HKDSE 2021: English reading and writing papers ‘not too challenging’

  • Common question types in Paper 1 included reasoning, tone and cause and effect, and time management was more important than ever this year
  • Persuasive writing was frequently touched on, and students were asked to write a job application letter for the first time
Doris Wai |

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English was the second core subject to be tested in this year's DSE exams. Photo: SCMP/ Winson Wong

This year’s English HKDSE exam had some unexpected questions but was not too challenging overall, according to a tutor, a teacher and two students.

About 48,600 candidates took part in the English exam on Tuesday, which comprised of Papers 1 and 2: reading and writing, respectively.

Kenneth Lau, Beacon College’s English tutor, said that Paper 1, Part A was relatively easier compared to last year’s exam, as there were three short texts instead of a long one. This meant that it was easier for candidates to get the gist of the passages. The topics: food garage, war on big food, and food sustainability were also more casual, so he believed students wouldn’t have a problem understanding the content.

No surprises on this year’s liberal studies exam

Some common question types in Paper 1 this year include “reasoning”, “tone” and “cause and effect”. He added that time management would determine how students fare this year, as there were more long questions in Part A.

For those who attempted Paper 1, B2, Lau pointed out there were several questions which required students to flesh out examples, which were almost absent in last year’s exam. “To tackle this question type, students need to distinguish between the main ideas and supporting details. It’s clear that the HKEAA wanted to test students’ grasp of paragraph structures.”

As for Paper 2, Lau said its level of difficulty was as on par with last year’s, although some questions required students to pay extra attention to context and include details that were provided.

Things to remember before stepping into the exam room

“Part A, which asked students to make an announcement about a school fair, is fairly straightforward if they are familiar with the text type. To get a good score, students need to describe the activity in detail, but also in an interesting way because it is a promotional event. The best candidates should be able to come up with ideas not provided in the poster, such as the purpose of the event.”

Students had plenty of questions to choose from in Paper 2, Part B, as the questions were fairly straightforward, and several of them were related to everyday life and the Internet.

He noted that persuasive letter writing came up more frequently this year – Questions 3, 4 and 9. One unexpected question that has never been asked was Q4, which asked students to write a job application letter. “Similar formal letters were tested in previous DSEs, and the formula is the same regardless. To write a good persuasive letter for this question in particular, students need to think of how their application will benefit the organisation instead of focusing on their interests.”

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Lau also cautioned that Q5 (learning English through debating) might have been misinterpreted by some candidates. “It is not asking students to argue for or against social media influencers promoting goods and services on their platforms. Instead, they need to make comparisons between influencers and traditional media advertisement, and argue which is more trustworthy.“

Ansley Lee Kwan-ting, an English teacher from Kiangsu-Chekiang College, said that while she was surprised that the topics tested in Paper 2 seemed to steer away from the usual campus-related approach, most were still related to themes covered in school: environmental issues, fashion and friendship.

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Andrik Fernandes, a 16-year-old candidate from St. Margaret’s Co-Educational English Secondary and Primary School, thought that Paper 1 was trickier compared to past papers. “There were also three texts in the reading task, which is pretty unconventional by DSE standards. It caught me off guard.”

Achudha Bala Selva Sathish, another 16-year-old student from the same school, said that Paper 1, Part A was more challenging than expected. “Although the topic was not that esoteric, there were several challenging inference questions which could not be answered directly using the text.”

As for Paper 2, she thought the topics were standard and predictable. Sathish chose Q3 (complaints from customers about a company’s no-exchange policy), which she felt well-prepared for.

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