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Gayau! How perseverance can help you achieve your goals on the DSE

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  • Zoe Poon founded hkdsegayau in 2017 to share study tips she learned from her own experience with the university entrance exam
  • She believes that trusting your own potential and persevering through hardships can eventually help you reach your goals
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Perseverance is key to achieving your dreams. Photo: Shutterstock

Between April and May every year, tens of thousands of Hong Kong secondary students sit for the DSE exam that serves as the ticket to college admission. Before the actual exam, students continuously revise, take mock exams, and drill tirelessly throughout their senior high school years.

Drawing from her own experience in preparing for the DSE, Zoe Poon founded hkdsegayau, a study tips sharing platform for secondary school students. Poon, who scored a remarkable 32 out of 35 marks in her best five subjects, hopes to share tips and skills for tackling the public exam with future test takers.

Beneath the glamorous veneer, however, Poon’s own journey to success was nowhere near smooth sailing – it was perseverance that helped her push through hardships and achieve her goals.

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In a mock exam she took during the run up to the DSE, Poon scored only 65 out of 100 in the Chemistry subject, receiving a level 4 predicted grade from her school. Her predicted grade for 7 subjects then stood at 39 marks, averaging a level 5 to 5* in each subject. The results were by no means unsatisfactory, but Poon was still a few marks shy of the admission score required for her dream programme, BBA (Law) LLB at the University of Hong Kong.

The challenges she had to overcome to reach her goal were clearly not inconsequential, and it was hard for her to motivate herself to study at all. “For a whole week after receiving the predicted grade, I wasn’t in the mood to do any schoolwork,” Poon recalled.

The study leave period nevertheless enabled her to review, reflect and plan. She realised that the two-month revision period was an opportunity for her to keep up and make progress.

Zoe Poon, founder of hkdsegayau, hopes to share revision tips and her personal experience in tackling the DSE exam to help high school students in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

“With the public exam fast approaching, two months didn’t seem like a long time. But then I thought, the least I could do was to try and put on a final sprint so I would have no regrets,” said Poon.

As part of her routine, Poon would get up at 8:ooam for breakfast and pore over revision materials until 1:00pm. She would then take lunch and dinner breaks, each lasting around an hour, before going back to studying until midnight – though she would sometimes stay up until much later.

“I lived, ate, and breathed past papers during the study leave period,” Poon said. “If I wasn’t sleeping, I was either studying, snacking, or both. There were many days when I stayed up until the wee hours while slurping garlic chilli oil noodles to keep myself awake so I could go through more exam materials.”

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Improvement didn’t materialise right away, but she remained focused on reviewing, keeping her goal in mind as a source of inspiration and strength.

“When I did two test papers and got nearly the same score on both, I just kept on going,” Poon remarked.

In the days that followed, Poon was constantly on the grind: writing and rewriting her notes, finding better ways to internalise information, and exploring other potential revision methods she could deploy to boost exam performance.

“The more past exams I went through, the better I performed on mock test papers,” said Poon. “It was definitely a slow and agonising process, but I knew I was making progress. Those improvements, however small, really helped push me forward.”

Poon (far right) shares her DSE experience at a webinar hosted by SCMP Young Post and PolyU’s Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies. Photo: Handout

For Chemistry in particular, she put in extra effort to understand all possible interpretations and questions one could have about the syllabus. She watched YouTube videos on redox reactions and even asked her friends to test her on difficult topics to make certain that she was prepared for anything the DSE exam might throw at her.

Two months of restless nights and dozens of spicy noodle bowls later, Poon sat for the public exam with the full force of her hard work and dream behind her. Trusting in the process paid off, and her level 4 grade in Chemistry leapt by three whole levels to the top grade of 5**.

Her final score similarly bounced up to an impressive 44 marks for 7 subjects, which greatly exceeded the entrance requirement for her dream university programme.

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“Since I was able to accomplish my goal, the sacrifices I made were definitely worth it,” Poon commented. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I chose to just give up instead of pushing through the ups-and-downs I experienced along the way.”

Overcoming the obstacles posed by the public exam not only granted her college admission, but it also helped her realise she was equipped with the knowledge and skills to help others on the path to academic success. The study tips and strategies that her team shares on hkdsegayau serve 14K+ followers on social media, where Poon stresses the importance of perseverance.

“Preparing for the DSE exam can be really daunting at times,” Poon said. “When our focus and determination begin to fade, we can choose to persevere so that we might have more choices in our future.”

“Be it by remembering our dreams, going over an additional past exam question, or even eating chilli oil noodles to remain awake, there are many ways we can each persevere to move closer to the finish line, where our efforts will be rewarded,” Poon added as a last word of advice for students.

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About hkdsegayau

Founded in 2017, hkdsegayau is a study tips sharing platform for secondary school students in Hong Kong. Drawing on their own experiences, the team of past HKDSE candidates shares tips and strategies for exam preparation, college admission and career planning. It is also a publisher of revision notes for the DSE, specialising in the core subjects of Chinese and English Language.

For more information, please visit hkdsegayau’s website at https://hkdsegayau.com.

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