The HKDSE Chinese Language speaking exam is in just two days. So how can you make the most of that time? Young Post asked renowned tutor Lam Yat-yan from Beacon College for some tips on how to prepare for the exam and make your answers stand out.
Paper 1: reading
Lam says one of the biggest problems students have with Paper 1 is time management. He suggests spending one minute per mark, given that the exam is 90 minutes long and in 2015, Paper 1 was worth 86 points.
If a question asks you to highlight the main ideas of a paragraph or passage, it is testing your ability to summarise and find the key points. Long answers with responses stretching five or six lines are not likely to score high marks. Also don’t directly copy from the passage. Try to put the answer into your own words and keep it to around three sentences.
In classical texts, if a question asks you about the meaning of a word or phrase, one clear and accurate answer is enough (unless the question requests more than one interpretation) instead of giving all possible answers.
For example, when a word has two meanings, make it clear which one you mean, and don’t try to explain both definitions. Choose the one that is most appropriate and explain why it has been used.
Paper 2: writing
The marking scheme for the writing paper consists of four parts – content, language expression, organisation and punctuation / font and wrong words. According to Lam, you should focus most on the content section.
Lam said the question is usually quite long, which can confuse candidates. He advises paying careful attention to what the question is asking. Answers which are off topic are not likely to score high marks. Also, if there is a genre which you aren’t very confident in, like the argumentative essay, for example, don’t choose it.
You should also make sure your transitions are smooth and logical. Your arguments should be linked in a way that is natural and cohesive, and your writing should flow easily from one point to the next. For example, if you write about how your attitude towards your classmate has changed, it shouldn’t be sudden and drastic, you should write about a series of things which gradually made you change your mind.
Using the wrong word is another common mistake. This can either be a case of using the wrong verb; for example saying, “I use the bus to school” instead of “I take the bus to school”. Or it can be a case of writing out the characters wrongly. There is no short cut for this; you just need to memorise them. Use the next month to drill these.
When it comes to content, try not to bore the examiners. Most candidates write about topics that are predictable or cliché. This can become very tedious for the examiner, and won’t help your paper stand out. Lam suggests writing about something that is happening around you, like the rain. But to make your answer more engaging, you could describe the patterns the raindrops make on the windows, instead of just saying: “It’s raining”.
Some candidates like using idioms, but ask yourself whether they’re appropriate. If you do choose to use idioms, define them first. Then highlight how these words make your argument stronger.
Paper 3: listening and integrated skills
Data is provided in this paper so use it wisely. Don’t invent answers which should be based on the information given.
Part A generally comprises multiple choice questions. Be aware of some key words like including, excluding and only, which point you in the direction of the answers. Also remember to listen to the whole script before deciding on your answer.
Part B tests your ability to interpret data and elaborate on it.
When you make an inference – figure out what the data is implying – your answers should be logical, solid and concrete. For example, if the data suggests secondary students don’t have good manners, the question could be answered in the following way: Students lack manners because of the exam-orientated culture schools have created. While schools are an important place for personal development, if they focus more on grades instead of life skills, students will miss out on a lot of opportunities to grow socially and emotionally.
Lam also said many students don’t fully understand the roles they have been assigned by the data file. Make sure you understand who you are supposed to be because different roles require the use of different registers, tone and style.
Lam’s final advice for this paper is not to rely too much on pre-prepared material. This section is quite flexible and depends on the role you are assigned. It’s better to write in the correct style rather than writing memorised text that doesn’t answer the question.
Paper 4: speaking
Lam said the speaking paper is not asking if you agree with one event or statement. It’s testing your ability to make judgements. So if asked whether raising cigarette prices will encourage smokers to quit, you should articulate whether you think this measure is effective and persuasive, with some strong arguments or reasons.
If a question asks you to rank the importance of different factors or options, not only should you put them in order, you should also explain why you’ve put them in that order. Remember that each factor will have both benefits and limitations. Make it clear that you have considered the importance of each reason. A good tip is to follow these steps: prioritise your choices. Share your rationale and explain your choices in relation to one specific aspect. For the example about quitting smoking, you could relate all your choices to something like public health.
Remember that it’s a group discussion, so it’s not just about voicing your own ideas and opinions; it’s about how you interact with others.