China has a long history of difficult tests — for centuries, a written examination was the way into a career in the imperial government. The gaokao in its current form was launched in 1952 and suspended from 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution.
The preparation process is grueling and demanding. In one extreme case, students used IV drips to inject amino acids intended to help them study for long stretches of time without a break.
Nearly 9.4 million candidates signed up to participate in the exam this year, down from 10.5 million in 2010.
The three main subjects are Chinese, English, and math, but students are tested on other subjects such as history, geography, and biology.
Chen Zhang, the CEO of Jiaqiao Education, which helps Chinese students apply to universities overseas, shares his view on the gaokao.
“For example, the score that a student in Beijing needs to get in order to be accepted by Tsinghua or Peking University is lower compared with the score that a student in Shandong Province needs to get for universities in Beijing or Shanghai. So as far as fairness goes, many people complain about this.”