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4 Wild Stories From China’s 2022 College Entrance Exam, ‘The Gaokao’

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Every June, students in their final year of high school in China sit for the notoriously difficult National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), known more commonly as ‘the gaokao.’ This year’s exams took place from June 7 to 8, although it was postponed in some areas due to Covid.

As one’s gaokao score is the sole criterion for college admission, the extremely challenging exam is crucially important for students. Dubbed ‘the toughest school exam in the world’ by The Guardian, gaokao impacts youths’ career opportunities — not to mention their future salaries.

The fact that the exam is only held once a year raises the stakes. If a student underperforms and is adamant about retaking the exam, they will have to wait for a whole year.

Given the gaokao’s significance, it has understandably been one of the most discussed topics on Weibo as of late. This exam season, we bring you four wild gaokao-related stories that shed light on one of the most intense periods of China’s academic calendar.

1. Dislocated Hand an Hour Before the Exam

On June 7, a student with the surname Zhu dislocated his hand a mere hour before the gaokao began in East China’s Zhejiang province. Luckily, a police officer came to his rescue and rushed him to the hospital.

gaokao 2022

Zhu getting his dislocated hand treated at the hospital. Image via Weibo

In a video circulating the Chinese web, Zhu is visibly anxious. The police officer can be heard comforting him by saying, “We can make it.”

Fortunately for Zhu, who received immediate attention from medics, he could sit for the exam he had spent years preparing for. He arrived at the test center 34 minutes before the exam started (phew!).

Under a related hashtag that has been trending on Weibo, a netizen commented, “Thank god it was his left hand and not the right hand, which he would need for writing.”

2. ID Card Flushed Down the Toilet

A student in Henan province regrettably lost his ID card — which is required for the gaokao — when he accidentally flushed it down the toilet on the exam day.

The student immediately turned to the local police for help and was able to get a temporary ID certificate.

Helpful Policeman Helps Student

The student disembarking a policeman’s motorcycle after getting a temporary ID. Image via Douyin

In a video that has made the rounds online, the student can be seen hopping off a motorcycle after being ferried to the testing center by a kind policeman.

They allegedly made it back to the test center in five minutes. Although we didn’t get to see them in action, it’s easy to imagine a scene straight out of Fast & Furious.

3. Lifelong Student: Taking the Gaokao 26 Times

For Liang Shi, a 55-year-old man from Sichuan province, this year marked his 26th attempt at nailing the challenging exam.

According to Shi, his plan to sit for the gaokao was first thwarted in 1983, as he was eliminated from his high school’s preliminary candidacy screening.

“I had terrible grades back then, but I really wanted to go to college,” said Shi in an interview. “Perhaps that’s why I haven’t given up for all these years.”

2022 gaokao

Liang Shi studying for the gaokao. Image via Weibo

In the decades since his first attempt, Liang repeatedly sat for the gaokao’s natural sciences (physics, chemistry, and biology) concentration. This year, however, he decided to shift to the liberal arts concentration (history, political science, and geography).

Although Liang initially felt confident that his new tactic would allow him to reach his target, a gut feeling tells him that he didn’t do so well in math.

While it’s too early to tell, we hope this year will finally be Liang’s year!

4. Covid-focused Essay Question

Every year, to test their Chinese writing skills, gaokao candidates are given completely random essay prompts on a wide range of topics.

This year, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the essay prompts in Beijing’s regional test touched on a relevant subject: Covid. The challenge was to coin a slogan to remind those waiting at a Covid testing site to practice social distancing.

Some guidelines for the students included considering the layout and characteristics of the site and explaining the reasoning behind their proposals.

covid site china

A Covid testing booth. Image via Weibo

China, which is still abiding by its ‘dynamic zero-Covid strategy,’ has rolled out tens of thousands of mass testing booths nationwide. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if the successful slogans penned by gaokao candidates in Beijing were officiated.

Cover image via Li Lin/Unsplash

Kayla He
    Born and raised in China, Kayla received her BA in Communications and Public Service from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a staff writer at RADII and is passionate about telling stories related to social issues women's empowerment. You can find her exploring coffee shops in Shanghai in her free time or rushing for Duffy and Friends plush toys at Shanghai Disneyland.

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