China’s dreaded college entrance examination — the test from Hell 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — High school students in China suffered the annual college entrance exam (高考 gaokao) earlier this month. Unlike the SAT and ACT exams in the US, the gaokao is given only once a year and tests specific knowledge about content. In addition, it is basically the only criterion for admission to a university in China. Needless to say, these factors (and the country’s huge population) create a lot of stress.

The Telegraph carried a story from a small city in Hubei province, which is just north of Hunan. It seems one high school had had a surprisingly stellar record for several years in getting its students placed in China’s top universities. Provincial officials checked it out, and discovered widespread cheating on the exam that was condoned by the school’s staff.

So, this year the education office sent a small army of exam proctors (invigilators) from other parts of Hubei, who were ruthless in removing any possible method from students’ persons, including checking for cell phones hidden in students’ underwear.

Students were left in tears (since they hadn’t really prepared for the exam) and parents were irate. The school had to call the cops to put down a near riot outside the school gate.

“I picked up my son at midday [from his exam]. He started crying. I asked him what was up and he said a teacher had frisked his body and taken his mobile phone from his underwear. I was furious and I asked him if he could identify the teacher. I said we should go back and find him,” one of the protesting fathers, named as Mr Yin, said to the police later.

By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage.

Students prepare for the gaokao

Most Americans have no concept of how intense preparation for the gaokao is. High school students spend hour after hour in school with a stack of textbooks in front of them tediously trying to memorize every possible fact that could appear on the exam. There are practice exams and then more practice exams. They start school in the morning, and get home (or in their dormitory) around 10 at night. Some schools begin these drills a year or even two years before the examination.

There is no time for extracurricular activities, socializing, dating, sports, or even learning something interesting. It’s all about the gaokao.

And it’s a community enterprise. The bars in Jishou closed on gaokao weekend, so that the noise could not possibly disturb any students nearby. Hopefully, the students were not intending to study in the bars.

This page from last year gives a very good summary of the significance and effects of the exam.

While it is a national examination, there are variations in questions and schedule by province. In Hunan, the schedule was like this:

June 7
9-11:30 am Chinese literature and language
3-5 pm Mathematics (I’ll post some sample questions later on, but solid geometry is one topic tested)

June 8
9-11:30 am Comprehensive (students are divided into humanities track and science track, so there are two versions)
3-5 pm English

This year 373,000 Hunan students signed up for the university entrance exam. Nationally, there were 9.12 million students sitting the exam. Perhaps 75% will be admitted to a university, though it might not be the one they hoped for. Once they get their scores, they check which universities they might qualify to attend and submit a list of choices in order of preference to the schools. The universities then review the scores and decide who they will accept.

Jishou University is a middle-ranked school, and the average gaokao score last year was 558 points (out of 750 — for most of the provinces). Hunan University in Changsha, which is somewhat more prestigious, had an average of 621, and the averages at two top-tier schools, were 662 for Beijing University and (ominously) 666 for Qinghua U. There are different cutoffs for humanities and STEM students.

[There is no “fudge factor” here (unless your family has money or connections, that is). If the cutoff for a particular school is 500, and your score was 499, you’re out of luck. Some allowances are made for minority students, kids from rural areas, or students with special talents, however.]

Interestingly, many Australian universities are now accepting gaokao scores, to woo Chinese applicants. The University of New South Wales (PDF) in Sydney for example, requires scores at least 80% of the highest possible score. For most of the provincial gaokao variations, that means at least 600 for most majors.

To give you a taste of this year’s gaokao in Hunan, here is a condensed version of the English section of the examination. In 120 minutes, students had to answer 84 multiple-choice and fill-in questions on seven short listening passages and six reading selections, plus write a short composition of at least 120 words.

Note: Chinese students typically begin formal English learning in grade 6 or 7. By the time they take the gaokao, they’ve studied English for five or six years.

English section of 2013 Hunan gaokao (Time limit: 120 minutes)

Part 1: Listening Comprehension (30 points)

Section A (22.5 points): Students hear six conversations twice then answer two multiple choice ABC questions about each one.

Sample question:
What is the woman looking for? A. A pan. B. Carrots C. Tomatoes

Section B (7.5 points) Students hear a short passage twice, and fill in three blanks in a summary.

Part 2 Language Knowledge (45 points)

Section A (15 points) 15 Multiple choice questions, on grammar and usage.

21. Happiness and success often come to those ________ are good at recognizing their own strengths.
A. whom B. who C. what D. which
22. “What do you want to be?” asked Mrs. Crawford. “Oh, I ________ president,” said the boy, with a
A. have been B. am C. was D. will be
23. You must learn to consult your feelings and your reason ________ you reach any decision.
A. although B. before C. because D. unless
24. Around two o’clock every night, Sue will start talking in her dream. It somewhat ________ us.
A. bothers B. had bothered C. would bother D. bothered
25. The sun began to rise in the sky, ________ the mountain in golden light.
A. bathed B. bathing C. to have bathed D. have bathed
26. If nothing ________, the oceans will turn into fish deserts.
A. does B. had been done C. will do D. is done
27. — Have you heard about the recent election?
— Sure, it ________ the only thing on the news for the last three days.
A. would be B. is C. has been D. will be
28. Do not let any failures discourage you, for you can never tell ________ close you may be to victory.
A. how B. that C. which D. where
29. You cannot accept an opinion ________ to you unless it is based on facts.
A. offering B. to offer C. having offered D. offered
30. Every day ________ a proverb aloud several times until you have it memorized.
A. read B. reading C. to read D. reads
31. ________ warm at night, I would fill the woodstove, then set my alarm clock for midnight so I could
refill it.
A. Staying B. Stayed C. To stay D. Stay
32. He ________ sleep, although he tried to, when he got on such a hunt for an idea until he had caught it.
A. wouldn’t B. shouldn’t C. couldn’t D. mustn’t
33. The university estimates that living expenses for international students ________ around $8,450 a year,
which ________ a burden for some of them.
A. are;is B. are;are C. is;are D. is;is
34. — I don’t understand why you didn’t go to the lecture yesterday afternoon.
— had done B. was doing C. would do D. am doing
35. Not once ________ to Michael that he could one day become a top student in his class.
A. occurred it B. it did occur C. it occurred D. did it occur

Section B (18 points)
There are 12 fill-in-the blank questions in a reading passage, with four choices provided for each one at the end of the passage.

When I was 8 years old, I once decided to run away from home. With my suitcase 36 and some sandwiches in a bag, I started for the front door and said to Mom, “I’m leaving.”
“If you want to 37 , that’s all right,” she said. “But you came into this home without anything and you can leave the same way.” I 38 my suitcase and sandwiches on the floor heavily and started for the door again.
“Wait a minute,” Mom said. “I want your 39 back. You didn’t wear anything when you arrived.” This really angered me. I tore my clothes off—shoes, socks, underwear and all—and 40 , “Can I go now?” “Yes,” Mom answered, “but once you close that door, don’t expect to come back.”
I was so 41 that I slammed (砰地关上) the door and stepped out on the front porch. 42 I realized that I was outside, with nothing on. Then I noticed that down the street, two neighbor girls were walking toward our house. I ran to 43 behind a big tree in our yard at once. After a while, I was 44 the girls had passed by. I dashed to the front door and banged on it loudly.
“Who’s there?” I heard.
“It’s Billy! Let me in!”
The voice behind the 45 answered, “Billy doesn’t live here anymore. He ran away from home.” Glancing behind me to see if anyone else was coming, I begged, “Aw, c’mon, Mom! I’m 46 your son. Let me in!”
The door inched open and Mom’s smiling face appeared. “Did you change your 47 about running away?” she asked.
“What’s for supper?” I answered. (277 words)

36. A. packed B. returned C. cleaned D. repaired
37. A. drop out B. go by C. move around D. run away
38. A. pressed B. shook C. threw D. pulled
39. A. bag B. clothes C. sandwiches D. suitcase
40. A. explained B. suggested C. continued D. shouted
41. A. angry B. sorry C. frightened D. ashamed
42. A. Certainly B. Naturally C. Suddenly D. Possibly
43. A. play B. bide C. rest D. wave
44. A. sure B. proud C. eager D. curious
45. A. house B. tree C. door D. yard
46. A. also B. still C. even D. already
47. A. conclusion B. promise C. concern D. decision

Part 3 Reading Comprehension (30 points)
Three passages to read, with 5 multiple choice ABCD questions after each one.

Passage A
Planning a visit to the UK? Here we help with ways to cut your costs.
AVOID BIG EVENTS Big sporting events, concerts and exhibitions can increase the cost of accommodation and make it harder to find a room. A standard double room at the Thistle Brighton on the final Friday of the Brighton Comedy Festival (19 Oct.) cost £169.15 at A week later, the same room cost £118.15.
If you can be flexible and want to know dates to avoid—or you’re looking for a big event to pass your time—check out sites such as, which allow you to search for events in the UK by city, date and category.
STAY AWAY FROM THE STATION If traveling to your destination by train, you may want to find a good base close to the station, but you could end up paying more for the sake of convenience at the start of your holiday.
Don’t be too choosy about the part of town you stay in. Booking two months in advance, the cheapest room at Travelodge’s Central Euston hotel in London for Saturday 22 September was £95.95. A room just a tube journey away at its Covent Garden hotel was £75.75. And at Farringdon, a double room cost just £62.95.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF Really central hotels in cities such as London, Edinburgh and Cardiff can cost a fortune, especially at weekends and during big events. As an alternative consider checking into a self-catering flat with its own kitchen. Often these flats are hidden away on the top floors of city centre buildings. A great example is the historic O’Neill Flat on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, available for £420 for five days in late September, with room for four adults.
GET ON A BIKE London’s ‘Boris bikes’ have attracted the most attention, but other cities also have similar programmes that let you rent a bicycle and explore at your own pace, saving you on public transport or car parking costs.
Among the smaller cities with their own programmes are Newcastle (casual members pay around £1.50 for two hours) and Cardiff (free for up to 30 minutes, or £5 per day). (358 words)

56. The Brighton Comedy Festival is mentioned mainly to show big events may __________.
A. help travelers pass time B. attract lots of travelers to the UK
C. allow travelers to make flexible plans D. cause travelers to pay more for accommodation
57. “Farringdon” in Paragraph 5 is most probably __________.
A. a hotel away from the train station B. the tube line to Covent Garden
C. an ideal holiday destination D. the name of a travel agency
58. The passage shows that the O’Neill Flat __________.
A. lies on the ground floor B. is located in central London
C. provides cooking facilities for tourists D. costs over £100 on average per day in late September
59. Cardiff’s program allows a free bike for a maximum period of __________.
A. half an hour B. one hour
C. one hour and a half D. two hours
60. The main purpose of the passage is __________.
A. to tell visitors how to book in advance
B. to supply visitors with hotel information
C. to show visitors the importance of self-help
D. to offer visitors some money-saving tips

Passage B
In my living room, there is a plaque (匾) that advises me to “Bloom (开花) where you are planted.” It reminds me of Dorothy. I got to know Dorothy in the early 1980s, when I was teaching Early Childhood Development through a program with Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky. The job responsibilities required occasional visits to the classroom of each teacher in the program. Dorothy stands out in my memory as one who “bloomed” in her remote area.
Dorothy taught in a school In Harlan County, Kentucky, Appalachian Mountain area. To get to her school from the town of Harlan, I followed a road winding around the mountain. In the eight-mile journey, I crossed the same railroad track five times, giving the possibility of getting caught by the same train five times. Rather than feeling excited by this drive through the mountains, I found it depressing. The poverty level was shocking and the small shabby houses gave me the greatest feeling of hopelessness.
From the moment of my arrival at the little school, all gloom (忧郁) disappeared. Upon arriving at Dorothy’s classroom. I was greeted with smiling faces and treated like a queen. The children had been prepared to show me their latest projects. Dorothy told me with a big smile that they were serving poke greens salad and cornbread for “dinner” (lunch). In case you don’t know, poke greens are a weed-type plant that grows wild, especially on poor ground.
Dorothy never ran out of reports of exciting activities of her students. Her enthusiasm never cooled down. When it came time to sit for the testing and interviewing required to receive her Child Development Associate Certification, Dorothy was ready. She came to the assessment and passed in all areas. Afterward, she invited me to the one-and-only steak house in the area to celebrate her victory, as if she had received her Ph. D. degree. After the meal, she placed a little box containing an old pen in my hand. She said it was a family heirloom (传家宝), but to me it is a treasured symbol of appreciation and pride that cannot be matched with things. (360 words)

61. “Early Childhood Development” in Paragraph 1 refers to __________.
A. a program directed by Dorothy B. a course given by the author
C. an activity held by the students D. an organization sponsored by Union college
62. In the journey, the author was most disappointed at seeing __________.
A. the long track B. the poor houses
C. the same train D. the winding road
63. Upon arriving at the classroom, the author was cheered up by __________.
A. a warm welcome B. the sight of poke greens
C. Dorothy’s latest projects D. a big dinner made for her
64. What can we know about Dorothy from the last paragraph?
A. She was invited to a celebration at a restaurant.
B. She got a pen as a gift from the author.
C. She passed the required assessment.
D. She received her Ph. D. degree.
65. What does the author mainly intend to tell us?
A. Whatever you do, you must do it carefully.
B. Whoever you are, you deserve equal treatment.
C. However poor you are, you have the right to education,
D. Wherever you are, you can accomplish your achievement.

Passage C
It’s such a happy-looking library, painted yellow, decorated with palm-tree stickers and sheltered from the Florida sun by its own roof. About the size of a microwave oven, it’s pedestrian-friendly, too, waiting for book lovers next to a sidewalk in Palm Beach country Estates, along the northern boundary of Palm Beach Gardens.
It’s a library built with love.
A year ago, shortly after Janey Henriksen saw a Brian Williams report about the Little Free Library organization, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that aims to promote literacy and build a sense of community in a neighborhood by making books freely available, she announced to her family of four, “That’s what we’re going to do for our spring break!”
Son Austin, now a 10th-grader, didn’t see the point of building a library that resembles a mailbox. But Janey insisted, and husband Peter unwillingly got to work. The 51-year-old owner of a ship supply company modified a small wooden house that he’d built years earlier for daughter Abbie’s toy horses, and made a door of glass.
After adding the library’s final touches (装点), the family hung a signboard on the front, instructing users to “take a book, return a book,” and making the Henriksen library, now one of several hundred like it nationwide and among more than 2,500 in the world, the only Little Free Library in Palm Beach County.
They stocked it with 20 or so books they’d already read, a mix of science fiction, reference titles, novels and kids’ favorites. “I told them, keep in mind that you might not see it again,” said Janey, a stay-at-home mom.
Since then, the collection keeps replenishing (补充) itself, thanks to ongoing donations from borrowers. The library now gets an average of five visits a day.
The project’s best payoff, says Peter, are the thank-you notes left behind. “We had no idea in the beginning that it would be so popular.” (317 words)

66. In what way is the library “pedestrian-friendly”?
A. It owns a yellow roof. B. It stands near a sidewalk.
C. It protects book lovers from the sun. D. It uses palm-tree stickers as decorations.
67. Janey got the idea to build a library from __________.
A. a visit to Brian Williams B. a spring break with her family
C. a book sent by one of her neighbors D. a report on a Wisconsin-based organization
68. The library was built __________.
A. by a ship supply company B. on the basis of toy horses
C. like a mailbox D. with glass
69. What can we infer about the signboard?
A. It was made by a user of the library. B. It marked a final touch to the library.
C. It aimed at making the library last long. D. It indicated the library was a family property.
70. The passage tells us that the users __________.
A. donate books to the library
B. get paid to collect books for the library
C. receive thank-you notes for using the library
D. visit the library over 5 times on average daily

Section 4 Writing (45 points)
Section A
(10 points)
Directions: Read the following passage. Fill in the numbered blanks by using the information from the passage.
Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.

While there is no widely accepted definition of MOOCs, their key features are open access:they are currently free to participants, no entry qualifications are required, they support an unlimited number of participants and as yet, very few include any form of accreditation (认证).
Currently offered by some famous universities, MOOCs are attractive to people who do not have the financial resources to meet the growing costs of university education, or who do not have formal qualifications. They also allow participants to study at their own pace.
The potential for MOOCs to deliver education is obviously vast—they could be considered as a huge step forwards in widening participation. They also have the potential to provide a unique window on universities that offer popular and valuable courses, they may attract some participants to register for formal fee-paying programmes at the same or other universities and are likely to promote new ways of on-line education.
However, it is still very early days for MOOCs. The quality of the education provision is highly variable, with many courses offering only recordings of lectures, and delivery is particularly difficult in some special fields that require practical classes, research projects or extensive library access. Besides, wider engagement with participants requires very considerable resource. Even limited feedback or examination becomes a major task if there are several thousand students in the class.
Considering the challenges, some people argue MOOCs will soon evaporate (蒸发). But they certainly provide good opportunity for widening higher education, are a means of raising awareness of universities to audiences of tens or hundreds of thousands, and are well worthy of serious consideration. (271 words)

[Questions were cut off on my e-copy of the test.]

Section B (10 Points)
Directions: Read the following passage. Answer the questions according to the information given in the passage.

“Let’s Talk”:The Free Advice Project
A few weeks ago, I took a walk around Washington Square Park. I met all the usual people:street performers, the Pigeon Guy, a group of guitarists singing in harmony. But off to the side, sitting on a bench was a woman doing something vastly different—giving free advice.
A week or two later, I set up an interview with her and we discussed her project at length.
Lisa Podell, 32, started the Free Advice Project this past May. It began as an experiment;she sat in Washington Square Park for a day with a sign that read “Free Advice” as a simple way to reach out to people. Podell was astonished at the strong response.
Podell admits that she was doubtful at first, but now she describes the project as mutually (相互地) beneficial. People learn from her—but she also learns from them. She says that the majority of those who come to her are dealing with some pretty heavy issues, and they expect her not only to listen, but also provide real answers.
Having worked as a full time teacher and now as an adolescent advisor, Podell believes that talking things out is an important in the decision-making process.
Sometimes, people walk around all day, keeping their problems in their own head and thinking about them in the same way. Podell simply strives to provide people with perspective.
I asked if there is a future plan for the Free Advice Project. Podell said she would like to promote it to each public space in New York, which would be carried out by various volunteers across the city. 
It was truly inspiring to meet someone with such a big heart, especially in New York—where it is sometimes very hard to find anybody to listen.  (303 words)

81. In what way was Podell different from other people in the park? (No more than 6 words) (2 marks)
82. What do people in need expect Podell to do? (No more than 10 words) (3 marks)
83. According to Podell, what should people do when making decisions?
(No more than 6 words) (2 marks)
84. How would Podell promote her project in New York? (No more than 15 words) (3 marks)

Section C (25 points)
Directions: Write an English composition according to the instructions given below.

Keywords: match winner loser result


1. Your or another’s experience;
2. How you felt about it.
1. The four given keywords must be used;
2. The composition should be at least 120 words;
3. Do not use your real name or your school’s name.

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One comment on “China’s dreaded college entrance examination — the test from Hell

  1. Reply anup Sep 25,2014 8:39 pm

    I find no reason why u Chinese create so much hype for ur gaokao.its so simple to crack..even below average Indian can crack it with 90+ percent…its no where near to our iitjee…or clat..ornifft…aieee ..don’t believe get any above mentioned paper from Google and send to ur best in respective domain check whether he can solve 70+ question or not…

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