Reading made easier

  • How do I answer the question if I don’t understand all the words in it? Why should I practise under timed conditions? 
  • We speak to the experts for the answers to all your exam questions
Wong Tsui-kai |

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English is one of two mandatory HKDSE language subjects and it is therefore a key exam. Young Post spoke to Patrick Chan of Beacon College, Alan Chan of King’s Glory Education and Eric So from Modern Education about each English paper’s dos and don’ts, starting with Paper 1: Reading, due to take place on April 28.

While putting in study time is crucial, self-discipline and belief in yourself are paramount. “Think of [the school suspension] as an extra-long study leave. Some students give up and think there is no chance [to do well]. You need to believe you have a chance,” says Alan Chan.

Manage your time

Time management is key, and how you use your time depends on whether you pick the easier Part B1 or harder B2 (Part A is mandatory).

Patrick Chan suggests allocating 35 minutes for Part A and 55 minutes for Part B if you are aiming for Level 5 or above; or 45 minutes for each part if you are aiming for Level 3 or 4.

“For the reading exam, you must get the main idea of the passage,” he says. “This thesis, or gist statement will often be in the title, introduction or conclusion.”

He gives an example of a passage from 2017 called “Myth of recycling”. “[The title] implies a misconception in the assumption that recycling is good.” In other words, even before you’d read it, you would know the writer didn’t believe recycling is a good thing.

It is also important to be aware of language tools such as irony (when you use words that are the opposite of what you really mean) and metaphor (a way of describing something by referring to it as something different).

As an example of irony, he again looked at “Myth of recycling”. “In the recycling example, recycling is supposed to be a good thing, but the passage used evidence to point out that there is a contrast and [show] it is actually bad,” he says.

Another question on the 2017 paper offers an example of metaphors. The question used the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”. While the meaning might not be immediately clear, you can break it down into smaller chunks. “Native means you are born in a country, so something you are familiar with; while ‘immigrants’ are new to a place and not familiar. Adding ‘digital’, meaning technology, means people who are familiar or not familiar with technology,” he explains. “It is not difficult to go step-by-step and [analyse] each word.”

Pick up easy points first

Alan Chan reminds us that preparations over this final stretch should be exam-focused.

“It’s pointless to cram vocabulary now. Look at possible question formats and work on what you are weak at,” he says. “You might only know 70 per cent of the words [in a reading passage]. You will have to adapt, and most importantly, don’t give up when you don’t know how to answer a question.”

He also suggests being realistic when deciding between the two Part B papers.

“A good rule of thumb is: if you think you’ve got less than 60 per cent of the answers in Part A, go for Part B1.” His advice is to tackle the easier paper rather than do the harder paper and risk messing things up.

He also has a simple, logical approach to time management. If you divide the amount of time you have by the number of points available, you have 70 seconds per point, he explains. Therefore he suggests picking up the easy points first; for example, by completing the “fill in the blanks” sections early in the exam.

Read the questions carefully

So points out that language exams are even more difficult if you are rusty. “Revise a little bit every day,” he says. “You don’t have to do a full paper every day, but you need to practise.”

He also notes there is no point in doing exercises without setting time limits. “You must also understand your weaknesses,” he says. “You have to practise like the test is being taken. Time yourself and prepare for it.”

So stresses the importance of reading questions carefully, and using common sense to deduce what is required. “Do what the question asks,” he says. “For example, ‘Tick three boxes’ means tick three boxes. Don’t tick more than three. A proofreading question might ask you to underline or cross something out. You must be aware of that.”

It’s important to get your grammar right, too. “Don’t just copy the word for a fill-in-the-blank question. If it needs an ‘-ing’ form, for example, add it,” he says.

So’s last piece of advice is relevant to all exams. “Consider disinfecting your table,” he says, “even if just for your peace of mind.”

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