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Can you pass the gaokao? Try our quiz of past questions

Try your luck in what's dubbed the world's toughest college entrance exam

In case you didn't notice the extra security guards, cordoned off roads and angsty parents loitering outside schools, well the gaokao took place last Friday, June 7. It’s not often we see the Dragon Boat Festival coincide on the same day as the gaokao, China’s national college entrance examination. It's the day that all high school seniors dread, their entire academic destiny determined in just two to three days.


The gaokao not only brings anxiety and dread to students, but everyone else involved, so it’s safe to say we were all in the same boat with the high-schoolers for this past Dragon Boat Festival weekend, though the stakes were much higher for them.


This year saw a record number of over 10.3 million Chinese high school seniors – which roughly equals the population of Portugal – registered to conquer gaokao. They were tested on three compulsory subjects – Chinese, Mathematics and English – as well as a more comprehensive exam according to their chosen area of study, either humanities (politics, history and geography), or sciences (physics, chemistry and biology).


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In the lead up to the big day, anxious test-takers and parents often embark on 'rituals' in hopes for high test scores. Some common gaokao superstitions include wearing red underwear on the first day of gaokao (red is considered to be lucky), or tearing up textbooks, and performing a kowtow and burning incense at various Confucious temples.


During the gaokao, cities also would make various gestures to accommodate students, such as offering free taxi rides to school and free bottled water for test takers. Often, mothers stand outside the school in dazzling qipao (another apparent gaokao superstition) and wait for hours until the end of exams. Wealthier families have, in the past, also forked out for limo service to gaokao exam centres, presumably to psych out the competition.


We've compiled a list of gaokao questions from previous years for you to pit your wits against. Put yourself to the test and see if you could possibly qualify for a spot in one of the China's top universities. No cheating now! (See answers at the bottom)


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Essay Question

*taken from 2016 Guangdong gaokao

1. The below pictures are from Beijing's recent smoking ban campaign. They show two gestures that you can use to object to anyone who's smoking, indicating 'I mind that you're smoking' and 'You can't do that' respectively. Write a paragraph analysing the effects of the two gestures.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 11.49.29 AM

*taken from 2016 Henan gaokao

2. Look at the illustration below, and write an essay of at least 800 words. The essay should focus on both content and use of vocabulary. Choose a good angle, write in a clear style and propose your own title.

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History Question

*taken from 2015 Guangdong gaokao

3. What happened in Soviet Russia in the 1920s?

A) Private enterprises began to emerge

B) State-run businesses had more autonomy

C) The government prohibited the sale of food

D) Peasants were active in collective farming



Math Question

*taken from 2015 Beijing gaokao

4. Given f (x) = sinx - (2sqrt(3))(sin^2(pi/2)):

A) Find f(x)’s smallest positive revolution;

B) Find f(x)’s smallest value, given that the period is [0,2pi/3].



*year unkown

5. Four students can choose to participate in a charity event either on Saturday or Sunday. What’s the probability that there is at least one student at both Saturday's and Sunday's events?

A) 1/8

B) 3/8

C) 5/8

D) 7/8


Answers: 3. C 4. A) 2pi; B) -sqrt(3) 5. D

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