2021 gaokao kicks off with record candidates and new options

A record 10.78 million Chinese students, about 70,000 more than last year, are taking the annual National College Entrance Examinations (NCEE), commonly known as gaokao, which starts on Monday and lasts two to four days, depending on the location.

The gaokao is the most important exam for Chinese secondary school students, given the results are the main assessment standard for college admissions in China. It is not only a key step for tens of millions of students after many years of hard work, but also an event that the whole of society focuses on every year.

Exams and COVID-19 

Last year, gaokao was delayed by a month due to COVID-19, but this year's exam was back in its regular early June slot.

In Guangdong Province, the site of recent sporadic COVID-19 cases, 636,000 students registered to sit the exam. Local departments have taken strict safety measures: all staff have been vaccinated and are required to show a negative test result from the past week. Also, students who sit the exam have to report their health status for the past 14 days.

A sign showing that the exam site has been disinfected, at the entrance of the test site of Henan Experimental High School, Zheng Zhou City, central China's Henan Province, June 7, 2021. /CFP

Depending on different regions and different situations, local departments have formulated targeted COVID-19 prevention and control plans and examination organization plans for the college entrance examination, including separate arrangements for asymptomatic infection, close contact and sub-close contact candidates to take the exam in separate isolation centers.

Any examinee who tests positive can use a single-person exam room in designated medical institutions.

New options for students

The record number of applicants is not the only "first" in 2021. 

This year, the Ministry of Education of China added 37 new undergraduate majors, covering nine categories, including law, education and history. A total of 43 universities have approved new majors, and most of them will start to recruit students for the first time this year.

Students from eight provincial-level regions – Hebei, Liaoning, Jiangsu, Fujian, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong and Chongqing – will sit the "new gaokao" this year, marking the third group of pilot regions in China to implement comprehensive reform of the examination. Zhejiang and Shanghai started the pilot in 2017, and Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong and Hainan followed suit last year.

Examinees need to take a temperature check before entering the exam room, at Beijing No. 4 High School, June 7, 2021. /CFP

The reform allows students to have more exam choices – up to 12 combinations of subjects, instead of the two choices between liberal arts and science subjects before – in accordance with their hobbies, interests and specialty subjects.

The eight regions adopted a "3 1 2" program: three compulsory tests, Chinese, math and a foreign language; one quasi-elective test, a choice between physics and history; and two elective tests picked from four subjects – politics, geography, chemistry, and biology.

Fa Xiaolin, a head teacher at a Wuhan high school, told China Daily that the reform has enabled students to have more of a say in their future and allowed them to think more about their career path at an early age. Giving students more choices, the reform also opens the way for more personalized development and allows them to learn subjects they are passionate about, she added.

Crackdown on cheating, ensuring fairness

To ensure the fairness of the exam, police departments are targeting cheating in all forms, from providing exam papers or answers ahead of exams to relaying answers to students via wireless devices during exams, said Wu Jianping, an official with the Ministry of Public Security, before the exam.

So far in 2021, police departments in the country have solved 28 exam-related cases and arrested 275 suspects, said Li Tong, another official with the ministry. Li added that most of these cases involved cheating with the aid of wireless devices.

AI technology was introduced in the 2020 NCEE for the first time to judge test violations at Shenyang City, northeast China's Liaoning Province, July 7, 2020. /CFP

Meanwhile, students from rural areas and places that have just been lifted out of severe poverty will continue to enjoy favorable policies when they apply for major universities this year, according to the Ministry of Education.

Special enrollment plans will continue to enable more students from rural and once impoverished areas to go to key universities and colleges, the ministry said in a notice in April.

In addition, in order to maintain the fairness of the exam, the relevant departments have also further strengthened the registration qualification of the college entrance examination, strictly examining the examinee's household registration, school status and actual study, and maintaining the order of college entrance examination. 

All cities and regions in the country are also more strictly examining all kinds of "extra points" applications.

(Cover: Teachers high-five students to encourage them at the exam site of No. 3 Middle School in Rongjiang County, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Guizhou Province, June 7, 2021. /CFP)

Source: https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-06-07/2021-gaokao-kicks-off-with-record-candidates-and-new-options-10U9aX3cQEg/index.html