The stress levels of Hong Kong students sitting for the upcoming university entrance examination are at an all-time high amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced schools to close, according to a study released on Sunday. The study, comprising two polls conducted by the student counselling group Hok Yau Club in January and March, also indicates the coronavirus’ impact on candidates’ study has been far greater than that of the social unrest that has plagued the city since last June. The March poll, which interviewed 757 students before the first postponement of the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam – now set for April 24 – found respondents on average rated their stress level over the exam an 8.1 out of 10. That was up from the 7.48 average for the 1,308 candidates polled in January. The stress levels are the highest since the annual study was launched in 2012, when the DSE exam was first introduced. Last year, the level was 6.76, almost unmoved from 2018’s 6.75. Candidates indicated a stress level of 7.42 in 2013. Ng Po-shing, the club’s student guidance consultant, said of the epidemic’s impact: “Many candidates have been forced to study at home for months, as schools are closed. Without proper support from school or teachers, they feel more helpless, and the uncertainties brought about by the outbreak has also made the students more stressful.” Entrance exam fears have students planning resits even though tests a month away Some 15.7 per cent of those polled in January indicated their stress levels were at a 10, the highest level possible. The percentage of respondents reporting the maximum stress level rose to 22 per cent in the March poll. The top three sources of pressure, in both polls, were “inadequate time for examination preparation”, “self-imposed expectations”, and “concerns about future prospects”. “Stress levels in general get higher when the exam nears,” said Ng, who also blamed the government’s last-minute decision to postpone the exam last month for making students more stressful. Education officials mull backup plans for entrance exams as further delays loom In February, the authorities said the DSE exam would go ahead as scheduled, starting on March 27. But, on March 21, the government announced plans to postpone the exam by another month and cancel Chinese and English-language oral examinations. There has recently been speculation it could be delayed further, as questions are being raised about the safety of moving forward should Hong Kong continue to record more Covid-19 cases. Ng urged the authorities to be more transparent in their deliberations and to allow candidates sufficient notice to prepare. This year, some 52,000 candidates will sit for the DSE examination. Results are expected in July.