Hong Kong children are among the Asia Pacific region's top performers, according to the International Assessment for Schools. Their achievements in the the sciences are ranked in the top three, while their Mathematics and English skills are in the top five. The international assessment programme, set up 25 years ago, was conducted by the Educational Testing Centre of the University of New South Wales in Australia. It evaluates the performance of students in 27 countries in Science, Mathematics and English. Professor Jim Tognolini, director of the centre, said Hong Kong's standards had been improving. This year, 208 pupils from Primary Three to Form Six were awarded prizes for their high scores. 'The most outstanding year groups are those from Primary Five to Form Two,' Professor Tognolini said. In the past, most Asian students were formula-learners, but their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities had improved. 'We can see that the curriculum is focusing more on improving learning skills.' Countries in the assessment include Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, India, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and Macau. It tests critical thinking, reasoning and problem solving, and takes the form of dozens of multiple-choice questions. After the test, organisers write a detailed performance report, stating exactly the students' ranking. Individual strengths and weaknesses are also pointed out and a target for the following year is identified. 'Statistics provided in the report can be used as a reference to develop school curriculi,' Professor Tognolini said. 'Teachers can obtain valuable information from the assessments made. 'More importantly, because it is a standard test, students who sit for the assessment can get an idea of their ranking in the region. 'It can be a tremendous confidence booster for them to know they are as smart as their peers in Australia or Singapore.' Lam Chun-ho, in Form One at Po Leung Kuk Wu Chung College who sat for the Mathematics and English assessments, said he wanted to see if he could measure up to regional standards. 'I never knew how I compared with students from other countries,' the 13-year-old said. 'But now I am confident I can compete with anyone in the Asia Pacific.' Yip Wai-man, 14, of King Ling College, took the assessments in Science, Mathematics and English. 'My results were a motivation for me to study harder. 'The test is the only way for me to maintain the same standard as other students in the region,' the third-former said.