Liberal studies top scorer Melody Tam Lok-man's tips for the Independent Enquiry Study

By Ben Pang

It’s worth 20 per cent, so make the most of it with our insider tops

By Ben Pang |

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The liberal studies Independent Enquiry Study (IES) is worth 20 per cent of the total score. Don’t underestimate this weighting because it can mean the difference between passing and failing, or between an average score and a top score. Young Post asked 2015 top scorer Melody Tam Lok-man, 19, and a tutor from Modern Education, H. Y. Fung, for tips on how to produce an eye-catching and in-depth report.

Your teacher marks it

The first thing to do is remember who you’re writing for. “Don’t forget your liberal studies teacher will mark your IES,” says Tam. It would be a waste of time and effort if you submit the final report but it’s not what your teacher is looking for; you will either have your report returned or get a lower score.

“You need to clearly understand what your teacher expects you to do. Ask your teacher for feedback and make improvements based on their suggestions. Regularly asking for feedback also shows that you are taking the initiative and impresses your marker, although the final results are based solely on the content,” Tam advises.

Choose the right topic

You may think a top score is dependent on how unique or controversial your IES topic is, but this is not the case. Tam recommends choosing a simple and practical topic that you are familiar with, such as peer relationships, teenage development or mobile devices. Her IES topic was “the effects of smartphones on the quality of life of adolescents in Hong Kong.”

Fung agrees that the topic should be as simple as possible.

“It should primarily be based on your personal observation or related to your growth. One of my students loves cosplay. She then created a topic that was relevant to her favourite hobby: ‘The impact of cosplay on adolescent personal growth and local culture.’ You could talk about the two-child policy on the mainland, but ask yourself if you can find the target audience to do the questionnaires or interviews,” says Fung.

Make objectives and focusing questions specific

Tam encourages you to engage in the specific aspects of your topic, which should be clearly stated in your objectives and focusing questions.

“My topic referred to ‘quality of life’, but that was way too general. I didn’t have enough time to explore every aspect related to quality of life. So I limited my scope and only discussed the material aspect and interpersonal relationships. My IES introduction also explained why I only discussed these dimensions, which were more relevant to young people,” says Tam.

She adds that you should not set more than five focusing questions because otherwise your report will be too long and tedious. You can choose to do quantitative or qualitative research. For qualitative research, you can conduct one-on-one interviews and get in-depth answers from several people in your target audience. Fung adds that you should clearly state the audience demographics, such as age, gender and occupation. Don’t forget to explain how the results relate to your topic.


Choose the right research method

Tam also reminds you to include four important elements if you use the quantitative method, including but not limited to, questionnaires. First, specify the age range of your interviewees. Second, state the sample size of your research. She believes it is deemed feasible and realistic if you ask approximately 100 people to fill in your questionnaires. Third, describe your sampling methods – why you target a specific group of your audience. Tam used stratified sampling, which is to evenly divide interviewees into different age groups. This method ensures you don’t produce a biased report. Finally, state the benefits and limitations of your questionnaire design. If you prefer using fewer open-ended questions, you need to explain why – to save time, for example – but remember this means your audience won’t have the opportunity to give their opinions on a specific question.

Results and conclusion

For each question, use a chart or graph to show the results. Tam also recommends writing down what the finding of each question reflects, and whether the results relate to a specific question. A good conclusion can make a huge difference. Fung says your conclusion should respond to each focusing question. He suggests limiting your conclusion to one page for the Chinese-language report or two pages for the English-language one.

Tam’s technique

Tam created a chart and wrote a short reflection in response to each of the following questions:

  1. To what extent do smartphones provide a discussion topic for your family?
  2. To what extent do you know more about your family members since using smartphones?
  3. Do you use smartphones at lunch or dinner with your family?
  4. To what extent do smartphones cause conflicts between you and your family?
  5. Your face-to-face communication time with your family has been reduced after using smartphones.
  6. Your overall communication time with your family has decreased since using smartphones.

Then, she wrote a conclusion for this section. For example: “As a whole, the quality of family communication has worsened. There are many possible reasons for this result ...”