[...]The Chinese test is in some ways like the American SAT, except that it lasts more than twice as long. The nine-hour test is offered just once a year and is the sole determinant for admission to virtually all Chinese colleges and universities. About three in five students make the cut.
Families pull out all the stops to optimize their children's scores. In Sichuan Province in southwestern China, students studied in a hospital, hooked up to oxygen containers, in hopes of improving their concentration.
Some girls take contraceptives so they will not get their periods during the exam. Some well-off parents dangle the promise of fabulous rewards for offspring whose scores get them into a top-ranked university: parties, 100,000 renminbi in cash, or about $14,600, or better.
"My father even promised me, if I get into a college like Nankai University in Tianjin, 'I'll give you a prize, an Audi,' " said Chen Qiong, a 17-year-old girl taking the exam in Beijing.
Outside the exam sites, parents keep vigil for hours, as anxious as husbands waiting for their wives to give birth. A tardy arrival is disastrous. One student who arrived four minutes late in 2007 was turned away, even though she and her mother knelt before the exam proctor, begging for leniency.Cheating is increasingly sophisticated. One group of parents last year outfitted their children with tiny earpieces, persuaded a teacher to fax them the questions and then transmitted the answers by cellphone. Another father equipped a student with a miniscanner and had nine teachers on standby to provide the answers. In all, 2,645 cheaters were caught last year.[...]