China’s university entrance exam, known popularly as the gaokao, spans three days and has an almost singular influence on whether students will enter the country’s best schools, go to a regional college, or live the rest of their lives with the equivalent of a high school degree. In short, it makes taking the SATs look like three days at the beach. So it’s no wonder that renowned physicist Stephen Hawking took the time to wish the more than nine million test takers success on the difficult test.
“As many of you prepare to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, I want to wish you, the next generation of scientific minds, success in your academic endeavours,” Hawking wrote on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like social media site.
China’s famously stratified higher education system relies heavily on the gaokao to determine admittance. And with nine million test takers, compared to the average 1.7 million who take the SATs every year, competition for the selects seats at the sample of universities that lead to lives on highest rungs of society can lead some students to feel something worse than anxiety.
“Whether you aim to be a doctor, teacher, scientist, musician, engineer, or a writer — be fearless in the pursuit of your aspirations,” Hawking writes.
It’s an exam famously prone to cheating. The high stakes have pushed some students to develop surreptitious devices that would make James Bond proud. Officials have discovered students using earpieces smaller a grain of rice and even a device resembling a human tongue that vibrates with frequencies that the wearer can actually interpret as sound. Some of these innovations are perhaps the best proof of what Hawking has to say about the students.
“You are the next generation of big thinkers and thought leaders that will shape the future for generations to come.”