The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination is administered by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Most candidates take four core subjects - Chinese and English languages, mathematics and liberal studies - and two or three elective subjects. Results are divided into five levels, with 5 being the highest. A Level 5 with the best performance will be awarded a 5**.
Top DSE students of the class of 2014 voice concerns over future of Hong Kong
Prospects should be good for the 12 best performers on university entrance tests, but some worry about where Hong Kong is going
The future of Hong Kong weighed on the young minds of some of the city's best and brightest, even as they moved closer to the pursuit of their dreams.
This year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examinations saw 12 top scorers - pupils who recorded the highest grade, level 5** - in all seven subjects. The results are graded from levels 1 to 5.
Five have set their sights on saving lives through medicine, while two others will study law.
Some are indifferent to public affairs, but others, such as Ma Kwok-ming of Queen's College, show they have not been too engrossed in studies to keep their fingers on the pulse of politics
Watch: What it's like to get your HKDSE results
Ma said the rule of law had come under threat since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012.
"The white paper released by Beijing, asking for the legal sector to support the central government, is putting the city's rule of law at risk," he said yesterday.
The high achiever described his family background as "grass roots". Unlike many of his classmates, he said he had not taken extra tuition because he could not afford it. He wants to study medicine - to serve the public.
"The public hospitals are seriously understaffed. I plan to work there after graduation."
Most of the twelve 17- and 18-year-olds are from traditionally prestigious schools. St Paul's Co-educational College in Mid-Levels produced three top scorers, while St Paul's Secondary School in Happy Valley had two.
King's College, Queen's College, St Stephen's College, Heep Yunn School, St Mary's Canossian College, Wa Ying College and Wah Yan College, Kowloon, each laid claim to one of the city's brightest pupils.
At St Paul's Secondary, Anna Tsui Wing-yin, who wants to study government and public administration at Chinese University, is optimistic about her city.
"It's a bit of an exaggeration to say Hong Kong is dying," she said. "I think many people still care about the city a lot."
Heep Yunn's Chan Wing-in believes any short-term economic disruption caused by Occupy is a price worth paying in exchange for true democracy. "[Occupy participants] are using an unlawful means to say 'no' - though I feel it has its purpose."
But Wah Yan's Yii Pun-kit, who like Ma wants to be a doctor because of a manpower shortage in hospitals, was apathetic about current events.
"I'm not very interested in politics," he said. "I don't follow the news closely."
A total of 79,572 secondary school pupils took the DSE exams this year, of which 27,943 reached the minimum standards for university entry.
They will compete for about 15,000 government-subsidised first-year university degree places.
The DSE exams have been held for three years, replacing the Certificate of Education and A-level exams in 2012.
Examinations and Assessment Authority secretary general Dr Tong Chong-sze said they were reviewing the system. A report will be produced in July next year.
Teens battle adversity to ace their exams
And the effort paid off for t
he Red Cross John F.Kennedy Centre student: his results, received yesterday, included a level 5** in geography and level 5* in Chinese and liberal studies. A level 5** grade is the highest in the DSE system - it and the level 5* denote a performance with distinction.
Tam, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, can move only four fingers of his right hand.
He attributes his success to his Christian beliefs, and wants to enter religious studies with the aim of becoming a pastor.
"Christianity brought me to life," he said yesterday. "It makes me feel there is hope in life and inspired me to study hard."
Former triad member "Ah Shan" faced a challenge of a different kind: he sat his exams behind bars.
He credits his success to his mother's determination never to give up on him after he was sentenced to 17 months in the Cape Collinson Correctional Institution for vandalism.
"I let my mother down, but she would not give up on me," he said. "She visited me four times a month and would send me a letter every three to four days. Her support was the reason why I decided to put myself on the right track."
The 19-year-old was the top scorer among a record 15 young people in custody entered for the exams this year by the Correctional Services Department.
He reached the minimum requirement for university entrance - level 3 in English and Chinese and level 2 in liberal studies and mathematics. He said he planned to study hotel management because, "I love communicating with people from different cultures".
St Paul's Secondary School student Alison Kwok Wai-yi battled worsening vision impairment to score level 5 in Chinese and English, level 4 in maths and liberal studies and level 3 in business, accounting and financial studies. Kwok, who suffers from an inherited eye disease that will eventually cause total blindness, got through with enlarged exam papers and extended exam time.
"No one should give up on everything just because you're unable to do one thing," she said.
Spina bifida sufferer Vicky Wong Sze-ting, from Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School, got a step closer to her goal of becoming a surveyor after getting a level 5* in Chinese as well as a level 5 in mathematics and liberal studies.
"My initial plan was to be an architect, but I didn't think I could walk around on construction sites, so I opted to be a surveyor," said Wong, who does not need a wheelchair but has difficulty walking.
Rush begins for places on sub-degree courses
Tens of thousands of secondary school leavers rushed to apply for sub-degree and vocational training programmes after receiving their Diploma of Secondary Education exam results yesterday.
Some 79,572 took the DSE this year, with 27,943 achieving the minimum score for university entry. They were competing for about 15,000 government-subsidised first-year degree places.
Leung Yam-shing, educational adviser at the Vocational Training Council, said the council had received more than 17,000 applications within an hour of opening at 10am. Service industry, child education and social work programmes were the most popular. The council will provide 20,000 places this year.
Tommy Lam Tsz-wai, whose mother had queued outside a VTC centre in Tiu Keng Leng from 7am, was accepted into a self-financed degree programme in product design. "I couldn't sleep last night because I was so nervous," said Lam.
Anis Liu Yat-to, whose scores met university entry standards in all subjects but Chinese, applied for a Community College of City University social science programme. She planned to appeal her score so she could study landscape architecture at the University of Hong Kong, or take a VTC programme in landscape design.
But Winston Cheng Siu-tung offered some reassurance for those who failed to get into university - as he did, in 2006. He was accepted into a design course at the Hong Kong College of Technology and now, aged 25, owns two personal studios and has designed for the Jockey Club and a two-star Michelin chef.
"There are many paths in front of you," Cheng said. "The most important thing is that you start from what you want to do."