Pupils sat the first written exam of the new Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education yesterday, and said they were relieved the Chinese language paper had proved easier than they expected.
About 70,000 pupils will sit for the diploma, which this year replaced the HKCEE and A Levels as the exam for all school leavers. They will be competing for 15,000 government-funded places at local universities.
'It was easier than the practice papers I did at my school. Maybe they don't want many students to flunk in the first year,' one candidate said.
Counsellors urged pupils to stay calm as they entered the exam venue. Lit Ho-cheung, a counsellor for the Hok Yau Club, a support service for students, said pupils should not take 'too many notes' to the exam centres. 'If you don't have the time to read them, it will just make you feel stressed and can affect your performance,' he said.
This year, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority made special arrangements for nearly 1,000 students with special needs.
One such venue was Queen's College, where students could bring hearing aids or magnifying glasses.
Lee Yiu-lam, who participated in the exam at Queen's College, said he was given 25 per cent more time to complete the paper. 'It's a good arrangement, so I could finish my answers. I feel relaxed now,' Lee, who attends school in Aberdeen, said.
Wong Mei-kei, who teaches Chinese and is a member of the executive committee of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, said the papers showed that authorities wanted to make exams more flexible.
'The questions were broader. You cannot just practise certain types of questions when you prepare for the exams,' she said. It was difficult to predict the pass rate for the diploma, she said.
The diploma is taken by all Form Six pupils and replaces A Levels - previously taken in Form Seven and the exams whose results determined entry to university - and the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, which all Form Five pupils took.
The last Form Seven students are taking A Levels this year, and examiners have launched an investigation into a complaint that radio reception problems marred A Level English listening tests conducted on Tuesday,
The examination authority would not say how many students were affected, but has asked students to report such incidents to the body within seven days of the exam.
After the tests, there was a flood of complaints on internet forums about 'bad reception' at exam venues.
One candidate who took the exam at SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School in Kwai Chung wrote to the Post to say that even rooms with backup equipment had reception problems. 'One of the two examination invigilators took away the receiver with good signals, leaving the one with poor signals,' this person wrote. 'There were candidates complaining.' Others who took the exam near the border reported interference from mainland radio channels.