How to study for the HKDSE Chinese Reading paper

  • With less than three weeks until the exam, Beacon College tutor YY Lam has tips on how to tackle the dreaded assessment
  • ‘Sandwich’ your test time, beware of the contemporary texts and remember the classics section has become easier
Kelly Fung |

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Time management will go a long way in helping you tackle the Chinese Reading exam.

The HKDSE Chinese exams will take place in less than three weeks’ time. To help you prepare, Young Post spoke to Beacon College’s star tutor, Jayden Lam Yat-yan, more commonly known as YY Lam, for some top tips on how to tackle the tough reading paper.

The reading paper accounts for 24 per cent of the total score of the Chinese subject, and it tests students’ ability to comprehend, analyse, appreciate, and apply knowledge using Chinese.

Students will be given 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete the questions based on 12 prescribed classical Chinese texts in Part A, accounting for 30 per cent of the paper’s total score. These are followed by unseen Chinese contemporary texts and classical passages in Part B, accounting for 50 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

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“Sandwich” your test time

If you find yourself unable to finish the two sections on time, Lam says you have to work smartly on your time management by following a “sandwich technique” when doing the paper.

“I suggest students finish the questions for the prescribed texts [Part A] and the classical texts at the end of Part B first. It’s just like eating the bread of a sandwich,” he says.

“This way students spend 45 minutes on the ‘bread’, and the other 45 minutes on finishing the questions for the contemporary passages in Part B,” he says. This way, the timing will be evenly distributed based on the points allocated to each set of texts.

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Make your revision count

While you might think that reciting every prescribed text is the key, Lam says you also need quality revision. Apart from knowing the passages, consolidating the key points in each text efficiently and effectively before the exam is crucial.

He suggests students follow this revision method. Print out the prescribed texts and test yourself on the meaning of each word. Write down the meaning on top of the words to strengthen your memory.

After that, it’s good to list the writing methods and central themes for each paragraph, as well as the emotions and motives of the central characters. Make sure you familiarise yourself with this information.

The quality of your revision is more important than the quantity.

Set your priorities

For the 12 prescribed texts, Lam does not recommend skipping topics, but you should prioritise revising the texts that have not been tested, including On Teaching by Han Yu (〈師說〉) Xin Xin Man Qiu Qing by Li Qingzhao (《聲聲慢‧秋情》), and Drinking Alone by Moonlight by Laijon Liu (《月下獨酌》).

The classical section is easier now

As for the daunting classical section, Lam reassures students that HKEAA has lowered its difficulty level in recent years, so the questions in this section have been designed to be more straightforward.

“What’s worth noting is that, in recent years, adjectives and verbs have not been tested that frequently. You might only see [those as] one out of five questions,” he says.

“Instead, we see more function words and adverbs that indicate time and levels,” he adds.

Lam said function words are often placed in the beginning and the end of a sentence, and very often these words do not carry a lot of meaning. One example is the word “益” – although it means “beneficial” in modern Chinese, in fact, it means “more and more” in the classical context.

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Beware the contemporary texts

Even though the contemporary texts in Part B are unseen, don’t lower your guard in this section. Lam says that the contemporary texts see a variety of key question phrases. He advises you to identify the keywords in each question carefully so that you do not miss the point.

In one case, Lam says that some students misunderstood the keyword “behaviour” in a question about a central character, and they gave answers on “results” of the event instead.

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Know your tactics

Students aiming for an average grade should focus their remaining time on revising for the prescribed texts. They are comparatively easy and account for nearly one-third of the total score. If students do this, they are more likely to get a “high return” in Part A.

“Getting 70 per cent of the total mark will earn you a [Level] 5** already,” he says. “The key to this paper is letting go. The questions in Part A are straightforward and easy, so get as many points as you can in this section.”

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