Record 13 million to sit ‘world’s toughest’ college entrance exam

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A record-breaking number of high school students in China have started taking the highly competitive national college entrance exam, known as “gaokao.” This exam is considered the world’s largest academic test and is renowned for its difficulty and intensity. With a slowing economy and limited opportunities for young graduates, the outcome of this exam could have a significant impact on the future of these students. Over 13.4 million students have registered for the exam this year, making it the largest “gaokao” ever conducted in China, surpassing last year’s record of 12.9 million participants.
Chinese students spend years studying intensively for the extremely challenging exam, as a high score is the only pathway to admission into the country’s top universities. The exam covers a wide range of subjects, including Chinese literature, math, English, physics, chemistry, politics, and history.

Unlike their American counterparts, the majority of Chinese students only have one opportunity to take the grueling test, without the option of retaking it like the SAT exams in the US. The added pressure to perform well is heightened by concerns over China’s slowing economic growth and the increasing rate of youth unemployment.

On the first day of the exam, parents anxiously waited outside the school gates, bidding farewell to their children as they entered the examination halls. Many parents and teachers were dressed in red, a symbol of victory in China, and some even held sunflowers, which are considered an auspicious flower for academic success.

To ensure order and stability around the examination sites, authorities have implemented a range of measures.
According to state news agency Xinhua, in Beijing, traffic police were deployed as early as 6 a.m. to manage traffic flow near a school close to the Summer Palace, a popular tourist attraction. In Shanghai, taxi dispatch centers have been accepting bookings for students taking the exam since a week ago. The Chinese social media platforms were flooded with good luck messages and words of encouragement, with “gaokao” being a trending topic on Weibo. Not only Chinese celebrities but also international stars like British soccer legend David Beckham posted on social media to wish the exam takers good luck. Beckham shared his well wishes on Weibo, where he has 10 million fans.
Beckham, in a video message, sends his best wishes and good luck to all the students who will be taking their exams soon. He acknowledges their hard work and encourages them to achieve honors and success in their important exams, using the Chinese phrase “Jin Bang Ti Ming.” To stay updated with the latest CNN news and newsletters, sign up at CNN.com.