"Without the gaokao, it would be impossible for many children like me in rural areas to leave our places of birth and engage in scholarship," said Zhang, adding that he had barely dared to imagine his future at that time.
Zhang was admitted by the university in 1984 and conducted ground-breaking research in a number of fields in the ensuing years.
For Yu Minhong, CEO of education company New Oriental, the gaokao holds a special place in his heart. He took the exam three times from 1978 to 1980 before being admitted to Peking University.
"The resumption of the gaokao was of landmark significance and marked the standardization of the education system," said Cheng Fangping, a professor with the School of Education of Renmin University of China, adding that it is also important for China's modernization, reform and opening.
A proper university admission system is profoundly influential for social and economic development, said Liu Haifeng, head of the examination and research center of Xiamen University.
"China's rapid economic growth is closely related to the gaokao system," Liu said.
The gaokao system has been continuously adjusted in line with changing realities over the past 40-plus years. Independent enrollment, which enables colleges to enroll students of their choice, and making the process more convenient for disabled students have been part of the adjustment.
While inspecting preparation for this year's gaokao at the National Education Examinations Authority Tuesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the gaokao's content would continue to be reformed and overall competency would be emphasized. College enrollment will continue to expand to encourage comprehensive and individual development of students.
Statistics from the Ministry of Education showed that China's higher education institutions were home to 36.99 million students in 2016, accounting for one-fifth of the world's total.
The gross enrollment rate for higher education jumped to 42.7 percent in 2016 from the previous 30 percent in 2012.
"I think the gaokao is so far a fair test as everybody is able to strive to change their fates through the test," Yu said.