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The TWOC Gaokao Essay Guide

Our tips for the most mind-boggling prompts from this year’s essay tests

As anyone with standardized-testing experience knows, one of the most frustrating sections in any exam is the essay-writing segment. Unlike a multiple-choice questions, there’s as it’s impossible to just guess the right answer based on your favorite letter from A to D.

The gaokao is no different in this respect and, with the exam period finally over, we take a look at some of the essay prompts offered in various regions and what we think they mean.

[Editor’s note: The examiners’ approach varies widely from city to city. For example, Beijing offers two essay topics along with a detailed summary of different requirements. Shanghai simply offers a single topic, and a suggested word count. Our own suggested safe answers are merely that—suggestions—based on what previous years’ examinees have answered and online commentary by test prep experts.]

Shanghai Gaokao Language Exam

Fortunetelling. Life is full of variables. Some are very happy to have their fortune told, others are not. Please write an essay that discusses your thoughts.

Requirements: Come up with your own title and write at least 800 words.

Safe answer: Take a stance on whether people should listen to predictions and forecasts, both on micro and macro levels.

Beijing Gaokao Language Exam 

Write at least 700 words on one of the following two topics:

1) Regarding Bonds

This essay topic is more flexible, down to earth, can be related to family, society and ethnicity, ideas of a nation. There is much that can be written on this topic.

Bonds connect people and things. Public feeling requires the agglomeration of bonds, power requires bonds to act together. In today’s world, globalization, cultural exchange, historical inheritance, social stability, and harmonious campuses all require bonds. Please write an argumentative essay on the theme of “Regarding Bonds.”

Requirements: Take a clear position, make abundant use of evidence, arrive at reasonable argument.

2) My Country, I Take Photos for You

Our republic will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2049. Pretend that you will be tasked with taking pictures that demonstrate the great achievements in the revival of the Chinese civilization. What kind of images will you choose? Please be creative, and write a narrative essay on the theme of “My Country, I Take Photos for You.”

Requirements: Be plausible, have narrative and descriptive elements, can write about major themes or describe a small scene as metaphor for a larger theme.

Safe Answer: Regarding Bonds, emphasize the benefits of strong familial bonds, how this makes efficient members of society, and why this makes China great

Safe Answer: “My Country, I Take Photos for You” offers examples of China’s achievements, so discuss these. There are some moments that should not be illustrated and discussed, as they do not shine a positive light on China, even if they play an important role in the country’s history.

Tianjin Gaokao Language Exam

Please write an essay according to the following requirements:

We grow up surrounded by elders and think that we understand them. However, each elder is like a thick book. Once reopened, we discover their life truths, traditions, and the imprints of the generation. In turn, we find out more about ourselves, recognize their growth and maturity in our childhood, and realize our similarities and differences.

At the age of 18, we have grown up. When we reread [our elders] today, it is as adults that we converse with them and recognize their souls in rational encounter. Please combine analysis of your life experiences and write an essay around the theme of “Rereading the Book on Elders.”

Requirements: 1) Write from your own perspective, with your own title; 2) No style restrictions (except poems and songs), write in a distinctive style; 3) At least 800 words; 4) No plagiarism.

Safe Answer: Explain why listening and respecting elders is important, and how they have positively affected your growth. Examples of lessons learned and positive influences are a must.

Guangdong Gaokao Language Exam

Read the following passage and write the essay according to the requirements:

According to a survey of foreign students studying in China, the key words that they closely watching are: One Belt, One Road; pandas; square dancing; Chinese cuisine; the Great Wall; bike-sharing; Peking opera; air pollution; beautiful villages; food safety; high-speed rail; and mobile payments

Please choose two to three of the above key words that represent what you know about China, and write an essay to help young foreigners understand China. You are required to pick key words that are naturally connected. Pick an angle, write with a distinct style, choose your own title, and do not plagiarize. Must write more than 800 words.

Safe Answer: Please write a promotional piece to attract young foreigners to China by using key phrases that they know and would find appealing.

Sichuan Gaokao Language Paper

Please write an essay according to the following requirements:

This year marks the 40th anniversary since gaokao was restored. In these years, gaokao has helped the country select its brightest minds, promote educational reform and social progress, and has had many other great achievements. These 40 years, the gaokao has inspired dreams, embodied the memories and emotions of many generations of students, and has seen countless families shed tears and sweat as well as their laughter and celebration.

Think back, the 1977 gaokao singled a turning point for a generation. Now today, you are together with millions of candidates, ready to take on the exam.

With either “My Views on Gaokao” or “My Gaokao” as your sub-heading, please write an essay. You are required to choose an angle and direction, write in a distinct style, and choose your own title. Do not plagiarize or write less than 800 words.

Safe Answer: Let us know how much you love the gaokao system, how it has shaped the great minds in the country, and why you were super excited for this exam period.

Try the gaokao English exam here.


Ethan Yun is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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