Cheaters, beware: if you’re caught red-handed during “gaokao” (university entrance exams), you could face up to seven years in jail, warned the Chinese government.

This is the first year the government has introduced such a strict punishment on cheaters, treating it as a criminal offense in an attempt to curb incidences of cheating in the nation’s notoriously grueling exams.

In the recently amended law, those convicted will also be banned from taking other national exams for three years.

The exams began on Tuesday, with up to 9.4 million high school students sitting for the papers this year.

How their future turns out depends on how well they do in the exams, leading some to take desperate measures.

“Educational authorities believe that by dangling the prospect of a harsh punishment in front of the test-takers, it will safeguard the fairness of the tests,” said educational analysts, as quoted by the Global Times.

However, some disagree with the criminalization of cheating, stating that it would not solve the problem.

Liu Lijun, a parent of an exam-taker in Hefei City of Anhui Province, told Xinhua: “The effect of cheating on society is not that severe, so I think making cheating in exams a criminal offense is taking things too far.”

Xiong Bingqi, an education specialist, suggested an overhaul of the system so that the entrance exams would only be one part of the university entrance process.

“To fully eliminate cheating, not only must the punishment be strengthened, but the admission system must also be reformed,” said Xiong.

Some of the more popular methods of cheating involve concealed wireless devices and the use of substitute examinees.

Just before the exams kicked off, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking inspired exam-takers by wishing them good luck via his Weibo account on Monday, which currently has more than 4.1 million fans.

In the post, Hawking wrote:

“As many of you prepare to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, I want to wish you, the next generation of scientific minds, success in your academic endeavors. This culmination of your hard work marks just the beginning of your very bright futures.

Growing up, my parents placed a high value on education and I am grateful for the limitless opportunities provided by my studies. Whether you aim to be a doctor, teacher, scientist, musician, engineer, or a writer — be fearless in the pursuit of your aspirations. You are the next generation of big thinkers and thought leaders that will shape the future for generations to come.”

Image via AP Images.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Chinese city bans students from ripping up textbooks for exam stress relief

Med-school exams cancelled in Thailand after high-tech cheaters nabbed