'Exams are what you need to get through here,' said Victor Lo Wai-tak, formerly from Dujiangyan, one of the worst-hit areas in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Now a sixth-former at Heung To Middle School, Lo, 19, was among this year's 26,000 self-study pupils making a last-ditch attempt to pass the city's last Form Five public exam, better known as the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination.
From now on, pupils will stay in secondary school for a sixth year and sit for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, which replaces A-levels under a 3+3+4 curriculum from next year.
Although Lo scored six As in the HKCEE last year, he was not eligible for early admission to university because he only scored level 3 in English. Since then he has stepped up his efforts to improve his score. 'All I need is a level 4 this time to quality for my dream degree programme and become an airline CEO,' he said.
Lo, who arrived as a new immigrant four years ago, tried various ways to prepare for his last chance.
He recited words from newspapers and completed 10 years of past exam papers. 'I downloaded English radio programmes to practise my listening skills on my way to school,' he said.
'Avoiding Facebook and television was an investment for my future. You need to know the rules of the game.'
Yvonne Cheung Yau-ping, 50, an account manager with property agency Century 21, sat the exam for the fifth time.
'It's been my wish to gain five passes in the HKCEE - a basic qualification for all Form Five graduates,' said Cheung, whose best result since 1981 was four passes.
She hopes to continue Form Six under the new curriculum with her 18-year-old son and acquire a law degree at City University.
The end of the exam system in use in Hong Kong for more than three decades has sparked heated discussion on online forums.
One Golden Forum member, who has quit the new Form Six curriculum, hopes to get five passes to qualify for a pre-associate degree course.
'I just hope to try my luck. The new syllabus is far too difficult for us, as repeaters from the old system.'
A Hong Kong Discuss forum member said: 'I've saved up money for appeals against my HKCEE results, just in case. All I want is a pass in Chinese and English.'