The gaokao is China's notoriously tough entrance exam, that can also get you into western universities — check out its punishing questions

VCG/VCG via Getty Images
  • China’s version of the American SAT and British A-level exams takes place in June every year.
  • It’s called the gaokao, and is known as one of the toughest exams in the world.
  • Lots of western universities now take Chinese students based on their gaokao scores, rather than other standardised tests.
  • Scroll down to see past questions.

The US, Europe, Australia, and Canada may see an influx of Chinese students in the coming years as more and more universities admit them based on China’s notoriously tough national standardised test.

Earlier this month the University of New Hampshire became the first US state university to accept students based on their scores their scores in the gaokao, China’s amped up version of the US SAT or British A-level exams.

Australia’s University of Sydney, Canada’s University of Toronto, Italy’s Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze and some private US institutions also accept it.

Gaokao parents prayVCG/VCG via GettyParents pray for high marks for their children taking the gaokao in Shenyang, northeastern China in June 2018.

The gaokao – which means “high exam” in Chinese – takes place over two days in June across the country every year. More than 9.7 million people across the country took it this year, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The subjects on the test vary by region but typically include the Chinese language, mathematics, and a foreign language (typically English), Xinhua said.

The hardest questions are the essays – which can range from the student’s views on philosophy, history, the environment, and President Xi Jinping’s policies.

Try and tackle 15 questions from past gaokao exams here:


If x + y ≥ a, x – y ≤ -1, and the minimum value of z = x + ay = 7, what is a?

A. -5

B. -5 or 3

C. 3

D. 5 or -3

Answer: B

Source: Gaokao 2018 via People’s Daily


Between June and August, a cruise ship travels from Fujian province to Venice, via Mumbai, as part of Xi’s “21st century maritime silk road” strategy. Which of the following would it experience on the way?

Google Maps/Business Insider

A. When passing through the South China Sea, the cruise will face continuous rain.

B. When passing through the Arabian Sea, the cruise will sail against winds and currents.

C. When passing through the Red Sea, large stretches of forests will be seen alongside the coast.

D. When passing through the Mediterranean Sea, the cruise will experience several days of rainstorms.

Answer: B.

Source: Gaokao 2015, via ChinaDaily

Related: Inside ‘Belt and Road,’ China’s mega-project that is linking 70 countries across Asia, Europe, and Africa


Four students can choose to participate in a charity event either on Saturday or Sunday. What’s the probability that there is at least one student at both Saturday’s and Sunday’s events?

A. 1/8

B. 3/8

C. 5/8

D. 7/8

Answer: D.

Source: Gaokao, year unknown, via Bloomberg


Fill in the blanks on this English grammar question: Good families are much to all their members, but ___ to none.

Flickr Creative Commons/CollegeDegrees360

A. Something

B. Anything

C. Everything

D. Nothing

Answer: C.

Source: Gaokao, year unknown, via Bloomberg


President Xi has said that while art can release the wings of imagination, it should still be down-to-earth. There may be hundreds of ways to create art, but the best way is to have it take root in people’s daily lives, and create something based off of that. From a materialist point of view, this is because (pick two of the statements below):

Thomas Peter – Pool/Getty ImagesChina’s President Xi Jinping delivers a toast at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People on November 9, 2017 in Beijing, China.

I. Art originates from people’s daily lives.

II. Art depends on innovation.

III. The way art reflects on society and its style is unified.

IV. Art is a form of ideology that reflects people’s lives, while serving the people at the same time.

A. I and II.

B. I and IV.

C. II and III.

D. III and IV.

Answer: B

Source: Gaokao 2015 via China Daily


In a letter to James Madison in March 1787, George Washington wrote: “That a thorough reform of the present system is indispensable, none who have capacities to judge will deny — and with hand and heart I hope the business will be essayed in a full Convention.” What does the “thorough reform” refer to?

Joye~/flickr

A. Eradicate defect of federal system.

B. Establish republic system with check and balance of three powers.

C. Abolish constitutional monarchy.

D. Change the loose federal system.

Answer: D.

Source: Gaokao 2013 via China Daily


Banks charge processing fees and interest when granting loans. They charge fees because of the services provided, such as account management. The reason for claiming interest is that:

A. Banks are a monopoly.

B. Bank credit is higher than commercial credit.

C. Capital offered by banks is a factor of production.

D. Banks are the hub of smooth production.

Answer: C.

Source: Gaokao, year unknown, via Bloomberg


To understand the academic performance of 1,000 students, the systematic sampling method is adopted to choose 40 samples. What should the sampling interval be?

A. 50

B. 40

C. 25

D. 20

Answer: C.

Source: Gaokao, year unknown, via Bloomberg


Write an essay on how Thomas Edison would react to the mobile phone if he visited the 21st century.

Source: Gaokao 2013 via People’s Daily


In life, people are often eager to focus on their own needs, but also eager to be needed by others in order to realise their own self worth. The feeling of “being needed” is a common feeling, but what does it mean to you? Write an essay on this.

Source: Gaokao 2018 via China Central Television


Write an essay on the following subject: “New era, new youths — growing up with the motherland’s development.”

© Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill ArchitectureA model city in Chengdu, China.

The “new era” is a catchphrase coined by Xi last year, which represents China’s development in areas from technological advancement to foreign investment to environmental protection.

Source: Gaokao 2018 via China Central Television


Write a letter to the 18-year-olds of 2035.

CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty ImagesChildren singing the national anthem in Shanghai in September 2017.

Source: Gaokao 2018 via China Central Television


Who is your favourite disciple of Confucius? Please pick one, and say why in 150 to 200 words.

Rischgitz/GettyA painting of Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 BC.

Source: Gaokao 2018 via China Central Television


Write an essay on this subject: “The picture of green mountains and clear water.”

China has been actively pushing its environmental and climate change mitigation policies under Xi’s leadership.

Source: Gaokao 2018 via China Central Television


The containers for milk are always square boxes, containers for mineral water are always round bottles, and round wine bottle are usually placed in square boxes. Write an essay on the subtle philosophy of the round and square.

China Photos/GettyA woman shops for milk in Haikou, southern China, in January 2006.

Source: Gaokao 2013 via People’s Daily

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.