Sat, July 13

Changing Trends in China’s 2024 Postgraduate Exam

Postgraduate Exam Trends in 2024

The number of postgraduate exam applicants has decreased, but the scores have gone up. On March 12th, the scores generally rose across multiple disciplines: philosophy and interdisciplinary studies increased by 10 points, history and science by 9 points, and medicine by 8 points. However, only economics experienced a decline, dropping by 8 points. How can this change be interpreted?

According to previous data, the number of applicants for the 2024 postgraduate exams reached 4.38 million, down by 360,000 compared to the previous year, a decrease of about 7.6%. Although the number of applicants fell, the scores increased. This can be explained by a reduction in effective competition. For example, in a hypothetical test room of 20 candidates, previously there were 10 top performers and 10 weaker candidates. Now, only 15 candidates entered, with the 10 high performers remaining but only 5 weaker candidates. As a result, with fewer low-performing candidates, the overall average score naturally rises. This means that while the weaker competitors are reduced, the high performers remain or even increase.

Two Paths after Taking Postgraduate Exam in China

Let’s take a closer look at the number of postgraduate exam applicants over the years. A significant surge in applicants began with the pandemic, which served as a turning point. Before the pandemic, the number of applicants in 2019 was 2.9 million. By 2022, a year before restrictions were lifted, the number had soared to 4.57 million. This comparison shows a sharp increase of 1.67 million applicants, or 57.6%. Given the three years of pandemic-related disruptions and uncertainty, studying at home for postgraduate exams became understandable. The situation varied greatly across regions over those three years, with students attending online classes and employees working from home or receiving sudden layoff notices due to company closures. For many young people, postgraduate studies became a logical choice.

The other choice was to pursue government or public sector jobs. Therefore, from 2020 to 2022, the increase in postgraduate exam applicants was quite significant. However, by 2023, the growth had slowed compared to the previous three years. The direct reason is that many ordinary people had to bow to economic pressures. With pandemic restrictions lifted, people needed to find work, as it’s unsustainable to be jobless and without income for long periods. So, they chose to seek employment.

Nonetheless, some continued preparing for postgraduate exams. Even after focusing entirely on exam preparation once restrictions were lifted, many realized they still couldn’t pass the exams and decided to search for jobs instead. From this perspective, it’s understandable why the number of applicants for the 2024 exams decreased.

The Anxiety Faced by Postgraduate Exam Applicants

At its core, the postgraduate exam trend reveals the anxiety faced by young people. From an early age, parents and schools have emphasized that every milestone is crucial: primary school, the high school entrance exam, the college entrance exam, postgraduate exams, finding a job, and even marriage. This notion of a perfect, step-by-step life where every move must be timely has become an unspoken consensus. However, after entering society, many quickly realize that the world moves on regardless of their presence. Ultimately, whether it’s the decrease in postgraduate exam applicants or the rise in exam scores, the issue boils down to employment prospects.

Employment Challenges in China

Workforce Getting Older in China

Two stark realities are becoming apparent. First, today’s workforce is getting older. According to a report from the Central University of Finance and Economics, the average age of the workforce is over 35 years old, even in China’s five youngest provinces—Tibet, Guizhou, Xinjiang, Hainan, and Guangdong. This is a troubling fact. When browsing job listings, some position requirements are difficult to understand logically. Many positions impose a hard age limit of 30 or younger while demanding candidates be young, experienced, skilled, and highly educated. It feels like they’re searching for a superhuman scholar rather than an ordinary worker. Finding candidates who meet all these criteria is akin to winning the lottery.

Additionally, working hours have also increased. In 2023, the average weekly working hours of employees nationwide reached 49 hours. When this data was first revealed, it was somewhat surprising. In 2023, the average weekly working hours for a single month surpassed 48 hours, which briefly trended on social media. However, it turned out to be just the beginning.

The Structural Unemployment Issue

Secondly, current employment issues are mainly a result of structural unemployment. Multiple industry reports on China’s vocational education development trends in 2023 indicate that the number of structurally unemployed individuals is increasing each year. During the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), this number is expected to reach 14.5 million.

The current employment challenge is a comprehensive, complex issue. On a broader scale, global macroeconomic changes and shifts in the economic order are affecting China, making it difficult to remain unaffected. Moreover, employment policy measures are insufficient. This is comparable to food safety: every year on March 15th, there are revelations about unsafe foods. Offending products are simply penalized with tenfold compensation, or production is temporarily halted. These light penalties have resulted in too many counterfeit and substandard food products.

Disconnection Between Companies and Workers

There’s also a crucial and immediate underlying issue: the disconnect between companies and workers. From observation, today’s workers have a straightforward mindset: they expect to perform their work in exchange for wages. They are increasingly aware of the ruthless nature of capital. Thus, they don’t care about ideals or personal growth; they just want to discuss pay. This is the way it should be.

However, many companies don’t see it this way. A friend recently shared the idea that some businesses operate more with a landlord mindset rather than a capitalist mindset. Capitalist thinking revolves purely around profit—paying wages for labour to generate revenue. However, a landlord mentality is different: providing a job isn’t just employment; it’s like a lifetime contract. Workers are expected to treat the employer like a master and be at their beck and call 24 hours a day. Strangely enough, there’s a certain logic to this observation.


In conclusion, whether as a collective or an individual, it seems like we’re always on the run, with no time to consider which choice is the right one or to reflect on what we enjoy. Instead, we just keep pushing forward. Looking back reveals a journey full of effort while looking ahead seems to be all about fate. Reconciling with oneself is crucial, and it’s hard to say whether this approach is good or bad, but at least it allows one to live a little more comfortably.