What Is The Gaokao? (Plus 7 Sample Exam Questions And Their Full Solutions)

Every year, for two days in early June, a student’s harmony is more important than the economy. It’s so important that whole cities in every province in China lockdown. Traffic gets diverted away from exam centers to preserve the concentration of exam takers. It’s the largest exam in the world and it’s called the gaokao (高考).

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What Is The Gaokao Exam?

The gaokao (‘high test’) is an annual National College Entrance Examinations (NCEE) that lasts 9 hours over 2 days in early June. It is the culmination and main focus point of a student’s high school studies. It covers many topics and its score tells a student’s academic career. A student has to be well rounded and fast enough to complete it.  You must arrive 5 minutes before the test starts or you will be disqualified. There are no retakes. It’s a stressful week for gaokao candidates and their parents to say the least. To many Chinese citizens, this is more than a college entrance exam – it’s a ticket to upward social mobility. 

On the STEM-variant, Candidates will write essays in Chinese and English. Subjects range from Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics and English. Candidates will have to write mathematical proofs, and essays in Chinese and English. Fill in the blank and multiple choice will be popular too because they are so easy to mark. The highest score you can get is 750/750. Getting a perfect result has never been done. Getting the top mark usually gives the student national recognition and a ‘free ride’ to the Chinese college of choice. At the time of this writing, no one has gotten a perfect score. 

A photo of the gaokao exam center in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China
A photo of the entrance to the Gaokao exam, taken July 7, 2020, Chengdu, Sichuan province, China. It was delayed exactly one month due to COVID-19

Millions Of Students Take The Gaokao Every Year

A record number of students registered to take it this year, over 12 million. The way it works is that each province has an option to use their own exam or use a standard one from Beijing. Each province’s exam will have different targets for students to reach.

On the STEM-variant of the test the three main competencies are Chinese, Math and English. To gain access to mid or top-tier universities you should achieve a score of 500 points or more. Scores of 330 to 375 are good enough to access mid-tier universities.

A photo from the 2019 gaokao college entrance exam. Hundreds of students sit on desks and chairs with their heads down, focusing on math questions.
A photo taken at a 2019 gaokao exam. (Source: Chinosity)

Gaokao Exam FAQ

Of course, you’ve got questions about this final test for Chinese high school!

What’s The Difference Between The Gaokao And SAT?

While gaokao and SAT are both NCEE-type exams, gaokao is certainly much more difficult. One of the main distinctions is the fact that students may rewrite their SAT exams. They could take it any number of times they want but only present their highest result in their college application. We’ve seen students use tutors to improve their SAT by 200 points. The gaokao cannot be rewritten, so students won’t get that chance to improve. On those two faithful days in the Chinese Spring, what you get is what you get.

Can You Retake The Gaokao Test?

What if you fail, you wonder? Well, you might be able to retake the test the following year. Or at least that was the case before the crackdown on retakes. In an effort to make the test more fair, Chongqing province banned gaokao retakes (no more ‘fudu’ students). Amazingly 15% of the over 240,000 students who took the gaokao in Chongqing in 2017 were second-time or even third-time sitters.

What’s The Highest Gaokao Score?

  • Mr. Yang Chenyu from Guangxi province got a 730/750 (highest ever) and went to study to the prestigious Peking University
  • In 2021, Rui Yun scored the highest on the gaokao. He got 723/750 plus an additional 5 points because he is considered an ethnic minority. His final score was 728/750. (source)

Are you preparing for the Gaokao?

TutorOcean has a lot of Chinese tutors who have taken the test themselves. They may be able to help you prepare for the test. You can ask them on the platform. It’s free to sign up and chat. Some tutors offer 15 minutes at no cost to you.

Without calculators in hand, math questions will have to be done by pen and paper. Don’t think about cheating either because it is illegal. Cheaters could face up to seven years in jail. According to sources, 275 suspects have been arrested for the offense in 2021 alone! Scores are not normalized or “bell-curved” to compare province to province. So, what you get is what you get.

Question 1: Good families are much to all their members, but ______ to none.

  • something
  • anything
  • everything
  • nothing

Solution: This grammar question is testing your understanding of literary comparison. The first step is to understand the preposition “Good families are much to all their members”. Meaning that each member thinks “highly” of their family. Next step is to look the meanings of the 4 possible sentence “but _____ to none”, There are four possibilities:

  • But Something to none
  • But Anything to none
  • But Everything to none
  • But Nothing to none

Out of these 4 options what meanings do they have? “Something to none” means that no member of the family thinks of a good family as “Something”. In other words this is saying that all members do not value their good family. This is a called a logical contradiction. Read the first part of the sentence “Good families are much to all their members”. So, it’s not “Nothing”. Scratch that one off the list!

  • But Something to none
  • But Anything to none
  • But Everything to none
  • But Nothing to none

“Anything to none” has almost exactly the same meaning as “something to none”. Once again this is a logical contradiction, we can scratch it out. By the way, we can also see how both of the first two options are false. Why? Because we know that there is only one answer, and “Something” and “Anything” mean the same thing.

So we have:

  • But Something to none
  • But Anything to none
  • But Everything to none
  • But Nothing to none

What does “Everything to none” mean? That each family member has something else besides their good family. Aha, this makes a lot of sense! What the author is trying to say is that a good family has well balanced members. They’ve got valuable things/relationships that are external from their ‘good family’. This is a clear winner, but let’s take a look at the final option, for fun.

  • But Something to none
  • But Anything to none
  • But Everything to none
  • But Nothing to none

“Nothing to none” implies that each family member thinks their good family has *some* value. The word “but” implies that there is some exception to the previous statement. “Good families are much to all their members” is a statement that is includes the possibility that good families are of *some* value. This is vacuously true, so it’s probably not the right answer!

So, we’ve gone through all the options, and determined the likely winner. Great job! Now, what would you do if there was a fifth option “None of the above?” In general, not knowing if there is an actual answer makes a question much harder!

Question 2: It’s a ______ clock, made of brass and dating from the nineteenth century.

  • charming French small
  • French small charming
  • small French charming
  • charming small French

Solution: This question checks your grammatical understanding of order of adjective types. In general, the first adjective to a noun, “clock” is the Quantity/number.

For example: three charming small French Clocks, would be the correct order. Next order is quality/opinion, in this question that would be “charming”, but could also be “broken”. Next adjective type is called Size, and here it is “small”. Next is Age, well it’s not in the questions, but you can imagine “charming small old French clock”. Next type is shape, so we would have a “charming small round French clock”. Next up, the color. It could be a “charming small cherry red French clock”.

Second to last adjective type is Proper adjective. What that often means is the nationality, place of origin, or material of the thing. In this case “French” is the proper adjective of the noun “clock”. Last but not least of the adjective types is Purpose or qualifier. While it’s missing in this question, we can imagine one! A “charming small French alarm clock” waking you up for the gaokao test!

Here’s a list of the order of operations for you:

  • Quantity or number.
  • Quality or opinion.
  • Size.
  • Age.
  • Shape.
  • Color.
  • Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
  • Purpose or qualifier.

Ain’t English swell? You can use the mnemonic – OSASCOMP to remember the order of operations. Or use my own concoction: the mnemonic – NOSE SCOPE (Number, Opinion, Size, AgE, Shape, Color, Origin, PurposE). Can you come up with a better one? By hiring an online English tutor, they can help you learn these tricks to help ace your next exam.

Letters on the image spell nose scope with the corresponding grammar order of adjectives.
A funny or strange acronym can help you to remember disjointed facts. Next time I have to recall for a grammar test I’ll just think of Nose Scope!


Question 3: ______ ourselves from the physical and mental tension, we each need deep thought and inner quietness.

  • Having freed
  • Freed
  • To free
  • Freeing


As we usually do, we look at each option and use the process of elimination to narrow down the options. “Having freed” and “Freed” have exactly the same meaning. There can only be one answer. That means that both of them have to be incorrect because of the pigeonhole theorem!

“To free” is an unconjugated verb. It sets up the rest of the sentence. We could continue the sentence with another verb that makes a meaning for subject “We each need”.

Question 4: If x+y≥a, x-y≤-1 and the minimum value of z=x+ay is 7, a=?

  • -5
  • 3
  • -5 or 3
  • 5 or -3


The trick is to recognize that you have 3 inequalities, and graph them out.

  • X+y≥a
  • X-y≤-1
  • X+ay≤7

Unfortunately, you are not allowed to bring a graphing calculator to the Gaokao Test. You can determine the answer rapidly by drawing a sketch of the constraints
Try different values of a. If you find the three lines (boundaries) intersect at a point then that means you have a solution. A solution to the system of inequalities!

As you can see in the screenshot below, when a = 3, there is an intersection of all three lines. When a = 5 there is no intersection. If you graph it you’ll see an intersection occurs at a = -5 as well. Thus, the answer is -5 or 3.

A graph shows 3 inequalities, but no intersection.
A graph shows 3 inequalities, and an intersection.


Question 5: For hyperbola (x^2)/(a^2)-(y^2)/3=1 (a>0), suppose the eccentricity is 2, then a=?

  • 2
  • sqrt(6)/2
  • sqrt(5)/2
  • 1


Recognize that from the definition of “eccentricity” that:

  • The eccentricity of a circle is zero.
  • The eccentricity of an ellipse which is not a circle is greater than zero but less than 1.
  • The eccentricity of a parabola is 1.
  • The eccentricity of a hyperbola is greater than 1.

We know we are looking at a hyperbola because it is given that the eccentricity is greater than 1. That implies that 2 (the eccentricity) is equal to sqrt(a+(b^2/a^2)). We know that b = sqrt(3). So now we can solve for a and get the answer.

2 = sqrt(1+sqrt(3)^2/a^2)

2 = sqrt(1+sqrt(3)^2/a^2)

4 = 1+3/a^2

3 = 3/a^2

⅓ = a^2/3

1 = a^2

a = 1.

Which is option D. You got it!

Question 6: To understand the academic performance of 1,000 students, the systematic sampling method is adopted to choose 40 samples. What should the sampling interval be?

  • 50
  • 40
  • 25
  • 20


If you understand “systematic sampling method” and “intervals”, this question is very simple. The interval is equal to the population divided by the number of samples. 1000/40 = 25. In practical terms, that means that out of every 25 people in the population, 1 should have their academic performance measured. The answer is C.

Question 7: Four students can choose to participate in a charity event either on Saturday or Sunday. What’s the probability that there is at least one student at both Saturday’s and Sunday’s events?

  • 1/8
  • 3/8
  • 5/8
  • 7/8


One way to do this questions is to consider all the possibilities and then subtract the cases when there is not at least one student on both days. The key is to recognize that students have no preference, so their probability of picking a given day is ½ . There are 4 possible scenarios: P(4|0), P(3|1), P(2|2), P(3|1), P(0|4). Recognize that all these possibilities added together equals one, because probability space adds up to 100% of the cases. 

A video shows a tutor solving a gaokao probability question in the digital learning environment. A pencil draws out the possibilities and determines the answer.
In the virtual classroom, math tutors can show you exactly how to tackle problems that will be on the Gaokao exam. The sessions are recorded and notes are preserved for you to review.

Are you preparing for the Gaokao?

You can chat for free with tutors on the TutorOcean marketplace. Some websites make you pay for access to tutors. Not us. With TutorOcean you can get access to tutors for free and some even offer 15 minutes of tutoring for free. All TutorOcean tutoring sessions include our tutoring whiteboard technology (pictured above) for free.

There is no shortage of expert and experienced tutors who can assist in your studies. Ask them if they have done the test themselves and if they have, then they would be a great fit for you.