The Day of the Gaokao: In Photos

Ever wonder what taking China’s Gaokao is like?

We do.

Although high school graduates in America take the Scholastic Aptitude Test before moving onto college, it doesn’t seem to compare to the level of stress put upon millions of Chinese teenagers each year who take the Gaokao. In Chinese it’s called simply the “high test” and as our guest contributor Maomao told us last week in his article about Preparing for the Gaokao, many Chinese youths believe that this is the single event which determines their status in academia and then the larger society.

Put simply, it’s do or die – figuratively for most and literally for an unfortunate few.

Day of the Gaokao

This time, Maomao shares his story of what the day of the Gaokao is like.

The Day of the Gaokao

To begin, the Gaokao isn’t only a matter between students and the education ministry, but an event that concerns all of Chinese society. What happens on the day of Gaokao may give you a better understanding of how important a role this examination plays in the lives of most Chinese people.

Day of the Gaokao

Gaokao student

gāo kǎo xué shēng

Students who are taking the Gaokao print “gāokǎo xuéshēng“(pictured at right) on a large sheet of paper. Displaying this in the windshield of their cars, other traffic will yield to students and make way for them, acknowleding the importance of this event. Traffic police often intervene in traffic jams to make room for students to pass, ensuring that they won’t arrive late to the examination. Short of a medical emergency, there are almost no other circumstances under which traffic police will take such action.

Should the student be running late, police can be seen personally escorting students to schools where the exam is administered by police car or event motorcycle. This happens every year without fail. It’s said that on this day it’s forbidden to honk your horn and police maintain a constant presence in the streets of Chinese cities from Beijing to Chengdu.

Day of the Gaokao

Guards stand at the gate of each testing center ensuring that the crowd remains orderly

Once you’ve arrived at the school, the safety inspection is very strict. Students are only allowed to bring a clear plastic bag inside the testing area (pictured below ) to carry writing implements like pens and pencils. Watches are forbidden as there are clocks inside each of the testing rooms. As you enter the room, one of the three administrators in the room will check the certificate of each student to ensure that each student is him or herself. Finally, they search each student for electronic devices which the students are allowed to explain should the administrators detector start beeping.

Gaokao testing bag

The bag you're allowed to bring into the Gaokao is clear and contains only pen, pencil and eraser

As students are inside rushing through the exam, nervous parents wait outside under the watch of policeman who maintain the traffic and crowds just outside. Teachers wait alongside parents and ease their concerns about students’ performance. Upon their exit, teachers encourage the students to be confident and hopeful about the next subject in the examination.

Day of the Gaokao

Police outside control the traffic and crowds gathered around schools

Day of the Gaokao

Day of the Gaokao

Day of the Gaokao

Day of the Gaokao

This post was authored by Maomao and edited and introduced by Charlie. All photos were taken by Maomao. Look for the next post on the Gaokao and check out Preparing for the Gaokao if you haven’t already.

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About Charlie

Having lived in Chengdu for seven years, Charlie has traveled to every corner of China and back again, calling the Yulin neighborhood of Chengdu his home. He's a part time DJ and full time iPhone game developer, too.

9 Responses to “The Day of the Gaokao: In Photos”

  1. Cool to see what this is actually like. It really does seem like quite a big deal. Congratulations to Maomao for passing through the exam recently!

  2. Nice post. I always knew that the Gaokao was being taken in my area when a certain city block was entirely shut down.

    Cars and buses weren’t allowed to pass by (noise would affect the students) and family had to wait quietly outside the school gate. Such a big ordeal!

    • Me too. I remember hearing about Gaokao from taxi drivers before even discovering what it was. Like you say, lots of traffic jams, odd protocol, and traffic police everywhere. Plus all the red banners everywhere you go. It’s a major national event.

      Is the process any different in Xinjiang Josh?

  3. It doesn’t look easy.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Judging from the photos, it looks like a big deal. In this case the photos really add a lot to the description of what experiencing the Gaokao is like.

  5. Very good information, thanks for the Gaokao writeup. I’m glad to see Maomao participating in the site now.

    Like some of the other commentors, I’m glad I didn’t have to take this!

  6. Sooo glad I didn’t have to take the Gaokao.

  7. Thanks for interesting information ~ ~

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