Thousands of Chinese parents reportedly swamped an online examination registration portal last month in a bid to snap up a seat for their child to take a Cambridge English test at one of the authorised exam centres across China.

At 10am on June 26 – the official registration date and time for enrolment for certified examinations of Cambridge English: Key (KET) for Schools and Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) for Schools on October 19 – Chinese parents, especially in Shanghai, were continually refreshing their browser in the hope of landing a seat for their offspring, the Voice of China first reported, the Daily News Sina.com recapped.

Examination places were completely sold out in all 36 test centers across China in minutes. Many parents sought any available seat, even if the exams were conducted in neighboring provinces, causing Shanghai pupils to sit the exam in Nanjing in Jiangsu province, and Nanjing pupils being pushed to Hefei in Anhui province.

Due to the unprecedented demand, scalpers who managed to secure a seat, resold them to parents for 4,000 or 5,000 Chinese yuan per head – 10 times higher than the official registration fee of 400 or 500 Chinese yuan.

Some parents resorted to scalpers because Cambridge English exam certificates are known for being internationally recognised for work, study and travel.

A mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the number of certification or qualification examinations available had been slashed by the government. She said enrolling her child in the Cambridge English test was one of the few ways that she could get her average primary school aged child to be admitted to a better secondary school.

Xiong Bingqi, the vice president of the 21st Century Institute of Education, said the exams were popular due to parents’ anxiety over choosing schools.

The government in recent years has stated that public secondary schools should not be cherry-picking pupils based on their outstanding performances in extracurricular activities or sports, in an effort to reduce stress of excessive studying and training.

However, this has not prevented some parents from pushing their children as they still believe that more certificates were preferred and that could make their child more competitive in secondary school allocation.