More than 9.4 million Chinese students just sat for annual college entrance exams known as gaokao. The stakes are incredibly high, as admissions are largely based on exam scores. A high scorer streamlines his or her path toward a better education and better jobs — a low scorer may be destined for the opposite, made worse by shame.

Because the stakes are so high, cheating is a huge concern. Allegations of cheating rocked China in recent years. This year, Chinese authorities aren't playing around. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that cheating is now considered a criminal offense that could be punished with up to seven years in prison.

The new law apparently came into effect last November, and the most severe punishments would be reserved for those found to be engaging in the organizing of mass cheating or hiring others to sit state-level exams.

There were reports from all over China indicating that the police are now playing in active role in preventing cheating. Many were stationed at exam halls and were on the lookout for "suspicious behavior." In Beijing, an average of eight police officers were stationed at each exam hall. In some cities, students' shoes were being scanned before they entered testing locations.

Xinhua quoted parents who felt both positively and negatively about the new punishment law, but as one "educationalist" interviewed by the agency astutely noted, "To fully eliminate cheating, not only must the punishment be strengthened but also the admission system must be reformed."

The gaokao have been the be-all-end-all of the Chinese education system since the Cultural Revolution. Students delve into an incredibly consuming study period in the lead up to the June exams, and wealthier families often dole out thousands of dollars for coaching and prep courses.

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