Setting absolute standards for language subjects in public examinations is not an easy matter, the exams authority said yesterday. But the secretary-general of the Examinations and Assessment Authority, Choi Chee-cheong, pledged to work out a framework by the end of this year. Mr Choi said a taskforce had been set up in September to decide how to grade candidates with an absolute score in public exams. In a consultation document released on Thursday, the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research recommended setting absolute standards for HKCEE and A-level exams in 2007 and 2009 respectively. At present, the two public exams offer grades relative to other students. The move will radically alter the way Hong Kong judges people's language abilities by comparing them to set standards. Mr Choi said the existing approach might not fully meet the community's expectations, adding: 'It does not provide detailed descriptions of candidates' performances.' He said the reforms were complicated and time-consuming, pointing out that the authority had to inform schools about the changes before May 2005 to allow Form Four students sitting the HKCEE in two years to adjust to the new system. But he said fears that a large number of candidates would fail the exams after the reforms were unfounded. Mr Choi said it had not been decided whether an absolute score or band would be offered to candidates in future. Committee chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun told an RTHK radio programme yesterday that the standard of language exam papers should be calibrated. 'But we can't be too idealistic,' Mr Tien said. 'If only 40 per cent of students meet the basic competency in public exams the first year absolute scores are given, universities still have to allow students to fill their vacancies. But at least it can make people aware of the extent of the problem [of the need to define standards].' Several Chinese herbalists have been granted their request to use English when they sit a registration test. A total of 2,252 candidates have registered for the Chinese Medicine Practitioners' Registration Assessment, which will be held between Monday and February 17. The oral test was commissioned by the Chinese Medicine Council and will be conducted by the Examinations and Assessment Authority.