From elementry school to graduaton, this is the process in which a young Chinese if he or she wish not to miss the train, often the only one, which could lead to a significantly brighter future.
Diligence, intelligence and handling pressure are perhaps the three ingredients that Chinese parents pray that their new born will posses. Though money plays an important role and allows many rich families to jump over some difficult life obstacles, successful studies and high examination grades are evidently a key factor that allows many poor students realize a brighter future.
Real study pressure doesn't begin in high-school, but much earlier. Some parents want their kids educated as soon as they first learn to speak, but elementary school (小学 xiaoxue) begins only in the age of 8 (适龄儿童 shiling ertong - 'The proper age'), allowing kids to enjoy a study-free environment a little longer than their western counterparts. Chinese language studies (语文 yuwen) and mathematics (数学 shuxue) are present since the first school moment, while English usually comes along in the 3rd grade. Elementary school pupils experience exams every month, though the heavier ones are in every mid semester (其中 qizhong) and in its end (期末 qimo).
No serious troubles are normally experienced when moving on to middle school (初中 chuzhong) after six primary school years. Three middle school years are ‘enriched' with topics such as politics (政治 zhengzhi), history (历史 lishi), biology (生物 shengwu, only in the two first years), chemistry (化学 huaxue, only in the third year), geography (地理 dili, only in the first two years), physics (物理 wuli, only in third year).
Serious exam pressure is starting exist in the third middle school year, when everybody begin to prepare for the National Middle School Exam (中考 zhongkao), also know as the High-School Enrollment Exam. The exam tests the knowledge of seven subjects, summing up to a grade of 720 points, among which Chinese language, English and math still give the tone.
Since most students have several high school (高中 gaozhong) options near their home residence, and each school has its own national grade, the Mid School Exam grade determines whether a teenager enrolls a high or low grade high school. Poor grades might fail to enough for either one and would only allow such student to enter a technical high school.
And then high-school begins... If some adults around the world feel that their real hard-working study phase began only in college, then in China such experience is completely impossible (unless one is terribly rich). Most university students in China share the difficulties of obtaining a good job and starting a career, but in terms of intense studies and exam fever, most admit that high school was the climax.
A high-school student, besides the three basic subjects (Chinese language, English, math) has to choose whether his or her orientation is humanistic (文科 wenke) or realistic-scientific (理科 like), according which three additional subject are added to the new study curriculum. The two first years are dedicated to knowledge accumulation (with exams every mid and end semester, of course), while the last school year is all under the title of the College Entrance Examination, the Gao Kao (高考).
Revising the materials and conducting numerous simulation exams become more and more concentrated throughout the year, until the date of exam takes place on the 7th and 8th of June. Discussing the gaokao day requires a full article, but it's is as dramatic as it gets.
The grading system isn't consistent throughout the nation, but every university knows how to judge the performance of a student by the criteria of his home province. Gaokao results are normally obtained by the end of June. The higher grades are the benke (本科), students who could enroll quality public universities. Benke are divided to four levels expressing the four grades of universities which correspond to their level. Only the exceptional, students ‘尖子生' (jianzi sheng, the ‘sharpest' or best students) are free to select any institute as they please.
Zhuanke (专科) are student of lower grades (divided into dazhuan 大专 and zhongzhuan 中专), who would look for professional colleges if they wish to continue obtaining further education. When the idiom ‘狼多肉少' (langduo roushao - ‘many wolves, little meat) becomes the sad reality, one has to accept his or her destiny.
B.A (本科 benke) normally lasts four years, which include major subject basic courses (专业课 zhuanyeke), major subject selectionn courses (专业选修课 zhuanye xuanxiuke) and basic courses which every BA student must take (公共选修课 gongong xuanxiuke), including English, physical education (体育 tiyu) and politics, which includes courses about Marxism, recent history, Mao Ze Dong and more. Exam pressure is most evident in the semester final exams.
First BA year (‘大一' da-yi) usually has less study hours than the second (‘大二' da-er), with the 3rd and 4th usually more relaxed course-wise. Though then a different journey begins; the challenge of finding a work. This time one's diligence and study history might not be enough, as human relations skills begin to play a major role for the first time.