I refer to Helen Ma's letter regarding the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam ('New exam tests pupils' confidence', December 12). While familiarity with the format of an exam can help increase a candidate's level of confidence, it is by no means the deciding factor. Sound knowledge of subject content is the key for success in any reliable exam.
The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) has gone to great lengths over the past few years to ensure that the public is aware of the layout and knows what to expect in March 2012.
It has released practice papers demonstrating the format, with a new set to be released in early January 2012. Accordingly, many textbook publishers have followed suit and published sets of practice papers in the new design. Any candidate who has had the experience of trying them should not be in for too much of a surprise.
As Ms Ma states, every candidate's future is riding on these exams. The HKEAA has a history of testing its exams in overseas markets in an effort to make papers reliable.
No paper will be released that is deemed to be overtly unfair or unreasonable. In fact, one of the reasons for the new format in the first place is to make tests more criterion-referenced rather than being full of obscure testing points with horribly difficult distracters like what can be found in the Use of English Section C paper. The education community in Hong Kong has made a brouhaha of the exams. Students spend countless hours learning strategies to pass the exam rather than focusing on the actual content itself.
Take English as an example. If students actually spent as much time trying to use the language for real communicative purposes through the plethora of sources that are available to them on the internet and in other forms rather than going through endless sets of past papers, they would have a high enough level of competence to easily succeed at any exam that the HKEAA could throw at them. At this moment in time, it would not be prudent for teachers and students to be focusing on being the proverbial guinea pigs that Ms Ma suggests they are.
As a secondary school teacher of English with 10 years of experience in Hong Kong, I suggest Form Six students should get down to business, pull their socks up and concentrate on the task at hand - the subject matter, not the way in which it will be tested.
Stephen Perras, Discovery Bay