As you may have noticed over the past month, bookings have dropped a little as students prepare for their English exams and end of term exams before the summer season. Many students will be thinking about the work they will need to do over the summer holidays and some will be a little scared about the work load they will face in the coming school year – we’ve put together this month’s topic all about China’s school system, how it works, when holidays and exams are, and what key exams students take to help them get that all important place at university. This should help you understand just what Breadies are going through, and why some points of the years are busier or quieter than others.

China has a huge number of students, over 260 million according to studies by the OECD, and with all of these students competing for limited jobs and limited university places, it’s no wonder so many are turning to online education as a means of staying ahead.

The Chinese School System

It may surprise you to learn that school in China doesn’t start until the age of six! Whilst this may seem a little late, for most children, education will start earlier with preschool or early education such as English lessons like IQBar.

As schooling becomes more and more competitive, children as young as three are being signed up to classes to get ahead of their cohort. Many of our students who are doing early Picaro courses or the Phonics course will not be in school yet, but will be already signed up to lots of classes!

Preschool is very popular in China as most parents will be out at work during the day, so preschool allows them to educate their children whilst continuing working. Preschool up until recently has been mainly run by private led companies, but with so many competitive parents, the government has started looking into regulating how preschool is organised.

Primary school – Ages 6-12 – Grades 1-6

Once children start school in China, the system begins with primary school for children aged 6-12, at this point 60% of lessons are taken up with Chinese and maths, with the rest of the time allocated to other classes such as history, art and society. At this stage there is less homework (although homework is still an important part of the evening!) so there is more time to allocate to hobbies and extracurricular such as learning a sport, musical instrument or art form. A lot of students, particularly in city areas such as Beijing, will be taking extra English lessons or maths lessons to keep on top of their studies.

Junior (often called middle school) – Ages 12-15 – Grades 7-9

Next comes secondary school which is split into two sections, junior (middle) school and senior school, the first of the two, middle school, is for students aged 12-15. At this stage, students have far more homework than their previous years. Throughout a child’s education in China, a large focus is on preparation for the Gaokao exam which comes at the end of school and dictates what sort of university access a student can get, so all tests from hereon are used as an indicator for how students will fare in the final exam, but there will be more on that later!

Most students will have a leader board of how well students are doing on the wall, or at least part of common knowledge, so any test or assessment will mean you can rank yourself and become more competitive.

Senior school – Ages 15-18  — Grades 10-12

The work really gets serious in senior school for students in China. Not only is the clock ticking for the Gaokao (the main internet provider actually has a little countdown for the exam) but homework can take two hours in the evening, school can start from 7am and students get home around 6, and holidays and weekends are filled with extracurricular activities, further lessons in maths, English and science, and just a few hours for resting in the evening.

School holidays

As you may have discovered from sessions with Breadies, there are lots of fun holidays to be had throughout the year, the unfortunate thing is that most of our Breadies will continue to study throughout the season. Luckily for us however, during this holiday period you will likely see an increase in bookings as parents want to make the most of the free time to prepare for the coming term. At least we can try and make sessions as fun as possible for our hardworking Breadies!

The peak time to receive bookings is the summer period through July to August and the beginning of term when the workload isn’t too intense between September and October.

Other holidays may have a different effect. Whilst many students will continue booking sessions through the winter holiday during late January to late February, the two week period of Chinese New Year is one of our quietest times are Breadies travel to stay with family and celebrate the festivities together.

Other holidays such as Mid-Autumn Festival and Qingming Festival do also have days off where sessions may get busier, particularly outside peak hours. You can find a list of key holidays (and their dates for this year as an indicator) below!

Holiday 2019 Date 2019 Holiday
New Year’s Day Jan. 1 Dec. 30 2018 – Jan. 1 2019
Chinese New Year Feb. 5 Feb. 4 – 10
Qingming Festival Apr. 5 Apr. 5 – 7
May Day May 1 May 1 – 4
Dragon Boat Festival Jun. 7 Jun. 7 – 9
Mid-Autumn Day Sep. 13 Sep. 13 – 15
National Day Oct. 1 Oct. 1 – 7


As exams are a key feature in China’s education system, school exams are never very far away. Tests can fall at the end of term, during midterm or right at the beginning. The most important exams happen around this time each year – from mid-June to around mid-July. These exams can dictate what set students will be in the next year, and provide the foundations for how well they are predicted to do in the Gaokao.

It can often get quieter during the school exam period as Breadies focus on revising for all of their exams rather than focusing on their English.

Just what is the Gaokao? (7-9 June)

The Gaokao, or the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, is notorious for being one of the hardest exams in the world, with students all over China competing to get good enough grades to make their university of choice. 10 million students take part in the exam each year, and only 40% of students passing first time! The nine-hour exam covers a range of subjects with branches extending to social sciences or natural sciences science, with English as a foreign language and Chinese also being key areas.

Almost the whole school career of a student in China revolves around preparing for the exam, and a school’s reputation rests on how many students pass the exam and make it to university. The exam is so competitive, the exam board has had to boost security around the papers, such as metal detectors to detect microphones and ear pieces, shutting down companies who have adults posing as the students, or vetting those creating the tests to stop test papers being leaked.

As many of our Breadies come from Beijing and other large cities, the competition is extremely tight and parents pour thousands into preparing their children for the big day. In fact, the exam is so important that on the day of the exam, traffic is diverted, ambulances are on call in case students collapse and hotel prices go through the roof around exam centres as so many students are booked in to rooms as close as possible to the venue.

International Schools and International Exam Boards

A number of our Breadies and an increasing number of students across China who can afford to decide to avoid the extreme stress of the Gaokao and lack of university places in China by choosing to follow international curriculum and applying to universities abroad, such as in the UK or America. Last year alone, the number of students attending university abroad went up almost 9% from the year before.

Many of these students look for extra English support online to help with exam boards such as IB (International Baccalaureate), GCSEs, A levels or English Exams for university such as the previously mentioned Cambridge exams, IELTs or TOEFL. Most of these exams take place in the summer with revision starting around a year earlier.