The grueling preparations for China's annual national college entrance exam

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China's national college entrance exam
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China's national college entrance exam
A staff member is silhouetted as she operates a system to detect wireless activity in examination venues during a presentation to the media in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China June 6, 2017. Equipments seized over the years, used in cheating attempts by students sitting for the national college entrance exam known as "gaokao", are displayed to the media by Shanxi Radio Management Bureau.REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT.
Slogans for the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", are seen on a door in a rented bedroom near Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Xiang Licheng, 20, a repeat student from Chaohu of Anhui province, poses for a picture in a rented room near Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students' dormitories at Maotanchang Middle School are seen in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Repeat student Jiang Zhenghu walks through a field toward his rented home, where he says with his parents, near Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Repeat student Zhang Chenlin, 19, poses for a photo with his mother next to their baggage in a rented dwelling before he leaves for the upcoming China's annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", near Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Belongings sit on the table at a home rented by a student and his parents near Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Repeat student Xiang Licheng (L), 20, chats with his classmate in a rented house near Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students eat lunch brought in by their mothers next to the entrance of Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Parents and relatives see students off as they leave Maotanchang Middle School for Luan city to attend the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students embrace each other as they leave for the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao" outside an entrance of Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Liu Zhicai, 75, holds an apple at the gate of a rented home, his grandson studies at Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students release a sky lantern to pray for the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", outside Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A mother prays outside Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Restaurant owner Zhang Xunze (R), 49, and his wife Xie Yingchun stand by their restaurant next to Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A student is seen in a bus as she and others leave Maotanchang Middle School for Luan city to attend the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students release sky lanterns to pray for the upcoming annual national college entrance exam, or ?gaokao", outside Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A graduation picture of student Chu Qinglong's class is seen in a rented home near Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students leaves Maotanchang Middle School at the end of the school day, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Students uses public telephones after school outside Maotanchang Middle School in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A student does homework on a bed next to her mother in a rented home near Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mothers hold flags as they walk around Maotanchang Middle School as daily exercise in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A student eats dinner brought in by her mother next to the entrance of Maotanchang Middle School, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Student Wang Xiaolong does homework in a rented home near Maotanchang Middle School at midnight, in Maotanchang town of Luan, Anhui province, China June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee SEARCH "GAOKAO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Wireless devices in shape of erasers are pictured during a presentation to the media in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China June 6, 2017. Equipments seized over the years, used in cheating attempts by students sitting for the national college entrance exam known as "gaokao", are displayed to the media by Shanxi Radio Management Bureau. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT.
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MAOTANCHANG, China, June 6 (Reuters) - The air crackles with anticipation in China's tiny eastern town of Maotanchang ahead of the "gaokao," the annual national college entrance exam more than 9 million students are taking this year.

The town is famed for a middle school that puts students through rigorous 14-hour days in preparation for the exam, which begins on Wednesday and is usually spread over two days.

This year about 9.4 million students will appear, the Xinhua state news agency said, roughly the same number since 2014 and down from a peak of 10.5 million in 2010.

The fiercely competitive test is seen as a key to social mobility and the best chance for school leavers to land a white-collar job.

Just 40 percent of students are expected to enroll in undergraduate degrees subsequently, however, Xinhua said, citing the 2017 enrollment plan of the education ministry.

But the exception is Maotanchang Middle School, whose website says 80 percent to 90 percent of its students have won college acceptances since 2010.

"My mother gave up her job and came here to keep me company," said Xiang Licheng, a 20-year-old who came to Maotanchang to prepare for a second attempt at the exam.

He said the school had taught him endurance, among other life skills.

"Every time I don't feel like studying, I will not relax, as I see the hardship my mother goes through in caring for me," Xiang said.

Restaurant owner Zhang Xunze said he moved to Maotanchang three years ago so his son could attend the school.

"We thought life was too boring and had nothing to do. So we gathered some money and started this restaurant," said 49-year-old Zhang, whose business is a short walk from the school gate.

In the lead-up to the exams, students took part in incense-burning ceremonies to pray for good luck. They also released into the sky floating lanterns inscribed with "gaokao" messages.

China's education ministry has urged exam venues to "create an optimal environment for students," and guard against "extreme weather conditions, natural disasters and disease outbreaks that could occur during the exams," Xinhua added.

The parents of Maotanchang Middle School were doing their part to help. Students cramming on the weekend received tins of steaming soup their parents had queued patiently to deliver.

"What I am most worried about now is that I will not perform well in the exam," said Zhang Chenlin, who lives with his mother in a tiny room near the school to prepare for his second try. (Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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