During the test: The humorous and the tragic
Events that occurred during the test continue to trickle into the news during the relative calm of the test grading period. Some are endearing, such as the NetEase report of the “awesomest” mom in Changsha, who drove an RV to the test site so that she could cook for her daughter during the test. Others are terrifying, like the situation reported by the Beijing News in the Hubei city of Zhongxiang, where teachers monitoring the test were beaten by family members after rejecting bribes for answers to test questions. There are certain to be many more stories of triumph and tragedy among this year’s gaokao takers, just as there are for the test every year.
Questions over test contents: Thomas Edison’s cell phone & Pearl Harbor
Anxiety over test contents are being relieved through the news as well. The Beijing Daily reports that answers to the essay question asking students to imagine Thomas Edison in the 21st century will not be considered off topic if they do not mention Edison himself. Many test takers were unsure of how to approach this question, wondering if discussing Edison, scientists, writers, or their own experiences with cell phones would best count as “sticking closely to the theme” (one of the major criteria for grading). The group responsible for grading essays has explained that any of these approaches may be considered “on topic”.
Contents from the Shaanxi test were in the news for a factual error. Huashangwang Xi’an reports that one passage in the reading section entitled Flying Tigers Commander Chennault mistakenly quoted the date of attack on Pearl Harbor as December 7th, 1942. The actual date of the attack was December 7th, 1941, one year earlier than stated.
Gaokao-related statistics: How much are families spending to prepare? How successful are those who get top scores?
With statistics coming out about this year’s and previous year’s gaokaos, a number of stories on testing trends have popped up as well. The Beijing Evening News reports that gaokao-related expenses have increased 80,000x in the past 30 years. According to the article, preparation has gone from “drinking a bowl sweet bean soup and grabbing a couple of eggs before going to the test” in the 70s to “one on one classes, special nutrition meals, and renting ‘school district houses’.” One family quoted in the article spent nearly 100,000 RMB to help prepare their child for the test.
Parents who suspect their children have not done as well as hoped on the test might be able to console themselves with a report from the China Alumni Network entitled Gaokao Top Score Achiever Survey. According to a summary of the report, the career trajectories of top scorers on the gaokao are not as amazing as one might expect. Among 1,100 top scorers from the past 30 years, the article mentions only a few notable achievers, including a fellow of the Chinese Academic of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, as well as a Cheung Kong Scholar. Those ranking between #10 and #30 on the test were most likely to be highly successful in their careers, though this range usually includes between 50 and 60 test takers, making the probability of finding a highly successful individual more likely.
Post-gaokao economic boom
Of course, not everyone wants to spend their time thinking about test results and their implications for the future, especially students. Their need for distraction results in a yearly “post-test economic boom“. One Hangzhou newspaper reports that karaoke venues around the city are booked solid until late in the evening by large groups of classmates going out to sing. The end of this year’s gaokao coincides with the Dragon Boat Festival, compounding the size of entertainment seekers around China. Sales of electronics products are seeing a significant boost as well, with many parents rewarding their children with new cell phones, digital cameras, tablets, computers, and so forth.
A glimmer of hope for gaokao reform: Multiple English subject tests in Jiangsu
Students celebrating the end of the test in Jiangsu province will be flustered to hear that the test will be getting a bit easier for students just one year below them. The Jiangsu provincial Department of Education has announced that the English Language section of the gaokao will be offered on two dates next year in order to relieve pressure on test takers. One of the dates has been set on June 8th, during the regular gaokao period. The second date, while not yet fixed, will likely fall during March. Although it is a small step, one province offering multiple testing dates for any portion of the gaokao may lead to the rapid adoption of such measures in numerous subject areas and in different provinces, as occurred with hukou-related testing policies in 2012 and 2013.