China's make-or-break college entrance examination, or Gaokao, got underway on Monday after weeks of delay because of the coronavirus epidemic. It is the biggest organized collective event since the coronavirus outbreak, gathering more than 10.7 million candidates at 400,000 exam rooms across the country. The test is being carried out under strict measures to ensure the safety of students and back-up rooms have been prepared for those who show symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. All candidates will have their body temperature checked at the entrance of test centers and those in mid- and high-risk areas are required to wear masks all the time.
The annual exam is one of the toughest assessments a Chinese student can ever go through, and it was even higher this year because of the epidemic. The outbreak coincided with the winter vacation in late January. Classes were already suspended but the Ministry of Education extended the holiday beyond mid-February, when students were supposed to be back to schools and asked local authorities to set up online platforms for virtual learning.
In March, the Ministry of Education announced Gaokao will not be held in early June as is the custom and instead pushed the date to July in a first in the exam's history. "When I heard that the gaokao date was delayed, I was relieved a bit," said Wang's classmate, Guo Jinxuan.
This year, Gaokao is the only chance for some of the country's 1.2 million art majors applicants to start their dream career. In previous years, finishing gaokao meant relief. Waiting for test scores and admission letters used to be the only thing students needed to do before packing their bags to go to their dream schools. But for this year's candidates, more uncertainties lie ahead. The epidemic has forced most universities and colleges to close their doors and turn to virtual teaching for months now. COVID-19 is not over yet, and whether this year's freshmen will make it to campuses remains one of the many unknowns after Gaokao.