Cruel exams for primary school pupils have become a lottery

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2012, 12:00am


Readers might think that 15.5 per cent and 29.4 per cent on exam papers were marks for students of low ability, but in this case they would be wrong.

They are a selection of Hong Kong schools' percentage marks on 2011 Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) Primary Six exam papers.

As a native English-speaking teacher (NET) of 10 years' standing in a Hong Kong primary school, I have just completed the tedious and depressing task of analysing our school students' TSA results.

My conclusion is that those who set these exams should be lined up and shown the exit.

Let me give your readers an example from one paper.

Question: 'Which of the following pictures describes line 10?' Line 10 is 'Happy to help with hands and hose.'

The correct answer was chosen by a lucky 29.4 per cent of Hong Kong students. A picture showed a fireman holding a hose, a word, let's be honest, that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue of a 12-year-old whose second language is English.

Understandably, 46 per cent of Hong Kong students selected the picture of a fireman carrying an old lady out of a fire.

Another question that a mere 15.5 per cent got correct was, ''Saving families from the flames' is an example of alliteration. Which of the following is another example...?'

The word alliteration and knowing its meaning is not part of the Curriculum Development Council English Language Curriculum Guide (Primary 1-6) 2004 and, anyway, it is hardly the best example of it.

My two local English teachers and I, two of whom have a master's in English, struggled to get two Primary Three questions and at least three of the Primary Six questions correct, so what hope is there for our students?

The TSA exam is supposed to test whether students are meeting the minimum required standard of English.

Education degrees teach that examinations should set students up for success. These exams trick them into making wrong choices and failing.

If the powers that be need any help in setting exams that do the former, might I suggest they call on their huge bank of experienced, talented and qualified primary NETs, who are weary of being asked to drill for these cruel exams, which give little idea of English ability and have become nothing more than a lottery, with students 'blackening' any circle in the hope of getting lucky.

Marysia Marchant, Sai Kung