Monday, June 8, 2009

It's That Time Of...

...The Month Year Again

When I woke up this morning it was raining like it never rained before in Beijing or at least like it wasn’t a “natural” rain. I couldn’t figure out why they would have wanted rain at this time of the year (no national holiday in the next few days, no long period of drought…). Then it all became clear when I step out of our apartment complex which is located next to a famous school (School n°55) and I saw the hordes of parents waiting patiently outside the gates. But of course it’s Gaokao time. Construction sites near school were asked to be quiet, cars have been diverted and since it was way too hot in the past couple of days something needed to be done to lower the temperature.

Kao means test, and gao, which means high, indicates the test's perceived level of difficulty—and its ability to intimidate. It is China's SAT—if the SAT lasted two days, covered everything learned since kindergarten, and had the power to determine one's entire professional trajectory.
Students become aware of the gaokao, the sole criterion for university admission, at an early age. Pressures and preparations begin accordingly. All schooling, especially middle- and high-school curricula, is oriented toward gaokao readiness. Students often joke that it takes 12 years to study for the test. The results of the exam determine the student’s entrance to college, or not, their future major, and which university they can attend.

In Beijing, the prompt students were given was “I have a pair of invisible wings” (我有一双隐形的翅膀), a line that comes from a popular song sung by Angela Chang (张韶涵). Students were required to write at least 800 characters in any form of writing apart from poetry.

Apparently cheating on the gaokao is not an option: The penalties [for cheating] are severe: a student convicted of peeking at a neighbor's paper is never allowed to take the gaokao again, and his name is entered in a public database for prospective employers' perusal.
Stressed the parents? no!!