The National College Entrance Examination, commonly known as Gaokao (高考), is an academic testing event held on June 7-8 in Chinese mainland and joined by millions of participants, a majority of whom are high-school students. The Gaokao is an important exam for those who have accomplished high-school education and are applying for universities, colleges and other higher educational institutions.
Students are allowed to enter the college(s) of their choice when their overall scores pass the minimum qualifying score for schools they apply to. If they fail to obtain the minimum required score, they might not be able to enter the college of their choice or even lose the chance to attend university. In this way, the Gaokao is considered one of the most competitive tests of a Chinese student's 12 years of academic study. In addition, the Gaokao serves as a crucial benchmark in the lives of those who need higher education to change their impoverished destines.
Before 1949, colleges in China were entitled to schedule their own tests for school enrollment. In other words, a candidate could sit several entrance exams for different schools as long as he or she had enough time and energy. Now, the majority of China's schools hold the Gaokao exam only once a year, usually from June 7-8, though it was held July 7-9 prior to 2003. The tests, which include the compulsory subjects of Chinese, mathematics, English and elective subjects of physics, chemistry, biology, history, politics, geography as well as comprehensive knowledge, are designed by the educational departments from respective municipalities or provinces.
The entrance exam has been a stepping-stone for candidates applying for university admissions since 1978, when the country resumed the exam system after 10 years of educational turmoil during the Cultural Revolution. Since then, college enrollment has risen year after year due to the expansion of the education system. However, in recent years, with declining birth rates and increased applications to overseas universities, the Gaokao is gradually losing its supreme significance as a gateway to higher education.
The year 2011 saw a number of 9.33 million candidates sitting for the entrance exam, a figure 240,000 less than that of the previous year, registering a third year of consecutive decline in number of domestic college applicants.
In 2012 about 9.15 million people take the exam to vie for 6.85 million vacancies in the country's universities and colleges.
On Dec. 6. 2013, the Ministry of Education released a draft reform plan for gaokao saying that English will not be a gaokao test subject in the future. Instead, students can take English tests more than once each year, and only the highest score will be counted.