Yesterday was the start of the national college entrance exams, or gaokao. It's a three-day "battle to determine their fate" -- literally.
These final examinations will determine if these students will make it into the post-secondary institution of their choice.
This year more than 10 million students will write gaokao, with 62 percent of them expected to be admitted into universities across the country.
Parents and their children are stressed out every year from this process and it's easy to see why.
These anxious parents will do just about anything to give their child that little extra advantage. While some hired tutors to help their son or daughter study, others even arrange to stay in hotels near the schools so that there is less of a commute time to the examination site, or give their child a quieter place to study.
And it's not just academics, but also thinking about your competitors. All 10 million of them.
Once the exams are marked, the results are ranked and those at the top automatically get entrance into the top universities. But there is a caveat.
A friend of mine who wrote the exam five years ago explained it to me like this: When students apply to write gaokao, they can only choose ONE university to enter, provided they do well on the exam. So if a top student wishes to go to Peking University, one of the best universities in China, but due to frayed nerves or other stresses doesn't score high enough on the exam, he or she will not be admitted into Beida and also will lose the chance to try to apply to another university that year.
That is why students have to think very realistically of their chances of getting into the university of their choice, and also try to anticipate how many other people may apply there as well.
And for those who know they don't have a chance of entering elite schools must contend for a spot in second-class universities, again with the same concept of only having one shot at getting in.
Every year around this time critics come out saying the gaokao system has to be changed. Some say the results of these exams should not be the be-all and end-all for these high school students -- instead they should be combined with their academic performance throughout the year to show consistency in case a top student flubs on the exam, or if a not so bright applicant mysteriously aces gaokao.
Others say more attention should be put on extra-curricular activities, believing well-rounded students are better than purely academically-focused ones.
While it is good for China to have a national standard for post-secondary students, gaokao has become an extremely stressful milestone in students' lives, as which university they go to will determine their career path and earning potential.
Some students are so freaked out about the exams that they have avoided them altogether, which is not a good sign either. Others, due to their financial situations, would rather find work than write the exam, thinking even office workers can get laid off in these economically uncertain times, so what's the point of going to university?
Either way the government needs to encourage its young people to have as much education as possible -- that is the only way for its society and economy to progress.