As I’m sure you know, 9.2 million Chinese students sat the annual Gaokao – China’s National College Entrance Exam – in early June. While that number may seem big to you or I, consider that in 2008, a record 10.5 millions students sat the test that breaks or makes Chinese lives Far fewer students sat the test this year than did in previous years, the result of shifting demographics and the study-abroad phenomenon.

The money quote in this month’s China education news is the rallying cry of thousands of parents and students:

We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.

Cheating the Only Way to Make Gaokao Fair

New policies aimed at preventing cheats on the high-stakes Gaokao exam made parents and students very angry in the city of Zhongxiang, Hubei province. The tables turned on the exam supervisors when a mob of over 2000 people swarmed into the school in protest after the exam. Not cheating, the mob claimed, would put them at a disadvantage in a country where student cheating is considered standard practice.

To understand the logic behind this, well, logic, just look at the quotas set for students from different provinces. China’s top two universities combined will take 84 of every 10,000 students from Beijing, while only 2 spots are reserved for students from Guangdong province.

As a popular online joke goes, a gaokao score of 530 (out of 750) qualifies a Beijinger for top-tier universities, while 530 for a Shandon test-taker won’t even qualify him for a 2nd-tier university. A Shanghainese student who scores a 330, on the other hand, will merely go abroad for an MBA and come back to help his father’s company.

In a China of widening social divide, many see the Gaokao as just one more way in whichthe cards are stacked against ‘provincials’ while rewarding the rich and connected.

Losing Faith in Gaokao & College Education

Today, some Chinese have given up on the test or taken a different attitude toward it altogether. One high-schooler in Shandong province made the evening news when he walked out of the testing center 10 minutes before the afternoon exams were passed out. (This little rebel’s decision is celebrate by 50% of those surveyed online.)

Which subject did he skip out on? Would it surprise you if it was the English listening comprehension (it was). The student instead spent the afternoon in a nearby internet cafe, playing online video games. “My family has already found me a job, so I didn’t want to take the test anyway.”

Indeed, why go to college, when China’s college graduates are increasingly unable to find jobs?

Educational Reforms Broad and Vague

Change is definitely in the wind – or so it seems. China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) wants to implement reforms to minimize the impact of testing on teaching and learning. Rather than changing college admissions requirements, which might more effectively decimate the test-oriented education currently in place, the MOE will establish a new framework of evaluating schools.

Schools will be evaluated according to 5 key areas: 1) Moral Development, 2) Academic Development, 3) Psychological and Physical Health, 4) Development of Interest & Unique Talents, and 5) Academic Burdens.

While the overall idea is good, it’s difficult to see how this can effectively be implemented. Still, will the MOE’s efforts eventually re-establish confidence in domestic education and halt the exodus abroad? We’ll be monitoring closely!


– How the Gaokao Make or Break Chinese Lives (Vericant Blog)

– Number of Gaokao Applicants Declines Again

– Chinese Students and Families Fight for the Right to Cheat Their Exams

– China’s Unfair College Admissions System

– A Test of Faith: Chinese Students’ Changing Views on the National College Entrance Examination

– High-Schooler Ditches Gaokao to Play Games Online

– Faltering Economy in China Dims Job Prospects for Graduates

– China’s New Education Reform: Reducing Importance of Test Scores


As always, please share your thoughts!

This is the seventh issue of Inside China Ed, a news digest feature of the Vericant newsletter. All Inside China Ed newsletters become available on the Vericant Blog a week after it is sent to our newsletter subscribers. If you would like to receive the Inside China Ed newsletter in your inbox, please subscribe to our newsletter – it’s fast, easy, and best of all, free!


  1. says

    Cheating is a part of our culture. If you don’t cheat, you don’t get better life. Competition is very tough in China, so we just try to succeed in every possible way. Without good grades, you can’t find a good job in China or get an admission to US university. I failed in my school exam and now I am studying in Ukraine, hope I can go to Europe after I get my Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t cheat during my exam and you see what happened? I couldn’t get into EU or US university.. So we HAVE to cheat in China, if we want to get life we dream about. This is just a cultural and social thing…

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