Discuss as:

Nine million Chinese high school students face their toughest test

Jason Lee / Reuters

Students walk out of a school after the first test of the National College Entrance Exams in Beijing on June 7.

More than nine million Chinese students embarked Tuesday on the gaokao, a make-or-break college entrance exam described by Xinhua as "the most pressure packed test in the world." Ramping up that pressure a little itself, the local news agency continued:

Expectations are high. Only a fraction will make it to the top universities in the country. The result of the two-day test could define their fate in a fast changing world. They will face their fears and some will conquer them. With the support of a nation, the future rests on the shoulders of a generation coming of age.

Jason Lee / Reuters

Mothers wait near a school as their children take the National College Entrance Exams in Beijing on June 7.

According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, teachers at some schools have adopted what is described as a more Western approach, aimed at encouraging their students to chill out, instead of piling on the stress:

A school in Beijing is telling its Year 13 students to go out and lie on the grass for a while. Others are organizing pillow fights or games of blind-man’s buff or limbo dancing competitions.

Shi Tou / Reuters

A member of staff from the city's command centre of education exams watches real time monitors showing students taking the National College Entrance Exams in Chongqing municipality on June 7.

Meanwhile, the high stakes involved have apparently led some to seek out elaborate ways of cheating. The AP reports from Beijing:

China's Education Ministry says police have detained 62 people for selling wireless headphones, two-way radios and other electronic devices to cheat on this week's nationwide college entrance exam.

The ministry said in an announcement Sunday the detentions are intended to protect the exam's integrity. More than 9 million high school students are to take the test Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a society where many people see connections as crucial to getting ahead, the entrance exam is defended as meritocratic, giving everybody a chance of attending university.

Sean Yong / Reuters

A police officer uses a wireless signal detector to detect possible transmissions of exam information via radio devices or "radio cheating", outside a school during the National College Entrance Exams, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on June 7