context: Gaokao university entrance examination reform focuses mainly on updating modes of evaluation and adjusting high school pedagogy. Some suggest that without transforming university enrollment procedures, the reforms may fall flat.

The second batch of gaokao reform pilots, including those for Hainan, Shandong and Tianjin, have been released. New gaokao syllabi feature removing the testing division between arts and sciences, ‘3 plus 3’ subject choices, foreign languages tests, ‘qualification testing plus grade testing’, etc. These policy moves have led schools to introduce an ‘optional class system’ and push teaching staff to update their knowledge and professional skills.

However, students are still not feeling their burdens eased. The new plans are not working for students because most universities still recruit high school graduates based on total gaokao scores, says Xiong Bingqi 熊丙奇 21th Century Education Research Institute vice dean. Currently, universities have to accept students who score above a certain total score on the gaokao, with different universities setting their admission lines at different scores.

Xiong argues that the best way to benefit gaokao takers is to empower universities to admit students based on more diversified factors than total gaokao score alone. Shanghai has piloted some related policies, but they don’t go far enough, Xiong says.