Ombudsman

Exams body fails on test questions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2008, 12:00am

The Ombudsman has found 'serious weakness' in the way the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority sets up its test questions.

The watchdog received 100 complaints from students in April and May about unclear instructions in a question in the Hong Kong A-level Use of English listening paper on April 5.

In the question, candidates were given a taped conversation between the host of a survivor contest and competitors, and asked to 'put ticks or crosses' to identify which of 11 items the competitors were allowed to use in the contest.

According to the original marking scheme, candidates were required to 'tick' items allowed and 'cross' items not allowed. The authority said it found that 93 per cent of candidates had ticked the allowed items and crossed the 'not allowed' ones, according to 'convention'.

But 7 per cent had ticked the allowed items, and left all the remaining boxes blank.

The authority finally revised the marking scheme so that marks were given to the 'intended answers' by students as inferred by markers. For those who used ticks only and left the remaining boxes blank, the blank boxes were identified as 'not allowed' items, contrary to the original marking scheme.

As a result, students complained that the authority changed the marking scheme unreasonably.

The Ombudsman found that the instruction literally meant that the candidates could use either a cross or a tick to identify the 'allowed items', and boxes left blank should be interpreted as being identified as 'not allowed items'.

It said the complaints, although not substantiated, had revealed 'maladministration' by the authority.

'Of course it is a bit idiotic - how can we use both a tick and a cross to represent the same answer?' Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying asked.

'But this is what the task instruction is asking students to do.'

The Ombudsman did not overthrow the authority's decision regarding marking, but initiated an investigation.

Ombudsman investigation officer Warren Lee Wai-lun said the case revealed that the authority had failed to identify a 'simple mistake'.

'We see this as a serious weakness in HKEAA's checking system,' he said.