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What is Gaokao | China’s National College Entrance Examination

In China, Gaokao (the “National College Entrance Examination”) is not only an important milestone in the course of education, but also a key turning point in shaping one’s future destiny. Gaokao, central to China’s education system, determines the paths of millions of students and significantly influences talent cultivation directions and education resource allocation in society. The purpose of this article is to present readers with a panoramic picture of Gaokao, and to fully unveil the mystery of the system through detailed data and in-depth analysis.

Part1. What is Gaokao?


Gaokao is usually scheduled to begin on June 7 each year and last for two to four days. The exact number of days for Gaokao is based on the schedule of subjects to be examined. The time slots are carefully chosen to avoid clashes with the school day. It is also ensured that the weather is relatively suitable throughout the country for candidates to perform at their best. During the exam period, high school graduates across the country will concentrate on participating in this comprehensive test of knowledge and ability.


Most of the students taking the college entrance examination are between 17 and 19 years of age, which is due to the age range they naturally reach after completing three years of high school studies. However, the Gao Kao is not strictly age-restricted, and social candidates or repeaters who meet the entry requirements may also participate, and their age range is therefore wider.


Since the founding of New China, the college entrance examination system has undergone a number of major changes, profoundly reflecting the changes in the national education philosophy and social development needs. In 1952, China first implemented the national unified entrance examination system, marking the official birth of Gaokao, whose original intention was to select outstanding talents to enter higher education for further study. Since then, Gaokao has been adjusted and optimized many times:

  • During the Cultural Revolution, Gaokao was interrupted for a while until 1977. When it was resumed under the advocacy of Deng Xiaoping, it became an important way to select talents in the early stage of reform and opening up. It also stimulated the learning craze of the whole society.
  • From the 1980s to the 1990s, Gaokao was gradually improved, and standardized tests were introduced to strengthen the fairness and objectivity of the examination.
  • In the twenty-first century, the college entrance examination system has continued to deepen its reform, and the “3+X” examination model has been implemented. This model has enhanced the selectivity and flexibility of the examination. At the same time, it has promoted the exploration of diversified admission mechanisms, such as independent enrollment in colleges and universities.
  • In recent years, with the introduction of the “New College Entrance Examination” policy, such as the promotion of the “3+1+2” model, the college entrance examination pays more attention to the personalized development of students and the evaluation of their comprehensive quality. This signifies that the college entrance examination system is moving in the direction of greater science, rationality and fairness.
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While the subject set-up of the Gaokao reflects the principle of balancing arts and science, reforms such as “3+X” or “3+1+2” have been gradually introduced in recent years. The aim is to enhance the flexibility and selectivity of the examination.

before NCEE Reform: generally consists of three compulsory subjects: language, mathematics (arts/science), foreign language (mostly English), and a number of optional subjects in history/geography, physics/chemistry/biology, which are divided according to arts and science subjects.

“3+1+2” model: “3” refers to the three compulsory subjects of Language, Mathematics and Foreign Language; “1” is to choose one from Physics and History as the preferred subject; “2” is to choose two subjects from Chemistry, Biology, Ideology and Politics, and Geography as re-selected subjects.

“3+X” model: where “3” is also the three basic subjects of language, mathematics and foreign languages, and “X” represents that candidates choose from a number of elective subjects according to their interests and the requirements of university specialties. The “X” represents a number of elective subjects chosen by the candidates according to their interests and the requirements of the universities’ specialties.

Each subject has a corresponding paper structure and marking criteria designed according to its characteristics, which comprehensively examines students’ knowledge mastery, thinking ability and practical application ability. The college entrance examination is not only a summary of past studies, but also an important foundation for future studies and career paths.

Part2. Gaokao: Procedure, Registration, Admission

Gaokao procedure


Participation in Gaokao is subject to certain qualifications, including completion of the required number of years of high school education, proof of school enrollment, and physical fitness. Specific conditions may vary from province to province, and social candidates are required to fulfill additional regulations.

Before the examination:

In the winter of the year prior to the exam, students must register for the exam. Registration is usually completed on the official website of the Provincial College of Education and Recruitment, and candidates are required to fill out an online form that includes their name, gender, date of birth, ID number, address, residence, political status, school, phone number, and other information about their admission to the exam. The form asks students to select the optional compulsory subjects of their choice. Three subjects are universally compulsory: language, math, and a foreign language-usually English, but it can be substituted for Russian, Japanese, German, French, or Spanish, with less than 1% of students substituting another language. The other six standard subjects are three natural science subjects-physics, chemistry, and biology-and three liberal arts subjects-history, geography, and politics; students may choose three subjects for the exam. The six subjects that students take in the GCE include three universal compulsory subjects and three optional compulsory subjects of the candidate’s choice.

In the spring before the college entrance exam, candidates attend a physical examination organized by the school to detect illnesses that affect their future profession. For example, myopic students are not allowed to apply to military schools, and color-blind students will not be admitted to medical programs. It is also noted that “possession of a high school diploma or its equivalent” requires students to first take the General High School Academic Level Passing Examination, informally known as the “baccalaureate”, which consists of the 12 subjects that the student studied in high school. The exams are always easy to pass. Their grades are categorized as “pass” and “fail,” with “pass” accounting for 97 percent of the total number of exams and “fail” accounting for 3 percent of the total. Passes” account for 97% of the total number of exams and ‘Fails’ account for 3% of the total number of exams, and a comprehensive qualification report is submitted at the end of the exam based on the student’s performance and socialization. The result and report of the qualifying examination will be provided to the college for reference at the time of admission. Failing students are given three chances to take a supplementary examination. Chemistry, Biology, Geography, and History exams are held in the summer of the freshman year; Language Arts, Mathematics, English, Physics, and Political Science exams are given in the winter of the sophomore year; Information Technology and General Technology exams begin in the summer of the sophomore year; and Physical Education exams are given in the spring of the senior year during the first three months of the junior year. Elective subjects they fail in the back exams are not applied when they register for the entrance exams.


Gaokao is scheduled at the end of the spring semester and are taken simultaneously by high school graduates from all over the country over a period of two to four days.

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  • Understanding the enrollment information and conditions

Before enrollment, candidates should first understand the information and conditions of the college entrance examination in their province, including enrollment time, enrollment methods, enrollment materials and enrollment conditions. This information is usually published on the official website of the provincial education examination center, and candidates should pay close attention to it and read it carefully.

  • Preparation of Enrollment Materials

According to the enrollment conditions, candidates need to prepare the relevant enrollment materials in advance, such as ID cards, household registration books, school registration certificates, academic certificates and so on. These materials should be true and valid so as not to affect the eligibility for enrollment.

  • Conducting online enrollment

During the enrollment time, candidates need to log in the provincial college entrance examination enrollment system to make online enrollment. When filling in personal information, candidates should ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information to avoid errors or omissions. Candidates are also required to upload their recent bareheaded ID photos, which should conform to the prescribed format and requirements.

  • On-site Confirmation

After completing the online registration, candidates are required to go to the designated place for on-site confirmation within the specified time. During the on-site confirmation, candidates are required to bring along the original and photocopies of their ID cards, household registration books, and certificates of school enrollment so that the staff can verify the information. At the same time, candidates are also required to sign the “Candidate Integrity Commitment”, promising to abide by the examination discipline and regulations.

  • Payment of Application Fee

At the time of on-site confirmation, candidates are required to pay the application fee for the college entrance examination in accordance with local regulations. The payment can be made in cash, bank card, etc. The specific method is subject to local regulations.

  • Receive the Admit Card

Some time before the examination, candidates need to log in the registration system or go to the designated place to get the admission card. The pass is an important document for candidates to take the college entrance examination, and candidates should keep it in a safe place to avoid loss or damage.

  • Taking the Examination

On the day of the test, candidates should bring their passes and ID cards to the test center on time to take the test. During the examination, candidates should abide by the discipline and regulations of the examination, answer the questions carefully and strive for good results.

Registration for the college entrance examination is a rigorous and important process. Candidates need to pay close attention to official notifications to ensure that every step of the operation is accurate.


  • Grade: The results of the college entrance examination usually include the results of three unified college entrance examination subjects, namely language, mathematics and foreign language, and the results of three academic level examination subjects chosen by students on their own. The total score of the college entrance examination is the sum of the scores of each subject, which may vary from province to province, generally between 700 and 750 points. The results of the college entrance examination are an important basis for evaluating students’ academic level and ability, and one of the main bases for college enrollment.
  • Score Line: The score line is divided into undergraduate batch score line, undergraduate second batch score line and specialized (higher vocational) score line and so on. The score lines for different batches are different, with the highest score line for the first batch of undergraduate courses and the lowest score line for specialized courses (higher vocational). The delineation of the score line is based on the distribution of candidates’ scores and the enrollment plan, and is determined by the provincial enrollment examination institutions. Generally speaking, the score line will be announced some time after the release of the college entrance examination results. Candidates’ scores must meet or exceed the score line of their batch in order to be eligible for admission to the appropriate college or university and specialty.
  • Admission: Admission is carried out by colleges and universities in accordance with certain admission rules and procedures based on the candidates’ scores in the college entrance examination, their voluntary application and the enrollment plan. Colleges and universities will rank candidates from high to low according to their scores and volunteers, and determine the list of admissions according to the enrollment plan. The admission results will be announced some time after the college entrance examination, and candidates can check the admission results through the provincial admission examination organizations or the official websites of colleges and universities. Admitted candidates need to go through the enrollment procedures in accordance with the requirements of the university before they can officially become students of the university.
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Part3. Gaokao: Subjects and Sxample Questions

Difficulty Standard:

The assessment of the difficulty of the questions in the HKALE is based on the principles of educational measurement, taking into account factors such as the coverage of knowledge points, depth of thinking, and the requirements of problem solving skills. The questions are categorized into basic questions, mid-range questions and difficult questions, with moderate proportions, aiming at comprehensively testing candidates’ abilities.

Subjects and Sample Questions:

Chinese: focuses on reading comprehension, writing and traditional cultural literacy. The difficulty of the language test lies in in-depth interpretation and creative expression.


Mathematics: The test is highly differentiated, with basic questions guaranteeing a score and difficult questions testing logical reasoning and complex calculation skills.

Gaokao Sample Question

English: Listening, reading, and writing are comprehensively assessed, and the difficulty lies in the practical use of language and vocabulary.


Science: Physics, Chemistry and Biology.


General Arts (History, Geography, Politics): Interdisciplinary comprehensive and analytical skills are highly demanded, with a close combination of theory and practice, and different difficulties, such as abstract thinking in physics and material analysis in history

Gaokao Sample Questions

Part4. Gaokao: Impact and Significance

Gaokao Impact

Gaokao is an important examination in China’s education system, and it is one of the most important standards for measuring students’ learning achievements and evaluating the quality of education. Gaokao is not only related to the future and destiny of individual students, but also to the expectations and future of families and society. Through the Gaokao, students can enter their ideal universities and majors and obtain better educational resources and development opportunities.

Gaokao is not only an examination, but also a life experience and growth. It can stimulate students’ potential and fighting spirit, and cultivate their self-discipline, perseverance and innovative spirit. Gaokao is also the beginning of students’ journey towards independence and autonomy. Through the preparation for and experience of the college entrance examination, students can better understand themselves, plan their future, and develop their sense of social responsibility and civic awareness.

Even though the college entrance exam occupies a pivotal position in Chinese society, we should not overlook an important fact: Gaokao does not determine a person’s entire life. The vastness and depth of life is far beyond what any one exam can measure. There are many different paths in life, and the definition of success and happiness varies from person to person, and is by no means limited to academic achievement or a diploma from a prestigious university.

Part5. Gaokao: The Most Practical Preparation Advice

Make a reasonable preparation plan:

According to your actual situation and goals, make a detailed preparation plan, including daily study tasks, review content and time schedule. Adhere to the implementation of the plan, and constantly adjust and optimize to ensure the efficiency and relevance of the preparation.

Pay attention to the study and mastery of basic knowledge:

The college entrance examination examines the comprehensive quality and ability of students, and basic knowledge is an important part of it. Therefore, we should pay attention to the study and mastery of basic knowledge, especially the basic concepts, principles and formulas of each subject.

Do more questions and simulations:

By doing real and simulated questions, you can understand the form and difficulty of the exam, familiarize yourself with the content and types of questions, and improve the speed and accuracy of the solution. At the same time, you can also find your own shortcomings, make up and improve in time.

Maintain a good state of mind and work habits:

During the preparation for the college entrance examination, there is a lot of pressure, so it is necessary to maintain a good state of mind and work and rest habits. Reasonable arrangement of work and rest time, to ensure adequate sleep and diet; actively participate in sports and cultural activities to relieve stress; maintain a positive and optimistic attitude, believe that they can achieve good results.

Bravely seek help and support:

When you encounter difficulties and problems in the process of preparing for the exam, don’t fight alone, you can seek help and support from teachers, parents or other students. They can provide valuable advice and guidance to help you overcome difficulties and achieve better results.

FAQs about National College Entrance Examination

1. What is Gaokao? How to say Gaokao in Chinese?

Gaookao efers to the National Entrance Examination for Admission to Ordinary Schools of Higher Education in the People’s Republic of China, also known as the National College Entrance Examination. And the Chinese words for Gaokao is 高考 (gāo kǎo).

2. How old are the candidates for Gaokao?

Candidates for Gaokao are generally between the ages of 16 and 19. This is due to the fact that the Chinese education system usually starts primary education at the age of 6. After 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school and 3 years of senior high school, which is a total of 12 years of basic education, students take the college entrance examination at the age of 18 or 19.


Gaokao is not only a test, it is the witness of growth and the starting point of dreams. In this process, every participant is contributing to building a more equitable, efficient and innovative educational future. This article provides the most complete introduction to the 2024 college entrance examination from 5 aspects, including the time and number of examination days, registration and examination process, question types and difficulty analysis, college entrance examination reform and development, as well as significance and preparation suggestions. WuKong Education would like to send the most sincere wishes to every student who is about to embark on the journey of the examination, wishing you not only to harvest good results in the examination hall, but also to ride the wind and waves in every stage of your life and move forward to a bright and brilliant future!

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