A decade of education reform was intended to change the ingrained mindset that put exam success above all else - but a study shows that the first batch of pupils to take the Diploma of Secondary Education exams are still feeling crushing pressure.
Ahead of the release of the diploma exam results on Friday, the Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council interviewed 1,761 youngsters hoping to get a place at university, to ask them about the pressure they felt.
Pupils were ranked on a score of zero to ten, with ten representing the greatest pressure. Some 60 per cent scored eight or higher on the scale.
'If parents see that their children have emotional fluctuations including sadness, melancholia, and a short temper, these are manifestations of pressure,' said Phoebe Yau Suk-wah, a clinical psychologist at the council.
She advises parents to seek help from social workers if there is no improvement in the child's condition within two weeks.
As well as worrying about the exam itself, more than 70 per cent of youngsters say they are concerned about making the right choice for their further education or career.
Lai Hei-ming sat for the diploma in eight subjects in the hope of gaining a place to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong, amid strong competition and high expectations from his parents.
'I've been unable to sleep in the last two weeks before the results.'
But Chan Yung-sang, who also took the maximum eight subjects and wants to study advertising at Baptist University, was more relaxed and optimistic.
'Even if the exam results are not good, there are still many other options,' he said.
Half of the interviewees said they wanted their parents to comfort, rather than criticise them for bad results. Almost 70 per cent were unhappy when their parents compared their results to those of others.
Most candidates take four core subjects - Chinese, English, mathematics and liberal studies - plus two or three elective ones.