The Gaokao is the Nearly Impossible Chinese College Entrance Exam

Brilliance | Dec. 08, 2017

Remember the SAT and the ACT? You probably don't want to revisit your stressed high school years, but just imagine for a moment that you'd have to complete a 9-hour test to determine your future. We're exhausted just thinking about it. The college entrance exams you took would feel like coloring books compared to the Chinese college entrance exam: the gaokao.

Put Your Thinking Cap On

The gaokao is like the SAT on super steroids. Many Chinese students have spent their entire lives studying for this monster test that occurs every June. Not only is it a long exam, it's impossibly difficult. Though many students have aced the SAT and ACT, no one has ever gotten a perfect score on the gaokao.

According to Bloomberg, the test "requires a mastery of Chinese history, English grammar, and complex calculus. Students seeking a future in science will be tested on physics, chemistry, and biology. Liberal arts students must show proficiency in political theory, history, and geology."

How Hard Could It Be?

Though most questions are multiple choice, it's almost unfair how hard this 750-point test is. "It's impossible to get full marks,'' Zhang Yi, a Chinese language teacher in a high school in Guangdong province's Zhuhai, tells Bloomberg. "You may get all the answers right in math, but for Chinese and other liberal arts subjects, students write many things, and that's highly subjective. Even bad handwriting will cost you points."

Want a taste? Here's a sample philosophy essay prompt: "You are free because you may choose how to cross the desert; you are not free because you must cross the desert either way. Write an 800-word essay on this."

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