Assessing the Chinese Gaokao Exam

China’s National College Entrance Examination, often known as the gaokao is the largest college entrance exam in the world. For international higher education, the gaokao poses a number of difficult questions.

  • Is the gaokao a useful metric of assessment for Chinese candidates applying for overseas universities?

  • Is it a good predictor of academic preparedness?

  • Is its English component a useful metric for English proficiency?

  • Does it have a place in a holistic admissions assessment?

  • How can universities seeking to recruitment qualified Chinese applicants target the right gaokao-track students?


Fundamentally, the gaokao is different from standardized assessments such as the SAT or ACT in that the gaokao tests what a student knows rather than what the student can deduce or determine. The gaokao requires the student to memorize vast amounts of mathematical, historical, philosophical, and other types of information to receive a high score on the test. The sheer volume of reading and preparatory materials on the desk of an average student in China is instructive.

For international institutions, gaokao scores can be used to assess three different aspects of a student’s readiness: a general assessment of the student’s intellect and degree to which they are invested in their studies, a student’s academic preparedness on particular topics covered in their elective tracks, and a student’s English abilities.

What is the China Test Optional Initiative (CTOI)?

The China Test Optional Initiative (CTOI)’s goal is to bridge the gap between the growing test-optional policy movement in international higher education with the extraordinary number of Chinese students seeking international education opportunities after taking the Gaokao or other standardized exams each year.

If your institution is test-optional and welcome applications in the summer, please consider joining the Best Fit university group to make these students aware of all their options.