By Junyi Wei, University of Missouri

You may have heard of Gaokao, which is the name of the college entrance examination in China. It is the toughest and most intensely competitive exam in China, perhaps even in the world.

However, you may have never heard of Yikao, which is the test for arts majors such as music, drama, opera performers and even broadcast announcers. Yikao is usually held half a year before Gaokao. The aim of Yikao is to test whether a student has enough talent to further his/her study in arts school. Only if you pass both Yikao and Gaokao will you have the qualification to learn at your dream school.

I was born into a medical family; my parents and even grandparents are all doctors. But I’m a student who is majoring in English and Chinese bilingual broadcast announcing and presenting art in China. And now I’m a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri. And of course, I survived both Gaokao and Yikao.

In some ways, Yikao is crueler than Gaokao, because there’s always a big expense in Yikao. For the students who failed at Yikao, it was also a huge waste of money. Therefore, how to manage the money in every part of Yikao test is really significant.

The biggest expense of Yikao was on training classes. It was pretty important to choose the institution which had the most suitable teaching mode for me. I spent nearly 30,000 yuan (around $4,200) on the training classes. The rule of my institution is no matter when you start taking the class, you will have to pay 30,000 yuan before Yikao, which means the earlier you start your class, the more you will learn, but the expense is always the same.

There’s a different Yikao test for every specific arts area at every college, and most of the tests consist of a preliminary and a final. There’s also an entry fee for every single test, which is usually between $10 to $45. I had taken over 20 Yikao tests in 12 different colleges and I earned acceptance at nine colleges. I was thinking very carefully about my choice of colleges.

If I chose too many, it would take a lot of money and energy, but if I only chose a few colleges, I might not pass any of them. Finally, I chose the four most prestigious colleges, four colleges in medium level and four colleges as a fallback – what Americans would call “safety” schools. I’ve also taken two or three different areas of the broadcast announcing and presenting major in some of the colleges. Of course, if you’re confident enough, you can only apply for your dream school, and save a lot of entry fees.

Every year during the Yikao, the hotels around the colleges always raise their price. I’ve been to 12 different colleges and five different cities in a month for taking the Yikao test. But the problem was, I had no idea how many days I was going to stay in one college, because I didn’t know whether I could pass the preliminary test and then take the final one. On this occasion, a roommate would become very important. Sharing a room with my friends saved me a lot, besides, it was also a good chance to share the experience.

Besides, planning the route wisely is also a way to save money, because there’s also the expense in travelling around different cities. For example, it takes around $30 to take the high-speed railway from Shanghai to Hefei, but I also took the test in cities along the way, like Hangzhou and Nanjing, instead of needlessly jumping between different cities.

Yikao means a lot to me. Not only because it decided my college and major, but it was my first time to manage my personal finance all by myself. I won the Yikao by my careful budgeting, and I believe it will help me get more success in the future.

Junyi Wei is a student at the University of Missouri.