HKDSE: Worried about that IES project? Here’s some tips on how to write a well-argued report

  • Many students fear the school-based assessment, which accounts for 20 per cent of the Liberal Studies grade.
  • Choose local problems and don't misinterpret data, say LS teachers.
Nicola Chan |

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For many DSE candidates, Independent Enquiry Study, better known as IES, is their worst nightmare. The school-based assessment is very strenuous and time-consuming, even though it makes up only 20 per cent of the final score for Liberal Studies.

Every year, more than 95 per cent of day-school students opt for written reports to present their individual research findings, according to Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority’s (HKEAA) ex officio member Lo Ka-yiu.

In view of this, Young Post invited two Liberal Studies teachers to share some tips on how to craft an excellent IES report.

The first important step is to choose the right topic for investigation and discussion. The HKEAA requires students to investigate a significant, debate-worthy contemporary issue. The issue must also have social relevance either on the local, national and/or global scale.

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But K.M. Li, an LS teacher from a local secondary school in Yau Tsim Mong district, advised students to look into local, perennial problems, as opposed to global, evolving issues.

If you were analysing “the impact of China-United States trade war”, she explained, it would be hard to draw conclusions since both the economic conflict and its ramifications are still developing.

“The scope of investigation would be too big as well,” she added. Since the written report cannot be more than 4,500 words, you might end up with a premature, superficial study.

All in all, when you’re deciding on the subject of inquiry, check if it allows you to “strike a balance between the breadth and depth of investigation”, or to “find sufficient information and sources” that are credible, strong and relevant, Li said.

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The next step is to draft on-point focus questions. Good focus questions respond to the crux of your subject of inquiry, and should demonstrate critical thinking, multidimensional thinking, and multidisciplinary knowledge.

Setting the focus questions with care will provide “a clear framework and direction” for your research. Then you may consult your subject teacher for comments to ensure you’re on the right track.

Before you get excited about citing the information and sources relevant to your findings, be mindful of the two common mistakes made by students – inadequate data interpretation and misuse of data, said Nat Ng, a teacher from Sing Yin Secondary School. Some students jump to conclusions immediately after citing relevant expert views on a particular issue.

Take the case of students trying to illustrate that the introduction of a statutory minimum wage will bring more harm than good to Hong Kong’s economy. They might end up formulating their arguments based solely on some economists’ conclusion that the establishment of a minimum wage would violate the free-market economy principles. This, according to such a view, would steer foreign investors away and lead to economic stagnation.

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“There are actually objective data [students can look for] to verify these predictions. Besides, there are also other economists suggesting the minimum wage could bring about a faster rate of automation in some industries, thereby improving productivity and facilitating economic growth,” said Ng.

In other words, you should always consider the views of different experts or parties on an issue. Then check if there is objective data to back them up.

Using the wrong set of data as evaluation criteria can also lead to a weak analysis.

However, this problem can be avoided by looking at how government departments or organisations review the issue or policy you’re studying, said Ng. “The criteria mentioned or implied in their press statement should point you to the right direction.”

“Read more, think more and ask more,” Li added. “Whenever students have questions, teachers will be there to offer help.”

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