It is a truth universally acknowledged that every point counts on the gaokao, China’s rigorous college entrance exam. This refrain is especially true in Henan — a province where nearly a million students take the gaokao every year but relatively few test into top schools.
Imagine one student’s surprise, then, when half of her points went missing.
On Monday, education authorities from the central Chinese province announced that discipline watchdogs were investigating fraud allegations from parents who say their children’s answer sheets were swapped: The students received only around half as many points as they had estimated from consulting the publicly released answer sheets for the exam, held on June 7 and 8.
The parents’ allegations attracted wide public attention on Sunday after they were picked up by a public account on social app WeChat. According to the article, Su Hong, the father of a student in Zhoukou, applied for a review of his daughter’s gaokao result in late June. His daughter reckoned that she had scored 627 out of a possible 750 points, but her reported score was just 335 points.
When Su obtained photos of his daughter’s answer sheets from the Henan Higher Education Admission Office, he said, his daughter denied that they were hers, pointing to an essay that was completely different from the one she had written. For his part, Su suspects that someone working in the admission office switched his daughter’s answer sheets with someone else’s.
Typically, there is a period during which students or their parents can request to have gaokao scores reviewed — but these reviews differ from place to place. In some provinces, students can apply to have their handwriting authenticated if they suspect fraud. In Henan, however, students may only have their answer sheets checked for score calculation errors. So when Su requested that his daughter’s answer sheet be reviewed, a staff member at the Higher Education Admission Office told him he’d have to file a lawsuit in order to have the answer sheets released.
After Su posted online about his predicament, the parents of three other students from three different cities in Henan reached out to him to say that their children’s gaokao scores were also far lower than anticipated. In one student’s case, four answer sheets showed four different test numbers when they should have all been the same.
Sixth Tone’s calls to Su and the Higher Education Admission Office went unanswered on Tuesday. But in an open letter posted to its website the same evening, the provincial admission office said that it had checked the students’ answer sheets several times and found no inconsistencies with respect to names, test numbers, or handwriting. “The test results are correct,” the office concluded.
Because of the fierce competition that results from the sheer number of test-takers, conquering the gaokao is sometimes likened to thousands of soldiers on war horses all trying to cross a river over a single log. In Henan, the crossing is even harder: This year, 983,800 students took the exam, and each year for the past 38 years, Henan has had more students take the gaokao than any other region in China. Meanwhile, Henan students’ admission rates to top-tier universities remain dismally low.
Although Su and the other parents are concerned about how long a lawsuit could take, they’ve reported their cases to police, just before the admission period for Chinese universities ends this Saturday. They’ve also requested that the Henan’s discipline inspection commission investigate the matter.
“The result of the investigation will be made public once it’s available,” the provincial education department said in its statement. “We encourage public oversight [of this case]. We will protect the fairness and the good reputation of the gaokao.”
This story has been updated to include the Higher Education Admission Office’s response via the open letter published on its website.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A man wears the traditional dress of a ‘zhuangyuan’ — a title given to the top scorer on the civil service exams in imperial China — to cheer on this year’s ‘gaokao’ takers in Zhengzhou, Henan province, June 7, 2018. IC)