By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing
More than 10 million Chinese students face one of the toughest tests of their young lives in the national college entrance exams over the next few days.
With about twice as many entrants as college places, competition is fierce and students have employed a range of methods to make sure they succeed.
They have joined cramming schools, hired home tutors and attended relaxation classes to make sure they are not too tense on the big day.
Some have gone to even greater lengths to ensure exam success.
A newspaper in Tianjin, a city in northern China, reported local girls have been buying contraceptive pills to delay their periods.
They fear a period during the exams could affect their concentration and so lead to lower grades.
Parents are also getting in on the act. Some have booked their "little emperors" into hotels near exam centres to ensure they arrive on time for the tests.
The rest of society is also doing its bit to make sure students are not disturbed while taking their exams.
Police will not use their car sirens, and construction sites will be shut down between 2200 and 0600 to ensure the youngsters get a good night's sleep.
Still, the pressure on Chinese students is great, with at least one teenager reported to have committed suicide.
Exam entrants, such as 18-year-old Shi Meng who attends Beijing's Hangtian High School, are being pushed by their parents to do as well as they can.
"There's been a lot of tension in the family. There are always arguments, with my parents fighting about me a lot,'' said Miss Shi.
"I'm always the centre of everything they do and I get angry sometimes because of the pressure."
High expectations are often difficult to live up to, as Miss Shi explained.
"Actually, I think I have failed my father. He hoped that I could go to a good university, and was even prepared to pay a lot of money for me to go, but I'm not good enough,'' she said.
To relax, Miss Shi listens to music, sings and plays with her dog, but anything that is not focused on academic achievement is often frowned upon by parents.
They prefer their children to spend the days leading up to the exams at cramming schools such as Beijing's Xue Da Education Institute.
The school has five centres across the capital in which 300 teachers have been helping thousands of students prepare for the college exams.
There are twice as many college hopefuls as there are places
It is open all year round, but the period leading up to the college exams is the school's busiest time.
A spokeswoman said most students who come through the school's doors are anxious or lack confidence.
She believes the system should be changed so a student's future does not depend solely on a few days of exams.
"I think this ought not to be the only route to college, there should be other channels," she said.
"In China the college entrance exam is all important for students and affects their futures, but the road students can take is too narrow."
But however pressured today's Chinese students feel, many newspapers and magazines have been looking back at a far more difficult time.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the college entrance exams following 10 years of chaos during the Cultural Revolution, when schools were closed.
Many people missed out on the chance to go to college during the period and that perhaps explains why they now push their own children hard.
"I missed the chance for higher education," one parent told the Shanghai Daily. "That's why I was so strict with my daughter's studies. I was devoted entirely to supporting her."