Preparing for the Gaokao and Bright Futures Beyond

Each year, graduating high school students from across China face one of the biggest challenges of their young lives: the university entrance exam known as the gaokao


Like many students around the world, education in China went online for much of the spring semester. Many rural students lack reliable internet access at their homes and have struggled to keep up with their exam preparations. To allow these students more time to prepare, the date for the gaokao was delayed one month and will now take place on July 7-8, 2020.

As the test date approaches, the pressure intensifies. Students, along with their parents and teachers, are keenly aware that their gaokao scores will be a primary determinant for the future direction of their education and career. Because of this, students prepare extensively for the two-day exam, toiling away for many months during early mornings, long nights, and weekends.

For the students you support, the sense of pressure is heightened by difficult family situations. Often, a student from a low-income rural family may be the first person in their family to take the entrance exam and have chance to go to university. Many of these students suffer heightened stress and anxiety related to the gaokao, even in a ‘normal’ year. During this unique school year, students have been hit with yet another major stressor as they prepare for the gaokao – the changes and limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.



To help relieve stress and to help students build mental and emotional resilience in the face of the gaokao and future life challenges, CWEF held a Pre-University Workshop at the end of May 2020 for the graduating students you support in Zhaotong. The purpose of the workshop was four-fold:

  1. To understand the students’ mindset and status leading up to the gaokao, and to help them make adjustments to maintain a healthy state of mind.
  2. To help relieve students’ psychological pressure and anxiety.
  3. To share helpful tips for taking the college entrance exam.
  4. To assist students one-on-one to deal with any special difficult situations they are facing.

We invited Zhonglu, a counselor and mental health researcher, to serve as the workshop facilitator. Zhonglu serves with one of CWEF’s local partners, the Zhengxin Social Work Service Center of Yunnan’s Wuding county. During one of the main group sessions, she led the students to share with the group related to the following:

  1. My dream or biggest hope for the future is…
  2. My ‘cautious wish’ is…
  3. My current status is…
  4. Currently, my happiest thing is…
  5. Currently, my saddest thing is…

In reflecting on this session, Zhonglu noted:

“Several participating students clearly showed a strong sense of loneliness and heavy stress. At the same time, many of the students shared about the joy that came from the tight emotional connection and strong sense of community they have with their fellow students on campus. Despite facing a lot of stress and anxiety, I was encouraged that the students are finding their own ways to cope. Some students choose basketball and running, and others choose to take a break to write in a journal or chat with their classmates.”

After the students had time to share and receive feedback from their peers, Zhonglu shared some tips from her own personal experience, and closed with an important message:

“Yes – the gaokao is one of the most important things during this stage of your life, but you must work hard to treat it peacefully. If you give it too much of your attention, you will easily be defeated psychologically. This exam will have a strong impact on your future, but it does not completely determine your future.”

Thank you for your gifts that have made it possible for these young women to face this key moment of their lives with courage. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they make their final preparations for the gaokao in the coming week, and afterwards as they prepare for the bright futures that lays ahead of them!


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