English was by far the most popular subject as A-level candidates made a last-ditch effort to improve their grades.
Of the 5,300 private candidates who sat the A-levels yesterday, 4,500 took Use of English, followed by Chinese Language and Culture with 1,200.
There were no school candidates this year. Last year, about 72,000 were school candidates and 1,000 were private.
These exams are mainly designed for students who want to improve previous grades. After the exams end on April 23, the A-levels will be replaced by the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) started last year.
Students normally have to take part in the Joint University Programmes Admissions System offered by the city's nine institutions after taking the A-levels or DSE. But A-level candidates can apply to universities individually this year after the exam results are announced in July.
Candidates this year seemed much less stressed than last year. One of them was Euphoni Wong Ka-lee, now studying English at Chinese University. She sat English and Chinese in this year's exam. In 2011, she got a B grade for her English and a D for Chinese.
"I want to get grade A for English and grade B for Chinese," she said. "I think that the English exam in 2011 was more difficult and I am quite confident."
Leo Leung Chi-kwong, now studying sociology in Hong Kong Shue Yan University, was taking English and Economics again this year. "I want to get grade C for both subjects as they were only grade E last year," he said.
"I have thought about using the exam results to change to another university, but I am not under too much pressure as I am already doing a degree," he said. He had not done much preparation and was not very confident, he said.