New English test is too easy, say candidates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2007, 12:00am

Inauspicious start for HKCEE syllabus

The new English-language syllabus for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) got off to an ominous start yesterday with candidates complaining the exam was 'too easy'.

They were joined by school principals in voicing concerns that the English test would no longer be able to identify the best students.

While the results of yesterday's comprehension and composition papers will not be available until August, students who sat the exam were adamant that examiners were 'giving marks away'.

The new English-language syllabus, sat by 100,000 students this year, replaced the former syllabuses A and B papers that catered for students of differing English ability, usually split among students according to their language of instruction.

Apart from standardising the test, the new syllabus also features a reduced assessment for English grammar. Like in the Chinese language subject, students will be graded according to an absolute standard, rather than relative to their peers.

Alex Chan Yu-man, 16, who attends an English-medium school, said exam questions were too shallow and lacked depth.

'It is a big help that they have decided not to test us on grammar, but to be honest I think they should. Without it, it was too easy and I do not really feel tested,' he said.

'The paper was easier than the mock exam, a lot easier than the past papers I have done, and the challenge was not there,' he said.

His views were echoed by Ho Kei-ki, 17, who attends a Chinese-medium school. 'It is much easier now we do not have to do any proofreading, but the test felt ... incomplete. Maybe they made it easier because it was the first year. In the comprehension paper they were giving marks away.'

However, Sophie Lai Ka-lee, 16, said she found it tough: 'I did not have enough time to finish one of the papers, but I think I did okay. It was similar to the mock exam.'

Rosalind Chan Lo-sai, chairwoman of the Association of English Medium Secondary Schools, was concerned the test would not be able to identify the best students.

'I think the test really caters for the Chinese-medium schools since there are a lot more of them than English-medium schools,' Ms Chan, principal of YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, said.

'My concern is that the material is not demanding so many candidates will score high marks. In this kind of situation it is difficult to differentiate between students, and silly mistakes can cost candidates very much, even lower their grades. The test is not selective enough for the top level.'

Ms Chan was considering registering her students, who include native English speakers, for overseas exams such as the US-based TOEFL or British-based GCSE to give her pupils a more comprehensive workout.

Lawrence Lour Tsang-tsay, principal of the English-medium Carmel Divine Grace Foundation Secondary School, questioned the government's rationale for reducing the amount of grammar in the syllabus.

'The government has taken a communicative approach, which is you learn English by immersing yourself in the language rather than learning strict grammatical rules, much like they do in English-speaking countries. Meanwhile, there is still a lot of grammar in the Chinese-language syllabus. It is like we are learning Chinese as a foreign language and English as the mother tongue.'

However, Wong May-may, principal of Tack Ching Girls' Secondary School and a member of the Association of Chinese Middle Schools, said it was important not to read too much into students' reactions.