FOR MOST OF US, the next eight weeks spell sun, sand and lots of fun. However, for those applying for a secondary school place in March next year, this summer holiday marks the beginning of an intense period of cramming. Two years ago, the Government cancelled the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT), which was used to gauge Primary Six students' academic standards before allocating them to different secondary schools. The reason for scrapping the test was to reduce pressure on young children. However, without AAT, some secondary schools feel they have lost a useful assessment tool. Schools now have to depend on a 15-minute interview to evaluate a student's personality, attitude towards learning, language skills, strengths and weaknesses. As a result, other certificates and qualifications are replacing the ATT as a performance indicator. According to the British Council, the number of people taking Cambridge English exams has doubled from around 2,000 last year to 4,000 this year. The reason for the dramatic increase is probably because most parents want their children to study in English-medium secondary schools. Apart from English certificates, some principals also look for other credentials such as musical instrument grades, participation in inter-school competitions or community services, when selecting students. Elizabeth Pau, principal of La Salle Primary School (PM), said Hong Kong people were used to evaluating students by their performance in exams such as the AAT, HKCEE and A-levels. 'In the past, people used AAT results to select students, but now they only have interviews or a student's certificates to go by,' she said. 'So many parents are pushing their children to take different exams, like the British Council's Cambridge Young Learners Flyers Test. They want to prove that their children would be able to learn with English as the medium of instruction, which would allow them to study in a higher ranking school.' Given the success-driven and exam-orientated culture of Hong Kong, parents are willing to spend a lot of time and money to make their children stand out. Lo Ko Mei-yuk, a mother of two sons studying at La Salle Primary School, said she had already chosen two English courses for them this summer, which cost her almost $3,000. Ms Lo thinks the courses are worth the money if they can improve her sons' English standards. 'English now has a critical role in the selection process. Those who can speak and write good English will be chosen and seen as excellent students,' she said. Her eldest son, Chi-fai, however, said he was stressed out with school exams and only wanted to relax this summer. The 10-year-old will be promoted to Primary Six in September. Yip Sau-wah, principal of Sha Tin Tsung Tsin Secondary School, said parents should not force their children to learn, but make the process enjoyable. 'It is definitely better to have a child who enjoys learning than one who did well in exams but is fed up with learning,' Ms Yip said. 'The certificates only act as a reference for us to understand students better. We mainly look at their interview performance in the selection process.' Huang Leung Lai-wah, whose daughter is in Primary Five at Kowloon Tong Alliance Primary School, said she would not force her child to study during the summer. 'My daughter has to take six exams annually, and she always needs to prepare for dictations and tests, so I would rather let her take a break than push her to learn during the summer,' she said.