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Millions begin college exams battle

MORE than 10 million Chinese high school students began national college entrance exams yesterday, or the "battle to determine their fate," as the three-day test is commonly known.

Although the number of candidates was down 3.8 percent from last year, the first decline in seven years, the college entrance examination, or gaokao, is still the world's largest.

This year's admission rate is about 62 percent, 12 times higher than in 1977 when China resumed the college entrance exams after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). However, competition is still fierce.

"It was like thousands of people squeezed onto a narrow bridge where only a few could get to the other side 20 years ago when I sat the exam," said Zhang Xiuqing, a father waiting for his daughter outside a test center in Beijing, one of more than 8,000 across the country.

"Now it's the same because everyone wants to enter prestigious universities like Peking and Tsinghua," he said.

In a country where a college diploma can help secure a decent job, the annual college entrance exam is considered decisive in determining a student's career opportunities.

However, at least 1 million graduates of the 5.6 million fresh out of university in 2008 failed to find a job because of the economic downturn.

But Zhang believed the odds were still better for the graduates than for those with no university qualifications. "Whenever it is, success in the gaokao is a key to social mobility in China," he said.

A fear for students and their parents, however, is cheating.

China's media have uncovered a series of cheating scams, ranging from identity theft to the use of high-tech communications equipment. Online advertisements offering purported test answers or devices to help obtain answers are easy to find.

"It is the most unfair thing in the world for a student who has devoted 12 years to preparing for the exam to be beaten by those using illegal methods," said Li Xiang, a father outside a test center in east China's Jiangsu Province.

"If my son fails the exam, I want him to fail fair and square," said Li. "What I can do is pray that my son is not the victim of test cheating."

The Ministry of Public Security has urged police to be on high alert for any cheating during the exams.


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