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Contest: Hao Nao, Gaokao?

Compared to China’s national university entrance exam, the gaokao (lit., “test you must ace or work as a menial laborer for the rest of your life”), the SATs are a stroll in the park.

By AAWW Staff

Do you remember the SATs? Did they suck, or what?

Well, compared to China’s national university entrance exam, the gaokao (lit., “test you must ace or work as a menial laborer for the rest of your life”), the SATs are a stroll in the park. While the gaokao is like an Iron Man triathlon. Through a minefield and a piranha-infested river that ends in a waterfall. With people throwing ninja stars at you the whole time! Freaking ninja stars!

It covers three mandatory subjects—Chinese, Mathematics, and a foreign language, usually English—and up to three tests drawn from a pool of six additional subjects, including Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, and Political Education. Students study for gaokao an entire year, sometimes going without food or sleep in the weeks leading up to the exam (there have been stories of people using IVs for nutrition so they don’t have to stop cramming).

The gaokao is administered in early June, over a two to three day period. Scores for this year’s gaokao, taken by nearly 10 million Chinese high school seniors seeking to attend college, will be rolling in beginning next week.

To commemorate this, and to see how free-spirited, individualistic Americans might fare in the insanely competitive world of gaokao, The Margins and the Wall Street Journal Online column “Tao Jones” are collaborating on a contest.

The following are real questions  leaked from this year’s gaokao. Pick one (1) and respond to it BY MIDNIGHT, JULY 3 in 400 words or less in snappy, brilliant, offbeat fashion – earnest or funny, snarky or sincere. (The real gaokao gives you up to 800 words, but seriously, someone has to read all this crap).

Email your entry to with the subject line I HAZ GAOKAO; please include the question you’re responding to. Feel free to enter as many times as you like BEFORE MIDNIGHT, JULY 3. Be creative in how  you answer: Multimedia, artwork, photography, poetry, prose—all forms and formats are acceptable and encouraged.

Three winners will get a copy of Dave Liang‘s excellent album of remixes of Chinese children’s songs, Little Dragon Tales,” and have their entries published on The Margins and in the Wall Street Journal Online. Plus, we’ll send you to college in China. No we won’t! But we will honor you like the shining example that you are, in perpetuity.



1. I was helping my family with some farming work during a weekend and the field was very muddy due to the rains. I was carrying a lot of equipment on my shoulders and was afraid of falling over. My legs were shaking. My mom spotted it and told me to take off my shirt and shoes and try again. It was much easier. Eventually I brought the stuff to mom and she said, “It’s not that you can’t do it — you were too worried about getting your shirt dirty. By taking them off, you got rid of the unnecessary concerns.”

2. Old Ji is a railway security man and he works on a mountain. His job is to examine the railways to prevent the fallen stones and trees from affecting the trains. He salutes every time the train passes, and the train will honk its horn in return. What do these scenes remind of you?

3. Two fish are swimming in a river. The older one asks, “How’s the water?” The younger one says, “I don’t know if it’s clean or cloudy.”

4. Various communications methods are being developed: email, SMS, etc. Do you think the letter is replaceable?

5. For several months, a sign was left on a ladder at a construction spot: “Notice: Ladder.” One day, a guy came and changed it to “Notice: put the ladder down, not upright, when not in use.”