Let's hear it for the amazing Joseph Ng
Jolie Ho and Lilly Zhang
Joseph Ng Kwok-chung might seem like a regular 14-year-old who likes Garfield comics and is shy around strangers.
But he is also a science and music prodigy who scored three As in the A-level examinations intended for pupils four years older.
Joseph, who is in Form Seven at the International Christian Quality Music Secondary and Primary School, was the youngest candidate to sit the last A-levels and earned top grades in physics, chemistry and mathematics, plus a C in English and a D in Chinese. He took only nine years to finish 13 years of school. What's more, when he was 12 he received first-class honours in the International Junior Science Olympiad and picked up a performance diploma in piano.
Joseph's parents realised they had a prodigy on their hands when he was a baby.
His father, Ng Sai-keung, says his son began to recognise Chinese characters at the age of 18 months. When he was three, Joseph was watching a fountain and, seeing it never overflowed, asked his parents where the water went.
He jumped from Form Two to Form Six after taking the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, normally taken in Form Five.
His parents were concerned that he would struggle to bond with his new classmates, but Joseph threatened not to go to school unless he was allowed to study the more advanced classes. They needn't have worried - he quickly made friends with his 'seniors'.
'We went to Disneyland and karaoke together,' he said.
And his class adviser, Tsang Ling-sze, said Joseph worked well with his fellow pupils. 'He puts Garfield strips on the boards and is eager to share the cartoon stories with his classmates,' she said.
Joseph admits that his natural academic gifts would count for little without hard work.
'A lot of revision and exercises are needed,' he said. 'We cannot just memorise stuff but have to understand the logic behind it.'
Kate Ching Kei-suet, 18, studied with Joseph. 'Joseph was shy when he first joined the class, but after a time we started to get along well,' she said.
Joseph is now waiting to hear whether he has won the university place he wants. He hopes to become a professor of chemistry.
Also celebrating is Matthew Li Man-hei, 19, of Po Leung Kuk Ngan Po Ling College, one of the few students to take seven A-levels. Despite the heavy workload, he scored six As and one B. While he attributed his success to hard work, his teacher, Lau Ming-wai, said: 'He definitely works hard, but he also plays hard.'
The sports fan didn't miss Champions League soccer matches even on nights before his exams, describing it as a good way to relax.
His results went beyond his expectations. 'I didn't think so much about the results when I took the exam, and didn't expect I'd score six As,' he said.
Matthew, who hopes to become a banker, spent four hours on his studies every day and read the South China Morning Post to expand his English vocabulary. He also enjoys reading philosophy books.
While even the most gifted students usually take no more than five A-levels, Matthew decided to study for seven because he wanted to meet the demands of global business programmes at local universities.
Despite their feats, they've not quite managed to match the record of Hong Kong prodigy March Boedihardjo, who in 2007 passed the British mathematics A-level with an A grade at the age of just nine.
Making the grade
There is no second chance in this final A-levels exam, so I gave my very best.
Kong Hiu-fung, 6 grade As, Hang Seng School of Commerce
I played cards with the top-scoring seniors. The winner quizzes the loser on difficult business topics that are likely to appear in the exam. It is a fun way to learn.
Andrew Chan Yik-wing, 5 As and 1 C, Hang Seng School of Commerce
To relieve stress, I read and projected myself into the world of words.
Ma yin-yee, 5 As and 1 B, Hang Seng School of Commerce
I will stick with what I want to study, think positive and stay optimistic. I think I can still get a scholarship somewhere.
Angela Wong Man-Ling, Pentecostal School, whose results did not meet the requirements for a degree course
There are numerous choices to further my studies nowadays. Even if the result is not good, no one has to be worried.
Katherine Lai Sze-wing, Wai Kiu College, who also failed to make the grade