PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2008, 12:00am

Students should not be penalised because of poorly written exam papers

In response to those who have written in regarding the poor standard of the English A-level papers, I would like to add a couple of observations concerning this year's HKCEE English language paper 1A, in which students were instructed to read three passages and answer questions.

In passage one, students had to insert the word 'photos' to complete a sentence (i.e. 'tourists can take photos of the famous Victoria Harbour in the background').

This sentence, however, was poorly structured, since no foreground was mentioned. Are tourists supposed to take photos of Victoria Harbour, or of something else with the harbour in the background?

The above error was minor compared with one associated with passage three. In paragraph five of that passage, it was stated that 'before (the Kowloon Walled City) became a haven for criminals, the people who lived there organised their own daily lives without triad interference. Most residents were not involved in any crime and lived peacefully there'.

The period of triad control was identified elsewhere as being between 1949 and 1974. A multiple-choice question (with answer) was 'Between 1949 and 1974, the triads ruled the Walled City ... but most of the residents were not criminals themselves'. Paragraph five stated before, while the question asked during. There was no way of gathering this information from the article itself.

The answer, in fact, was only revealed in the fourth line of the proofreading exercise of question 37.

This was clearly a case of poor rewording, and possibly a misinterpretation, of the original article, which came from Wikipedia: 'Although the Walled City was described as a hotbed of criminal activities, the daily lives of its dwellers were largely organised by the residents themselves, rather than by the triads. Most residents were not involved in any crime and lived peacefully within its walls.'

Like the question accompanying passage three, the original article focused on during, but of course, students did not have the original article with them so had to make a guess based on the insufficient evidence from the article presented to them.

I hope the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority strikes this question from its calculation of students' marks.


Tseung Kwan O

Trendy slang is teens' own undoing

Recently, the HKCEE Chinese listening and integrated skills examination (paper three and paper five) was held.

Many students complained that the integrated skills exam paper was too difficult because students were required to explain a number of 'trendy' words (words that are usually used by teenagers).

Students thought these questions were weird because these 'trendy' words are normally used in conversation but not in writing, and they had never seen these words in any exercises or past papers before.

Teenagers think it is hard to communicate with their parents because every time they use 'trendy' words their parents cannot understand what they are talking about.

But in this CE exam, I think it is ironic that most of the teenagers themselves actually didn't know what these 'trendy' words meant. In fact, they use them simply because their peers do.

Teenagers are brilliant and creative. They can create 'trendy' words and their own language system. But this time they have suffered as a result of their own 'brilliance'.



Let teachers and pupils pick teaching language

After years of painful experiment, the government's good intention to divide our schools into two separate streams, English-medium- and Chinese-medium-of-instruction schools according to students' English-language ability, has proved to be a serious miscalculation.

This is largely due to a clear bias towards the benefits of learning in English.

With more opportunities to get in touch with English, these students have a good opportunity to gain admission to universities which place great emphasis on English-language exam results in their selection of students, especially for some 'hot' disciplines like medicine, law, business, communications, etc.

As long as this bias persists, CMI schools will continue to be seen as inferior and their students will continue to be disadvantaged in university admission.

Therefore, the newest proposal to give flexibility to secondary schools to determine their teaching medium makes a lot of sense.

There is no denying that some of our students are not suitable to be placed in EMI schools. However, some CMI school students may have the capability to learn certain subjects in English. Likewise, some of our EMI school students may prefer learning some subjects in Chinese.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to solve this teaching medium problem as long as the bias against CMI schools exist and a good English-language result continues to be a determining factor in university admission.

We can't afford to take the risk of requiring all secondary schools to adopt English as the medium of instruction because of the mixed language ability of our students, nor do we have the guts to require all secondary schools to teach all subjects in our mother tongue.

The best alternative is to give the choice of medium of instruction to our schools and teachers. They know the potential, strengths and weaknesses of their students.


Kwun Tong