Before he sat a school examination a few months ago, student Yong Jian was put through a security screening drill more often seen at an airport.
His personal belongings were scanned, all metallic objects were checked and phone signals were jammed throughout the duration of the test. Students are monitored even when they go to the toilet.
"At first we were bemused. We've never gone through such strict checks before," Mr Yong, 17, told The Straits Times. "But now we've got used to it."
The drill was meant to get the students in his school in central Anhui province ready for the conditions they will face during the gaokao, China's ultra-competitive university entrance examination, which starts tomorrow.
Nine million Chinese students are expected to sit for the gruelling test this year, seen by many of these teenagers as a make-or-break event that determines their future.
Besides jamming phone signals, many schools will for the first time use face-recognition software, fingerprint verification and close-circuit cameras to combat cheating during the gaokao.
Separately, education authorities will monitor vehicles that transport test papers and track them with the Global Positioning System (GPS).
These high-tech measures - together with new legislation that criminalises exam-cheating - make this year's gaokao "the strictest ever", according to Chinese media reports.
While there are no official statistics for gaokao cheating, the crackdown comes after an embarrassing report on "surrogate exam takers" published by a Guangzhou newspaper during last year's gaokao season.
The scandal was exposed by an undercover journalist, who infiltrated a gang that hires university students to take the gaokao for high school students.
Issued with fake identity cards and examination permits, these surrogates could earn up to one million yuan (S$209,000) if they managed to score well enough for the client to enter China's top universities, the report said.
That has resulted in university students being affected by the gaokao this year too.
Undergraduate Feng Linrui says her university in north-eastern Liaoning province has stepped up its checks on the attendance of students in class and at the school hostel to prevent anyone becoming a surrogate exam-taker.
The Dragon Boat Festival holiday coincides with this year's gaokao, so some students had thought of skipping a few days' school to go home, she told The Straits Times.
"But our teachers have told us no one is allowed to leave the campus unless they have special permission," said Ms Feng, 20.
"This has never happened before," she added.
This is also the first gaokao since China listed cheating in national examinations as a criminal act last November. Offenders face up to seven years' jail, a move that has sparked a debate among the public.
While some applaud the clampdown, others say it could adversely affect the future of these students, if any of these young offenders are saddled with a criminal record.
In the past, students caught cheating would be barred only from taking the gaokao for three years.
"Not everything should be solved by making it a criminal act," said one netizen on Weibo.
Others argue the new law is also unfair, given that those caught selling wireless devices for cheating in exams are equally culpable but were only jailed up to three years.
"It's more important to target those who sell high-tech equipment to help cheating or run exam fraud gangs than students and schools," said a commentary last week in China Education Daily.
For many students cramming for the examination, however, this debate may be far from their minds. Said Mr Yong: "I'm too busy studying now to think about cheating."
This article was first published on June 06, 2016.
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