Netizens Share Stories of Finding Success Despite Flunking the Gaokao

For Chinese high school seniors, the national college entrance exam can feel like a life-and-death event. This year, some netizens are challenging that notion

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18 hours ago 1 mins read

Last week, Chinese high school seniors everywhere received their scores for this year’s “gaokao,” China’s National College Entrance Examination (NCEE). In the coming weeks, the scores for this notoriously brutal exam will determine where students head to college and begin the next phases of their lives.

This would be stressful for any 17- or 18-year-old, whose life direction may be steered by one single exam, or so the conventional wisdom goes. The popular saying “failed gaokao equals failed life” (高考失败=人生完蛋, gāokǎo shībài = rénshēn wándàn) captures this anxiety.

However, a bilibili content creator under the name “Tom’s Messy Space” argued otherwise in a video that has received over 809,000 views in 2 days. Tom made the video answering a fan’s question about his gaokao journey, sharing that he initially underperformed on the test and was forced to repeat senior year. The second time around, Tom was accepted by Shanghai Jiaotong University, ranked number four nationally.

Tom’s gaokao video.

After graduating from the prestigious institution, Tom realized that his shiny diploma contributed little to his job search. He said in the video: “For many ordinary university graduates, their diplomas not only fail to help them find high-paying jobs, but their now inflated egos may even hinder their prospects for success."

Many other creators on bilibili chimed in with similar sentiments. One creator under the name “Fengfeng Wants to be Top Five” shared tips for getting over the disappointment of a “failed” gaokao. Another creator whose video has over a million views shared her journey of bouncing back after a disheartening gaokao results.

The belief that the gaokao is an equitable means to change one’s destiny (高考改变人生, gāokǎo gǎibiàn rénshēng) is embedded in the educational history of China and the origins of the gaokao itself. Inspirational stories of young men and women from underprivileged backgrounds accepted into top universities through the gaokao provide hope for students across the country.

Yet, this myth of meritocracy contributes to the stress and burden placed on the young test takers who only have one chance at the exam per year. The popularity of videos like Tom’s on bilibili deflates the idea that the gaokao is a singularly life-changing exam, offering alternative possibilities and sources of optimism for high school seniors.

Banner image via Sohu.

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