Storm in a teacup
An instructor from a tutorial centre stirred up a storm recently when one of the essay questions he had given students to practise appeared in the HKCEE Chinese Language paper.
He had written a sample essay on the topic of lemon tea, which turned out to be one of the exam questions this year.
Although there are concerns that those enrolled at the King's Glory Day School tutorial centre had an unfair advantage in the exam, students are flocking to tutorial centres looking for a quick fix to learning.
'Many of my friends attend tutorial classes. If I missed out on exam tips which turn out to be correct, I would be devastated,' said Gigi Lam Chi-ying, a Form Seven student who enrolled in tutorial classes for all her A-Level subjects.
The exam-oriented approach adopted by tutors is popular with students.
'In contrast to traditional teachers who impart comprehensive foundational knowledge, the tutors break down a two-year curriculum into essential notes.
'Without their help, it's impossible for me to cram so much information in such a short time,' said Gigi.
Form Seven student Sien Ka-man finds the exam-oriented approach of tutorial schools useful in helping her score high marks in public exams.
'My teachers at school discuss our textbooks in great detail and also talk about topics not related to
exams. Notes provided by my tutors always come in handy,' said the student from Lee Kau Yan Memorial School.
With many students abandoning traditional classes in favour of intensive tutorial sessions, teachers are worried that they will develop the wrong attitude towards learning.
'Many students sign up for tutorials just so they won't lose out. Instead of seeking shortcuts, they should strengthen their basic knowledge in school,' said April Lo, a Chinese teacher from Liu Po Shan Memorial College.
But tutors have no problems with their teaching approach.
'We might provide sample essays for students, but we never encourage them to recite them,' said Siu Yuen, the Chinese tutor at King's Glory who wrote the sample essay on lemon tea.
'The exam questions we give students are based on extensive analysis of past exam topics and current affairs. They are only intended to serve as a study guide.'
The obsession with exam tips has also spawned a new generation of star tutors.
These star tutors flaunt 'accurate' exam predictions and have a huge following.
'Many tutorial centres like to parade their straight-A students to attract customers. They play up the rare successful cases, but the thousands who did badly in exams are never mentioned,' said Arthur Kho, a Chinese tutor at King's Glory.
Mr Kho, who has been a Chinese tutor for seven years, is disappointed with the image of tutors.
'Students used to turn to tutors for their experience and lively teaching methods. Instead of being exam decoders who churn out notes for cramming, tutors nurtured students' interest in learning,' said Mr Kho.
'With the craze for sample essays and mock exam questions, we have been downgraded to exam tips peddlers.'
Against the rules
Many students study sample exam essays, but they might not be aware of the consequences of using memorised material in exams.
According to the Handbook for Candidates issued by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, students who use passages from model essays in exams will be penalised.