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To say the least, higher education in China has undergone a dramatic expansion over the last two decades. Whatever the case, it seems clear that Chinese universities are facing a much more competitive landscape than was the case in even the recent past.

The number of universities in the country has grown from about 1,400 in the year 2000 to 2,553 today. Combined higher education enrolment increased from 11.2 million in 2002 to 23.91 million in 2014. And this year alone, 7.5 million students graduated from Chinese universities and entered the job market.

So, the increasing intensity of the competition on the college entrance examination is a reflection of mass higher education. With more than 2500 institutions of higher education and more than 30 million tertiary-level students, China is the largest higher education system in the world in its scale. Did you know that in June 2012, 9.15 million students took the gaokao, the college entrance examination? Now you’d ask me what’s gaoko, right?

The Toughest College University Exam in the World

Well, if you thought the JEE was a tough nut to crack, gaokao, the annual National College Entrance Exams, is going to terrorize you;-)! To me, the Gaokao sounds like a demon that’s been haunting old Chinese temples for thousands of years. On a serious note, it is just a modern version of the world’s first standardized test, the Civil Service Examinations (Keju), which has been prevalent in China for more than 1300 years. The Gaokao is a continuation of this age-old tradition of selecting the best students for the job market. It makes China a seemingly successful meritocracy, even though there are some reserved seats for ethnic minorities.

The gaokao is made up of four three-hour papers: Chinese, English, maths and a choice of either sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) or humanities (geography, history, politics). The questions are mostly multiple-choice or fill-in-the-gap and are notoriously hard. The maths paper has been compared to university-level maths in the UK. But for many students, the most intimidating element is the essay in the Chinese exam. Students are given an hour to write on one of two prompts, which are often infuriatingly elliptical.

College Entrance Exams in China Vs. India

College admission in China is quite tough. Gaokao is no joke as it decides which university students will go to. Spend a little time researching the gaokao, and you’ll have some ammunition the next time a college-bound teen close to you complains about his test prep regimen.

The Tsinghua University, considered to be the M.I.T. of China, claims that around 75 % of the pupils make it to college, but of course, it is the finest colleges that the students are aiming for. If you belong to a small town in India and get into a prestigious university like IIT Bombay, you are sure to become a celebrity in your locality – something similar is the case with the Tsinghua.

The stakes are so high that some students have also stooped to ingenious methods of cheating in China– so much so that authorities have started using drones as hall monitors. One look at the questions is enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most diligent student.

In India, someone who wants to study literature at the best liberal arts college has to score at least 99% (sometimes 100%!) in their 12th standard exams. But in China, students have to appear for the Gaokao. Similarly, an aspiring lawyer in India would write the CLAT; whereas, in China, one needs to appear for the Gaokao. So, all candidates have just one chance to make it or break it. Gaokao is the only way to success or failure in China, unlike the scenario India.

Chinese Students Opting For Foreign Universities

With students studying for 10 hours, seven days a week for the entire year, Gaokao means a lot of hard work and very little fun! That Chinese students are applying to International colleges in great numbers is no secret, though it has been a source of controversy. Chinese students from top cities attending university abroad increased by 20% per year from 2008, partially, it seems, to escape the gaokao. There are more than 300,000 Chinese overseas students in US higher education and 90,000 in the UK. This is the extent of the terror caused by the college entrance exams in the country.

Read Also: Some Foreign Universities Considering JEE Scores

This was the Chinese college admission system. All in all, don’t the JEE, NEET, and other board exams sound like a breeze in comparison to the National College Entrance Exams in China?

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