A staff member sprays disinfectant on a senior student's hands before she enters a school in Zhengzhou, Henan province, in April. (Photos: Xinhua)
During the lockdown, she got up at about 6 am, took online courses for the whole day and spent her evenings doing mock exams or reviewing what she had learned during the day. At about 11 pm, she went to bed.
The only period of relaxation was when she spent an hour after 10 pm doing physical exercises, reading non-gaokao-related books and playing with her cellphone.
"In a way, the preparation for the exam distracted me from the pandemic and as long as I focused on studying, it became less scary," she said.
Despite that, she still understood the seriousness of the situation because her mother became a community volunteer, delivering medication to people under lockdown who had chronic diseases.
"She came home very late and she always reminded me to take good care of myself when she left in the morning," Zhang said.
"I worried about her safety a lot, but I knew she was doing something honorable so I just prayed that she would not contract the disease."
Zhang went back to school on May 6 as the pandemic waned in Wuhan and the authorities allowed final year high school students to return to classes.
"I was very happy to see my classmates and teachers. Although each class has been divided into two smaller ones and it is uncomfortable to wear a face mask during lessons, I still cherish my remaining days at high school," she said.
She is maintaining her busy schedule as the exam approaches. She feels nervous about the exam, and at the same time she constantly reminds herself to relax and calm down, she said.
"The gaokao is like a major hurdle that we all need to deal with. As long as I work very hard before the exam, it will become less intimidating and I will get better scores," she added.
"I have to make every effort for the exam and whatever the result, I will have no regrets."
Sun Feixue was in Beijing when the COVID-19 pandemic hit her hometown of Wuhan in late December. She was there to prepare for an interview at the Communication University of China that had originally been scheduled for March.
Sun-who wants to major in drama and screenwriting-and her grandmother rented an apartment in the capital to prepare for the interview.
Senior students at a high school in Wuhan, Hubei province, return to school in May to prepare for the gaokao, the national college entrance exam. Schools in the city were closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Entrants are enduring the tough task of preparing for potentially life-changing exam amid the pandemic
The gaokao, China's national college entrance exam, is a make-or-break event for millions of students, because the highly competitive and intensive test will largely determine their futures.
Although nearly 90 percent of those who take the exam will be admitted to colleges and universities, only a small proportion can attend the country's leading universities.
Every year, the two top schools, Peking University and Tsinghua University, both in Beijing, admit about 3,000 fresh high school graduates each.
Chinese people often compare the gaokao to "thousands of people crossing a narrow bridge".
That's because for many students, especially those from rural areas, enrollment at a good university is a difficult but worthwhile challenge that could shape the rest of their lives.
The exam caps 12 years of intensive study from primary level to high school. In addition, this year, the entrants face additional pressure as the exam will take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure the students' safety and the fairness of the exam, the gaokao has been postponed for a month, and will now take place on July 7 and 8.
A total of 10.71 million students have signed up to take the exam, a rise of 400,000 from last year, according to the Ministry of Education.
So, how has the pandemic affected the students' preparations? Are they ready to take one of the most important exams of their lives? How do they view the test, and what does it mean to them?
China Daily spoke with four high school students to hear their stories about taking the gaokao amid the pandemic.
Wuhan University has always been a dream school for Zhang Yunhan, who was born and raised in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed her determination to study at the university and she wants to become a teacher at her old high school when she graduates.
"I have witnessed how Wuhan has recovered from the worst public health crisis in my lifetime and I want to make my contribution to the city by nurturing future talent," the 18-year-old said.
Time is a luxury for every final year high school student in China, as they want to spend every waking moment preparing for the gaokao.
Zhang is no exception. In February, her school, Wuhan High School, was closed due to the pandemic and all classes were moved online.
"I do not have time to start panicking about the pandemic as it has not changed the fact that the gaokao remains the top priority for me," she said.