Inside China’s National College Entrance Exam

Inside China’s National College Entrance Exam
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像
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Political scandals aren’t necessarily what the Chinese are concerned about each season. But in the first week of every June, many regions start implementing traffic control, construction work is put on hold and noisy cities suddenly go quiet. All of this is because China’s annual National College Entrance Exam is reaching its final stages.

In recent years, personal income in China has been growing rapidly and studying abroad has become an alternative of pursuing education. The number of examinees in the college entrance exam has been decreasing ever since it reached a peak of over ten million people in 2008. The exam has been condemned and criticized continuously because of the unhealthy stress and competition it puts on students. Moreover, the urban-rural gap is still too wide and causes inequality.

But the entrance exam is still the main route Chinese students take to obtain a college education. The 7th to 9th of June are nevertheless the most important days to almost ten million families, and statistics indicate that the number of attendees in this year’s exam still hit over nine million people.

The acceptance rate of the exam has surged to over seventy percent, but chances of making it into some of the more prominent and resourceful colleges are still very slim. As the Chinese saying goes, “One exam determines your future.”

With the issuing of the one-child policy, millions of families are pressured by the annual exam. They accept, attend and adapt to this system. As students pursue high scores and a bright future, photographers freeze their youth, dreams and the hysteria of society in time.

Photo Credit: Reuters

A study from China indicates that an average high school student spends respectively 185, 272 and 329 days studying from freshman to senior year. This adds up to approximately 9,905 hours.

Before they attend the exam, there are hundreds of mandatory textbooks and mock tests the students need to go through. All of these stacked up are taller than a person.

China’s annual national reading survey shows, each citizen reads an average of 4.56 books a year. But if the study didn’t exclude the amount of teaching material, high school seniors would be the reading champions each year.

All kinds of textbooks and reference books on the desks of study rooms. Statistics show students taking the college entrance exam need to read at least 108 to 125 books. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters

Some high schools are known as college entrance exam factories because their college enrollment rate is above average. Students of these schools only have a single goal, which is to become a study machine. Most schools also associate their teachers’ promotions and bonuses with the students’ grades, so the teachers are as competitive as the students.

Students about to take the college entrance exam take an oath and teachers wave flags to boost morale. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters

During the college entrance exam season, anxious parents and students can’t avoid relying on traditional religions to feel more at ease. Though the media has repeatedly criticized this behavior as religious speculation, it hasn’t stopped them from finding a sense of security and letting out stress through mysterious forces.

Other parents will rather believe in the power of science and purchase all kinds of health foods to nourish their children’s brains, and even make them inhale pure oxygen and inject compound amino acid.

But whether they depend on religion or technology, parents don’t believe they have any other choice when it comes to the future of their children.

Parents of Wuhan praying their children will obtain high scores. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters
Students review the test material while inhaling pure oxygen at a hospital in Sichuan. Photo Credit: Reuters
Hotel prices near exam sites soar during exam season. Photo Credit: Reuters

A college entrance exam score plays an extremely important part in a student’s future and career, so cheating methods change rapidly. Both inside and outside the exam halls are monitored like high-tech battlefields.

Some of the offenders come from lower-income families. They would rather cheat using high-tech methods to make up for their financial and social disadvantage.

The hulunbeir grassland flooded after a storm and the government transported students with armored cars. Photo Credit: Reuters
Armed police guard an exam site in Henan. Photo Credit: Reuters
Police monitoring for suspicious radio signals outside an exam site. Photo Credit: Reuters
The police displaying high-tech cheating devices. Photo Credit: Reuters
Surveillance cameras surround the exam space.Photo Credit: Reuters
Anxious parents wait outside the exam site. Photo Credit: Reuters
Students walk out of the exam in relief. Photo Credit: Reuters
Students tear up mock exams after the actual test. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters

The old Chinese saying, “To be a scholar is to be at the top of society,” still holds the same meaning in today’s Chinese culture. To many students who come from average families, the entrance exam is still the only way to change their fate, especially since China fails to provide alternate ways of learning, other than higher education.

Translated by Olivia Yang

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