The Gaokao is extremely vital to one's career and as such is the only opportunity for many to escape poverty. Since the stakes are so high, many committ suicide due to the stress put on them by teachers, parents, and themselves. There are however, ways students take care of themselves during the exam season.
Some parents hire a "Gaokao nanny", a student who had passed the Gaokao in a previous year with flying colors. There job is to stay with the students beforee the test, offering companionship, advice, and helping them tackle test prep. They even stay up with them for all-nighters and get paid $45 for doing this.
Many students are also sent to Gaokao bootcamps where they prepare for the stressful test. In order to ensure that the students put all of their enrgy into studying, all forms of entertainment are banned so that sutdents have no choice but to study. But these bootcamps can cost around $8000, so using the time to study may be a good idea.
Unfortunately, many people resort to cheating on the Gaokao due to the high stakes. In fact, so many people attempt to cheat on these tests that some testing sites have metal detectors at the doors to prevent smart phones, ear pieces, and other devices from being smuggled into the examination.
Because of the stress from tests, and especially the gaokao, much of China's younger generation commit suicide. To help students look forward to getting good grades on tests instead of dreading them, some schools have utilized a "grade bank" in which a student who may have not done so hot on a previous exam can "borrow" points from the bank. That is of course, provided that they repay their debts with scores from future exams. This is meant to alleviate some of the stress that students feel to constantly perform above par.
Problems With the System
There have been controversy around this as debate and disagreement seem to follow the gaokao everywhere in the world. Many people dissaprove of the grade bank because they believe that'll make studdents lazy, and their fears may not be unfounded, however, it's too early in the game to fully be certain of negative or positive impacts of the grade bank. Many scholars also dissaprove of the gaokao, arguing that it only produces automatons that can memorize facts and figures but not much else. That it stomps on the creativity of China's younger generations. Others criticize the gaokao for putting too much pressure on the students. And even more people argue that the gaokao gives an unfair advantage to students from rich families as those students can afford more tutoring and lessons outside of school. This means that the gaokao is not meritocratic which is an issue for society. Not only that, but because the gaokao is so intense, many students are unmotivated to learn in college and teachers are also unmotivated to teach. This is an issue because the point of going to college is to learn and most students learning under the Chinese system aren't learning much in college. Despite the fierce protests and criticisms, the gaokao hasn't really changed from the time that it was established(1977 was when the modern gaokao took form).
The fact is, whenever the government tries to improve the gaokao, there's always pushback. For example, when the government announced that they would set quotas for students in poorer regions of China, mobs of middle-class parents flooded the streets in protest because they believed that those quotas would take away opportunities from their children. Either way, most changes aren't made because of crippling protests or because the alternatives would just give a bigger advantage to the rich.