Polytechnic University has launched a drive to assess secondary and post-secondary students' Putonghua abilities. In July, more than 100 students in 10 secondary schools and about 200 studying with the Vocational Training Council will sit the university's Putonghua Shuiping Kaoshi. Chan Shui-duen, associate dean of the communications faculty and head of the department of Chinese and bilingual studies, said the aim was for the test to gain broader recognition in society as a qualification. 'We have 14 years' experience delivering this exam so we believe we are qualified to expand this outside our university,' Professor Chan said. The test is intended to be the local equivalent of the mainland's Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi, tailored to non-native speakers. Starting this year, all PolyU students must take the test before they can graduate. Professor Chan said the mainland's assessment had a much higher baseline as it was originally intended for native speakers who wanted to enter the broadcasting industry. 'If your score is below 60 per cent you get no mark at all,' she said. 'You could get anything between 8 per cent and 60 per cent but you would not be able to tell from your final grade. We found between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of our students could not reach that level.' The PolyU test had a 'full range of descriptors' to take in Putonghua learners in the lower ability ranges, but Professor Chan stressed that this did not make it inherently easier. The test also includes a portion on listening skills, something not assessed by the mainland test. 'Native speakers from the mainland have no problems in listening,' she said. 'But for Hong Kong learners we find this is an important area, even more important than spoken ability. No matter how bad their pronunciation is, people will generally be able to guess what they mean. 'But students tell us that if they can't understand other people well, they get completely lost.'