Finalists in an English essay competition had to count their words. Fifty finalists in the 1998 Longman English Competition put their grammar and vocabulary to the test when they wrote an essay on 'The Year of the Tiger', in exactly 98 words. No more, no less. The winning entry in the contest - co-organised by Longman, the British Council and Young Post - wins a three-week course at a British language school. More than 300 students entered this year's challenge, run for Young Post readers. The 50 were chosen to sit for the 50-minute grand final, held earlier this month at the British Council. Entries were divided into Junior (Forms One to Three) and Senior (Forms Four to Seven) sections. Last year's finalists were given a 97-word limit for their topic, 'Hong Kong in 2097'. Mike Welch, business manager at the British Council's Enterprises of English Language Centre, was impressed by last year's entries, saying most were highly imaginative and had used a variety of different approaches to writing. Mark Short, business development manager (imports) at Addison Wesley Longman China, said the contest gave local students the chance to study at a British language school. 'We want to provide Hong Kong students with greater exposure to an English education,' he said. Mr Welch said 'more practice' was the key to improving and writing better English. 'Students should not be frightened to make mistakes. 'Learning through your mistakes is important to the learning process,' he said. Mr Short advised students to grasp every opportunity they could to speak English. Teachers at the British Council are judging the essays. The winner will spend three weeks at Bell Language School in Cambridge and will receive holiday money. The second prize is a four- week course with the British Council Summer School in Hong Kong. All 50 finalists will receive a Longman book of their choice, valued at $250. The awards presentation will be held on May 6 at the British Council.