Schoolchildren in Hong Kong, already coping with a relentless diet of tests and exams, now face yet another assessment - of their ability to communicate in English. Reaction to the news has been mixed. It is understandable that parents anxious to do the best for their children will see the test - a choice for Primary Four to Primary Six students learning English as a second language - as a must rather than an option. Indeed, the new test has been introduced because many parents were already paying for their children to take similar exams privately. But it is hard to agree with the head of the Examination Authority's overseas and professional examinations division that it will not add to the pressure on students. After all, Margaret Lo Wai-ki admits that the results may be one of many factors used for reference in determining secondary school placement. The present exam regime is not conducive to an education aimed at exploiting the full range of a child's potential. Steps are being taken to put this right - but the new test seems to buck the trend. It does nothing to advance changes championed by progressive educators aimed at making Hong Kong schooling a better preparation for a life of learning. These reforms envisage much less emphasis on rote learning just to pass tests. The ongoing reforms have made some progress in reducing the pressure on students. But there is a long way to go to catch up with international trends that enrich the exam approach with more feedback as part of the learning process, and more coursework-based assessment. The way forward was pointed recently by the Strategic Review of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, which called for public debate on the very purpose of exams, as well as an overhaul of the authority. The new test may be seen in a positive light by those concerned with a perceived slide in English-language standards - both teaching and learning - since the introduction of the mother-tongue policy. The standard of English is important to Hong Kong, as a bilingual international city and commercial centre. As University of Hong Kong council chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king says, a crucial factor in the city's future success is the ability to communicate effectively with the rest of the world - 'this means we must ensure that our graduates are fluent in English'. Traditionalists may see his remarks as supportive of more rigorous testing to address concerns about English standards. But the focus should be on finding ways to raise those standards which do not involve yet more exams. One more test can't do too much harm. But as education reform moves forward, a finding of the strategic review is worth remembering: exams can undermine the aims of reforms that seek to make schooling about broad-based learning to equip people to learn for life.