content and prescribed skills at the expense of creative thinking.

Writing in Fast Company several years ago, April Rabkin quoted one Chinese school administrator who made the following observation: “The gaokao rewards a special type of student: very strong memory; very strong logical and analytical ability; little imagination; little desire to question authority.”

Even though the test rewards a certain type of student, everybody has to take it. And the stakes are high.

The pictures of last year’s exam (via Reuters) are intense.

Students taking an English exam in an exam hall at Dongguan University. English is one of three main areas of testing, along with maths and Chinese.

Art students draw sketches in Jianan, Shandong province.

A mother waits outside in Hefei, Anhui province. In some parts of the country, authorities banned outdoor square dancing (a popular activity for elderly Chinese people) within 500 feet of testing buildings because of the loud music.

Students taking the bus to their exam in Liu’an, Anhui province. Thousands of family and friends crowded the streets in support as they left for the test.

REUTERS/China Daily

Zheng Dong (left) studies in a hotel room in Shanghai near the site of his exam. In Beijing, over 1,700 taxi drivers offered to give free rides to students in town for the test.

Invigilators monitor examinees in Suining, Sichuan in case of any sudden cheating. Leading up to gaokao, some high schools place security cameras in classrooms to monitor students in case of laziness.

A student takes a quick study break. Some schools have been criticised for producing “robots” who study 15 hours per day for gaokao.

Students self-studying at night in Hefel, Anhui province. 9.8 million students took gaokao last year, compared to 1.8 million students who take the SAT.

Parents in Huaibei, Anhui wait for their children to finish the exam.

Leading up to the exam, students and teachers take part in pressure-release activities, like this trust-fall.

Students walk by Confucius after a rainy morning in Wuhan. Many temples were flooded in the weeks leading up to the test with parents praying to Confucius, China’s great educator.

A security check in Shenyang, Lioning province. Authorities vowed to crack down on cheating during the exams last year.

A hidden camera inside a pen (second from the left) and a receiver disguised as an eraser confiscated by police.

Glasses containing a hidden camera and a coin with a tiny receiver.

A more complex cheating contraption in Chengdu, Sichuan provence.

Confiscated mobile phones and receivers. The Ministry of Education said students caught cheating would be stripped of enrollment qualifications for one to three years.

A morale-boosting exercise in Hengshui, Hebei province. Students waved flags and shouted “Come on Hengshui No. 2 high school, you are the best!”

Police tried to contain students as they lined up to register for the exam.

Parents in Shanghai waited for the exams to finish.

Applicants walking outside after finishing their first day of testing.

A teacher checking examinees names in Hefel. Because of the importance of one test, “gaokao-sweatshops” — high schools that prepare students exclusively for the test — have become increasingly common.

These students took oxygen while studying chemistry at a hospital in Suining.

This post is an updated version of a story we ran last June written by Emmett Knowlton.

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