An examinations official admitted yesterday that the words played on a tape to test the listening skills of English teachers had been spoken faster than usual. He said this might explain the unusually high rate of failure in that section of the annual tests. Choi Chee-cheong, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, said the low pass rate of 37 per cent of candidates who took the test this year was due to the speaking speed being 'as a matter of fact faster than that of the previous exams'. The pass rate last year was 72 per cent. 'But it is difficult to produce exam papers with identical levels of difficulty year after year,' he argued. Mr Choi was asked whether the tape speed created the impression that teachers were less proficient in English than they actually were. 'Exam results are the compound of a great many different factors. This is a complicated area. But we do admit that the speaking speed of this year's listening exam was faster. 'We'll pay more attention to that in next year's assessment test,' he said. Mr Choi denied that any teachers were graded unfairly because of the fast speed of the tape. Grading bands for the exam were established by having a group of university lecturers, secondary and primary teachers take the test, he said. That factored out the voice speed as a reason for differences in marks between candidates, he noted.