Seventy-two students have scored straight As in this year's Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination - the highest number in 10 years.
And the results, which will be released to students this morning, also show a small rise in the pass rates for the core subjects of Chinese, English and maths.
Exam officials denied tests were getting easier. Peter Hill, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessments Authority, which administers the exams, said the overall pattern of results was similar to previous years.
But Dr Hill conceded that the higher number of straight-A students - 25 scored 10 As and 47 received nine - was 'quite an increase' and 'the one noticeable change' in this year's results. Last year, 15 students received 10 As and 34 scored nine. The number of students choosing the easier English Syllabus A exam continued to rise, going up 13.9 per cent this year. Last year, the number rose 25 per cent.
The number taking the more difficult Syllabus B fell by 10.2 per cent. From next year, students will not have a choice. Pass rates in these exams improved by 6.6 percentage points and 3.4 points respectively.
William Yip Kam-yuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said this showed students were getting 'better at choosing exams to suit their abilities', and took English seriously.
But Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, chairman of Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation, said it was a 'superficial improvement concealing a possible drop in real standards'.
Nearly 9 per cent of the 73,534 day school candidates failed every subject.
The exam authority said yesterday it had shelved its inquiry into claims that students cheated in an English exam by accessing the internet with phones as it could not find one person who had accessed a helpful website.
Two candidates caught with information in their scientific calculators were disqualified from all exams and two who brought unauthorised materials into the exam hall were disqualified from those subjects.