There has been no significant overall improvement in students' language standards, this year's HKCEE results have revealed. While the pass rate for English Language (Syllabus B) was 58.3 per cent - up from last year's 56.9 per cent - there was a slight decline in the fifth-formers' Chinese skills. This year's pass rate for Chinese Language was 56.7 per cent, compared with 57.3 per cent in 1997. However, the overall figures showed an improvement, with 62.4 per cent of the candidates passing the HKCEE, compared with last year's 61.4 per cent. Secretary of the Examinations Authority Choi Chee-cheong said students might have been spending more time reading comic books or watching television, rather than concentrating on novels or reference books. A total of 134,630 candidates took the exam this year, compared with 131,038 in 1997, an increase of 2.7 per cent. There were 92,013 candidates entered by schools, of whom 71,778 were first-timers, while 42,617 entered privately. Mr Choi said students should answer question papers in the language in which they were most fluent. 'More candidates chose Chinese language this year,' he said. The number of Form Six places available this year was 24,200, with 20,729 candidates - those who achieved 14 points or more in their six best subjects - being eligible for the vacancies. There was a small increase in the pass rate for Mathematics, which was 69.3 per cent this year. Mr Choi said it was encouraging to note more schoolchildren had passed the subject this year, following implementation of the Tailored Syllabus in Mathematics. He said the new syllabus would enable less-able students to do better in the subject. The deadline for applications to re-check answers is August 13. Students who wish to have their exam papers re-checked should apply through their schools, along with supporting evidence, while private candidates should make their submissions direct to the authority. Each candidate can only have two papers re-evaluated this year.