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Photos: The agony and the ecstasy of taking China’s make-or-break college exam

Teachers run with signs as they cheer for students at a rally ahead of the annual national college entrance examination, or "gaokao", at a high school in Hengshui, Hebei province, China May 24, 2018.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
A teachur running with a sign that reads “Gaokao victory.”
By Ziyi Tang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This week (June 7 and 8), took 9.7 million Chinese students (link in Chinese) began what’s known as “life’s most important test” in China—the gaokao, or the national university entrance exams.

In the lead-up to exam time, high schools across China often engage in various activities to inspire test-takers. Teachers lecture students as if they were soldiers in the army, preparing for battle. Motivational slogans might be placed across campus walls or worn on uniforms. Sometimes students get superstitiouswearing red clothes (link in Chinese), burning $240 joss sticks, or praying before a statue of Confucius.

The test is so high-stakes that some students go great lengths to cheat on it. To crack down on exam fraud, schools have made use of metal detectors, drones, and facial-recognition software. Authorities this year in Inner Monglolia are performing finger vein scans on test-takers—because fingerprints can be too easily faked.

This year’s exam has been highly politicized. Of the nine essay questions asked nationally (there’s some regional variations to the test), five were centered around slogans put forth by president Xi Jinping.

Below are some photos of students across China as they prepare for the 2018 test.

Reuters/China Stringer Network
Students in an oath-taking rally 100 days before the exam begins.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Students in Handan, Hubei province stay up late in the classroom studying.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Crowds of students in Dandong, Liaoning province.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Parents wait beyond a police line for their children to finish the test.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
In Luan, Anhui province, students launch a sky lantern wishing for success.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
A student whose T-shirt says “Pass every exam” passes through a security check.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Test monitors watch live feeds of students sitting for the exam.

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