A top score in Hong Kong's new school-leaving diploma is worth more than the highest grade in the much-vaunted International Baccalaureate exams, a study has shown. Information released by the examinations authority yesterday shows the diploma examinations compare favourably with other international exams using the British centralised universities admission system's yardstick. The data was based on benchmark matching of grades in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams and Britain's General Certificate of Education A-level exams. Examinations authority chief Francis Cheung Wing-ming, who announced the benchmark matching results for the diploma exam and British A-level yesterday, says the results of the research are very positive. However, a comparison of the benchmarks for the three examinations shows the new diploma exams do not measure up to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations (HK A-level) as far as assessment grades are concerned. The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority two years ago asked the British national qualifications agency UK Naric to do the benchmark matching of the British A-levels and Hong Kong A-levels. Yesterday's results were based on research done by Britain's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 'Overseas universities see Britain's GCE A-level as a reference when they lay down admission requirements,' Cheung said. 'UCAS' benchmarking tables involve around 40 international exams including the United States' advanced placement tests and International Baccalaureate [IB]. Our Level 3 is higher than the Level 3 for IB. Our Level 5* is equivalent to IB's highest grade Level 7, but we still have a higher grade, which is 5**.' However, the diploma exams do not compare favourably with the HK A-level, the school-leaving examinations under the old system. A Level 3 in the diploma exams is equal to an F - or fail - under the HK A-level, and Level 4 is equivalent to an E for the HK A-level. An examinations authority spokeswoman stressed the diploma exams could not be compared with the HK A-level. 'You study six years for the diploma but seven years for HK A-level. The duration of schooling, curriculum and assessment methods are different for the two exams,' she said. Under the diploma, students leaving secondary school will be graded Levels 1 to 5, with the highest possible score being Level 5**. Katherine Forestier, the director of education and science services at the British Council, said depending on institutions' own admissions requirements, students achieving the minimum of two Level 3s will be able to enrol in British undergraduate programmes.