Some provinces, including Beijing, permit students to see their gaokao scores before they apply; others, like Shandong and Anhui, require them to indicate preferences before the results are released. Students are left to guess the best school and department they can get into, which often results in unhappy matches. Mike is about to complete his studies in diplomacy at CFAU. Had he seen his gaokao scores before applying, however, he would have known that he had qualified for his first choice: environmental protection at Peking U. In other cases, students overestimate their scores and are left with no option at the end of the summer but to study another year.
Later this week, China will accommodate millions of nervous gaokao-takers. Traffic cops will redirect vehicles away from test centers, and construction sites will pause their incessant drilling. Even in Sichuan, tents have been erected in case aftershocks require students to be moved from testing centers. Many Chinese citizens find the system painful, inflexible, and ineffective. But even more side with Mary, who told me, "It's not perfect, but it's the fairest system."