Hong Kong candidates sitting an international English test have scored lower than the global average. While their results were weakest in writing, they were stronger in reading and listening.
A total of 3,393 people from Hong Kong sat the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in 2000, the year for which the comparison was made. They achieved a mean band score of 5.58 compared with the global mean of 5.87. In excess of 212,000 candidates from more than 200 countries sat the test last year.
The average mean band of 3,460 Hong Kong candidates in 1999 was 5.79 compared with the global mean of 6.19.
But bodies which administer the test said last week that the SAR results might not be a representative sample that reflected the overall English standard in Hong Kong.
The test assesses candidates' reading, listening, writing and speaking skills and reports the result on a scale of nine bands.
A candidate who scores nine is considered an 'expert' while one achieving band five is rated a 'modest user', mastering partial command of the language but likely to make many mistakes.
IELTS is used to assess English prior to entry to British, Australian and Canadian universities and for secondary school as well as vocational training programmes. The test has two versions: academic and vocational. The academic version is primarily for entrance into undergraduate and graduate programmes.
Hong Kong candidates ranked sixth in the academic version of the 2000 IELTS. Candidates from Malaysia scored best, with an overall mean band of 6.39, followed by India at 6.32. The mean band scores for mainland candidates was 5.46, while Thailand scored 5.51.
The test is jointly administered by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the British Council and Education Australia. Speaking at a seminar last week, John Fry, deputy director of the British Council's English Language Centre, said it was too simplistic to jump to the conclusion that the standard of English among Hong Kong candidates was declining. 'It's natural for the mean score to drop with the number of candidates rising,' he said.
Mr Fry said Indonesian candidates performed better than their counterparts from Hong Kong in 2000, but added, 'The population who took the test in Indonesia tended to be smaller and most attained a higher level of education than Hong Kong's candidates.'
He added that a substantial number of candidates from Hong Kong sat the test to meet the entry requirement of pre-university courses in overseas countries, which usually only required a mean band of 5.5.
'I haven't heard of many Hong Kong candidates failing to get the required grade to study overseas,' he said.