China's largest gaokao begins with 12.91 million candidates

China's national college entrance examination, known as the gaokao, kicked off on Wednesday with 12.91 million registered examinees, up 980,000 from last year, making it the largest gaokao in Chinese history, according to figures released by the Ministry of Education.

An examinee waves to her family members outside an exam site at the Experimental High School Attached to Beijing Normal University in Beijing, capital of China, June 7, 2023. (Photo: Xinhua)

The ministry has called upon local authorities to ensure the exam takes place safely and fairly. It has also been proactive in responding to the varying circumstances of candidates, categorizing examination venues accordingly and ensuring the provision of backup examination venues and relevant personnel.

Around 10,000 disabled students nationwide have been provided with special accommodations to ensure access and participation in the examination.

Gaokao reforms aimed at students' welfare

China's national college entrance exam has been undergoing reforms since its initiation in 1952. As many as 29 provincial-level regions in the country are presently taking a series of reform measures in terms of examination content, format and enrollment methods.

A part of the reforms is about allowing students to choose from over a dozen subject combinations instead of just liberal arts and science subjects so they may excel in their true area of interest.

Overall, the reforms are aimed at realizing comprehensive assessment of students with focus on social skills and research-oriented learning, providing personalized and overarching assessment of each student.

Admissions based on "comprehensive evaluation" have started in select universities in east China's Shanghai Municipality and Zhejiang Province as part of their reform efforts. Zhejiang University has implemented a three-pronged approach for assessing applicants: 85 percent weightage is given to gaokao score, 5 percent to academic score and 10 percent to interview performance.

Data on gaokao trends

Based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics, the admission rate for regular undergraduate college programs in 2022 was around 85 percent, which means more students got the opportunity to receive higher education.

According to data from Chinese search giant Baidu, factors such as school reputation, comprehensive strength, employment rate, school's retention rate and faculty quality are crucial factors influencing candidates' choice of schools.

Moreover, disciplines related to engineering remain to be popular, while management-related majors are gradually losing the charm. In recent years, the popularity of majors in the medical field has also been steadily increasing, according to Baidu trending search data.

The latest data for the 2023 Baidu trending search shows that clinical medicine is the most popular major this year. From 2019 to 2021, the proportion of medical enrollments exceeded 7 percent, marking an increase of 0.45 percentage points over a span of two years.