HKDSE tips: How to nail the SBA and go from a 5 to a 5*

Avoid reading from PowerPoint slides and interact with group members in the school-based assessment, says Kiangsu-Chekiang College English teacher Ansley Lee

Doris Wai |

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Presentation skills are key for acing the SBA.

One of the most overlooked sections of the English DSE is the school-based assessment (SBA), which accounts for 15 per cent of the total score and can make the difference between a 5 and a 5*. 

To learn more about how students can better prepare for this section, Young Post headed to the DSE English seminar held last month at the EDB Education Services Centre. 

There, we spoke to Ansley Lee Kwan-ting, an English teacher from Kiangsu-Chekiang College, who had some excellent tips on how to ace this component. 

How to study effectively and ace your exams

“The SBA is integrated into Paper 4, and even though the marks are not shown on the HKDSE certificate, it is no less important,” says Lee.

She adds that the SBA acts as “insurance” for students, especially for those who don’t always achieve excellent exam results, because it helps to boost their overall score.

Lee explains that the SBA tests candidates’ abilities in four key areas: pronunciation and delivery; language and vocabulary; communication strategy; and ideas and organisation. This means it is important not only to dive into a wide range of books and films, but to have a thorough understanding of the things you watch and read, and relate them to event in the world.

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It is vital that you choose suitable materials to study. “Students who are not so confident should avoid choosing films with complicated story arcs, such as Star Wars or any Marvel movie. Instead, they can opt for other famous motion pictures like La La Land or interesting documentaries such as Super Size Me – films that are more closely related to our daily life.”

She adds that, if you are struggling with the basics, you can start with self-help books, or even travel books. You can also watch English films with Chinese subtitles so you better understand the dialogue. 

Lee emphasises that students are not graded on how highly-rated their chosen films are; what’s important is their ability to develop their own thoughts and opinions on the themes and concepts.

When preparing for the assessment, Lee encourages active watching and reading, and recommends that you build on your vocabulary by picking up different synonyms (eg hard-working, diligent, conscientious, industrious), and language structures that are commonly used in conversations, as this will certainly give you an advantage.

Choosing appropriate references and building your vocabulary is only half the battle. “The rest of it comes down to how your ideas are delivered in the individual and group presentations.”

Lee adds that examiners pay will attention to your body language and audience awareness.

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This is also reflected in the chief examiner’s report on last year’s HKDSE. Candidates who did better were aware of their audience, used gestures to maintain the audience’s interest, and were able to develop their ideas clearly with minimal reference to notes.

The chief examiner advises against memorising the entire presentation as it comes across as unnatural. You should also avoid writing down your script or having chunks of information on cards and reading them aloud.

Lee points out that more students are using PowerPoint slides but they may not necessary help in the overall presentation, and can end up being more of a distraction than an aid. 

Tips from a top HKDSE scorer 

“In most cases, the slides were filled with information which they read aloud. Teachers grade based on the natural use of the English language, and how well students can articulate their thoughts, not their reading skills. Slides should only serve as a reference.” 

As for group presentations, the chief examiner noted that students with lower scores tend to follow their written scripts regardless of what the other candidates said. There was also a lack of interaction among group members, and they mostly stuck to textbook formulaic expressions such as “I agree,” or “That is a good idea,” without any elaboration or justification. The conversation may have seemed awkward at times, with the group discussion seeming more  like four mini-presentations with little or no sense of coherence.

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Lee agrees that candidates who fare better are able to keep the conversation going. 

“Collaboration and communication are key to acing this section, instead of showing off.”

While all this may seem daunting, Lee says that it is easy to do well in this section as long as you start preparing for it early, and expose yourself to a wide range of book and film genres.