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>> For 9 million students in China, it all comes down to this. This week, the annual high stakes college entrance exam, known as Gaokao, is being held for three days across the country. I'm Reuter's Lee outside a school in Shanghai where students are taking what's likely the most important exam of their lives.
China takes the Gaokao very seriously. Construction is halted during testing hours to keep the city as quiet as possible and traffic is restricted to make sure no one is late for the test. And those caught cheating can expect up to seven years in jail. This year marks 40 years since the Gaokao was reintroduced after the chaotic cultural revolution.
And it's still seen as the great leveler for rural students hoping for a place at a top university. But a long-standing debate still rages over whether the test is really fair. That's because top schools offer more places to students from wealthier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, at the expense of the countryside.
It's a complicated system but basically, any school in China will favor applicants who are born close to the location of the school itself even if you're from a far plump town and have move to a major city, you still have to take the test where you're family is registered.
And because the best universities are in the big cities, those applicants stand a much better chance of a top education. Last year, the government vow to close the gap by giving more seats to students from rural regions but that sparked protests from urban parents, afraid their children will lose a coveted spot.
Still, for those that can afford it, there's an easy alternative. A top reason for the growing number of students in China attending university abroad, skipping the dreaded Gaokao and all the pain that comes with it.