Examinations can be a dreadful affair. In a competitive and result-oriented education system like Hong Kong's, the exam for secondary school leavers can be a painful experience. Every year, those who are disappointed with the results invariably outnumber those who rejoice. But last week, the emotions turned into an air of nostalgia when the results for the final batch of candidates sitting the Certificate of Education Examination were handed out. Not only did it mark the end of a 33-year-old regime, it also signified the beginning of a new era in the city's education system. A collective memory as it is, millions of students have experienced the stress and anxiety of sitting the annual exam since 1978. The fact that more than 30 candidates who sat the first exam also took part in the final one is testimony to the emotional hold it has on society. Over the years, it has been an important tool for schools to screen the better students preparing for university. The exam was highly competitive, with 100,000 candidates every year. But only the top 20 to 30 per cent were able to move up to sixth form. For those who did not make it and needed to look for a job, the results provided a good reference for their future employers. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say the exam was somehow pivotal in shaping people's lives. A full certificate, comprising passes in five subjects, including English and Chinese language, was literally a guarantee to a decent civil service job in those days. Education evolves over time. The old system is to be replaced by a new one. Starting from next year, the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education will be ushered in as part of the 3+3+4 academic structure for secondary schools and universities. But with less than a year to go, it remains unclear if it is fully recognised internationally. There are also doubts over the marking criteria for some subjects, such as liberal studies, whose result will be crucial to university admission. These concerns should be fully addressed by the government to enhance confidence in the new system.