13 million people take the “world's toughest” university entrance exam

(CNN) — High school students across China are beginning to register for a highly competitive exam that could determine their future in a country with a sluggish economy and dwindling opportunities for young graduates.

The two-day national college entrance exam, known as the “gaokao,” is the largest academic exam in the world. It's been dubbed “the world's toughest college entrance exam” by Chinese state media because of the high stakes, competitiveness and intensity as students pour everything they've learned in 12 years into a handful of subject exams that last less than two hours each.

This year, more than 13.4 million students registered for the exam, surpassing last year's record of 12.9 million, making it the largest “Gaukao” ever held in China.

Chinese students have been preparing for years for this extremely difficult exam, as high grades are the only way to gain access to the country's best universities. The exam includes subjects like Chinese Literature, Mathematics, English, Physics, Chemistry, Politics and History.

Most students only take this difficult test once, unlike students in the US, who can retake the SAT.

Also, the pace of Chinese economic growth and rising youth unemployment have increased the pressure to perform better.

Chinese exam

Students line up for a security check outside the school on the first day of “gaokao” in Bozhou, China, on June 7, 2024. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

This Friday, the first day of the examination, parents eagerly waited at the gates of the schools after sending the children to the examination halls. Many parents and teachers wore red, the color of success in China, and some carried sunflowers, considered an auspicious flower for academic success.

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The authorities have taken a series of measures to maintain order and stability around the examination venues.

In Beijing, traffic police appeared on the streets from 6:00 a.m. to regulate and slow traffic around a school near the Summer Palace, a scenic spot popular with tourists.

In Shanghai, taxi dispatch centers began accepting reservations for students taking the exam a week in advance, Xinhua reported.

Chinese social media is flooded with good luck and motivational messages, and “gaokao” is one of the most searched topics on the Weibo site.

Many Chinese celebrities, and even some international stars, have taken to social media to wish the candidates the best of luck.

Famous British footballer David Beckham posted his congratulations on Weibo, where he has 10 million followers.

“I want to say 'good luck' to all the students who are taking the exam soon. You've worked really hard. Jin bang di ming,” Beckham said in a video, adopting a Chinese phrase. In important exams.

Esmond Harmon

"Entrepreneur. Social media advocate. Amateur travel guru. Freelance introvert. Thinker."

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