Top tips on how to prepare for the HKDSE Liberal Studies paper

By Edmund Ho

Does the HKDSE liberal studies exam leave you waking up in a cold sweat? You’re not alone. Luckily, the best way to deal with the problem is by being prepared

By Edmund Ho |

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The HKDSE liberal studies paper is one of the most feared exams secondary school students have to face, so it’s only natural to feel more than a bit anxious as the day nears. But despite its reputation, there are still many things you can do to prepare yourself for the challenge. Young Post reached out to King’s Glory Education tutor Liu Tin-yan for some advice.

One of the students’ main problems is that they go off topic; the liberal studies curriculum has six main themes that cover everything from local issues to globalism to the environment; if the exam is in a week’s time, how can you revise everything that’s relevant to these issues?

According to Liu, it isn’t necessarily that overwhelming.

“Out of the six [modules], three are more likely to emerge than others year after year. If you are short of time, focus on Modern China, Hong Kong Today, and Globalisation thoroughly as these topics appear in the paper again and again.”

Despite letting yourself off the hook for the other three topics, you must go in-depth into these three. The markers are looking for your ability to go in-depth on more than just one topic.

“Some students are not comfortable with topics like Modern China and Globalisation, because they think the topics are too complex and too big. But I think a good attitude to have is to study them thoroughly even if you think they’re too difficult.”

To focus on connections, Liu has two words for students: mind maps. She says students should be making mind maps for every major topic so they can have a clear idea not only of what the topic is about, but also its relationships to other major topics. For example, an event that happens in China could have an impact in Hong Kong and other countries. A mind map helps connect these separate events, sorting out overwhelming topics into easier-to-manage pieces; it’s also a good way of getting familiar with the different modules.

In fact, mind-mapping has a second use; it can save you when you’re in difficulty. While it is always possible, even if you’ve studied very hard, to not know how to answer a question, an extensive mind-map will help you reduce the chances of being completely clueless. Let’s say a question asks you to discuss the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption; you might think, I haven’t really revised this issue at all, and know nothing.

“If you made a mind-map, even if you are unfamiliar with, for example, the Chinese corruption crackdown, you will at least know two or three things connected to that issue, such as the opening up of the country and changes in government ministries.”

This way, you can answer the question without directly copying the question, and you will show the markers that you have considered this answer from multiple perspectives, locally and internationally.

It is tiring to take such an intensive exam over a few hours, and the exam results prove it; Liu says students are more consistent with their answers earlier in the paper, but when it gets to Paper 2’s long answer questions, students have trouble focusing and writing the full length for each answer.

“[In paper 2], as a rule of thumb, if the question is worth 10 marks, you should be spending roughly half of your time on each answer; the points are assigned based on how much the marker expects from your answer.”

Liu says you should treat the exam as a marathon, and pace yourself accordingly.

“Don’t use all of your energy in the beginning of the paper; you should be distributing your focus evenly throughout the paper. That way, you won’t flag during the more difficult Paper 2.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge