BEIJING, June 6 -- For 10.2 million students and their families, praying for luck might do more good now than hitting the books with the national college entrance exam only days away.
"Dear Confucius, please help me succeed in the college entrance examination," wrote 18-year-old student Chen Lingdong on a note that he hung on a trellis in the Temple of Confucius in Shanghai Friday morning.
With burning incense in hand, he bows in all four directions before solemnly facing the statue of Confucius.
The trellises and trees outside the temple's Dacheng Hall - which was the site of national exams during the era of the imperial dynasties - were already full of such notes, asking for spiritual assistance from the Chinese philosopher and educator who lived 2,500 years ago
The largest exam on earth, regarded by students as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get into university, has been a pressure-cooker for students' nerves since it was resumed in 1978, following the end of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
After finishing a year of preparation, many students are looking for that extra edge in the final few days. "It is more of a psychological comfort to me," said Chen, who is hoping to eventually become an aircraft pilot.
Teachers too find the examinations stressful, their success is largely measured by the results of their students.
Each year, before the exam, the sacred mountains of Buddhism see groups of high school teachers praying for good results for their students.
Hotels with room numbers ending with an eight are considered lucky. Those with threes and fours are usually avoided.
The A(H1N1) flu situation is posing another challenge for organizers of the world's largest test. Arrangements have been made to ensure the participation of flu patients and those suspected of having the virus.
In Beijing, all test-takers and test organizers will fill in a health report form each day. Students with a temperature above 37.5 C will be transferred to a back-up classroom.
"We will ensure every student can attend the exam in any condition," said the municipal education bureau's spokesman, Xian Lianping.
Students can wear face-masks during the exam, and central air conditioning may be turned off to avoid spreading infection, he added.
"We are nervous about the epidemic during the exam," the education administration director, surnamed Wang, said from Beijing Bayi Middle School.
Teachers will have thermometers available but they will only check students who claim they have a fever - authorities believe it will be too stressful for students to go through mandatory temperature testing.
Police will be working hard to keep traffic under control and quiet in areas around schools while exams are in progress.
Building sites near schools will be urged to halt construction at night and during exam times to allow students a chance to get plenty of sleep and to ensure they are not disturbed in the test.
And students have been told they can dial 110 and ask for police help if they encounter problems such as heavy traffic on the way to their tests - or if they leave important papers at home.
Weather reports will also be available to students and their parents via mobile phone.