More than 50,000 Hong Kong schoolchildren breathed a sigh of relief after sitting the Diploma of Secondary Education exams for four core subjects this week.
Pupils sat tests in Chinese, English, maths and, for the last time, liberal studies, with the rest of the month-long exam cycle devoted to elective subjects.
The tests have already caused a roller coaster of emotions among candidates, with last Friday’s English paper, which featured a reading component with an extract from Becoming, a memoir by former US first lady Michelle Obama, and her essay on Mother’s Day, said by many to be too difficult.
Emily*, an 18-year-old studying at Lok Sin Tong Young Ko Hsiao Lin Secondary School in Sha Tin, admitted she was nervous after the core subject tests because she felt she had struggled with unseen question types – styles of questions not used in previous exams.
“I am quite worried about the result day. I feel that I did not perform my best in the exams because of the many unseen question types in some subjects,” she explained.
Emily added she was not confident about achieving the minimum admission score for city undergraduate programmes.
Pupils must achieve at least level 3 scores in the Chinese and English-language exams and no lower than level 2 in maths, liberal studies and one elective subject.
“It’s hard for students like me who have a weak maths foundation to score a level 2 in this year’s exam. I was clueless in answering some unseen question types,” Emily said, adding she wanted to go to Baptist University’s business school in the autumn.
The 58,800 youngsters who sat the tests faced what was regarded as the toughest maths exam in recent years, but the Chinese paper was said by teachers to be of “moderate difficulty”.
Dick Hui, a maths tutor at King’s Glory Education Centre, said the exam was the “most challenging” in recent years and he expected a lower cut-off for passing marks.
Angel Leung, a 17-year-old pupil at True Light Girls’ College in Kowloon, said she was confident she would achieve the minimum admission scores to move on the next level of education.
But she said she was worried that might not do well enough to reach the minimum requirement for her preferred degree at Polytechnic University.
“If possible, I would really like to get a place in PolyU’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management,” she said.
The exams ended on Thursday with the last liberal studies paper before the controversial subject is scrapped, which caused mixed feelings among pupils.
No political questions were asked this year, but candidates were required to give their views on the city’s plastic shopping bag charge, drug patents and quality of life for elderly people.