This year’s DSE Economics Paper One was the hardest ever, and Paper Two was also trickier compared with last year, claimed teachers.
Paper One was difficult because it introduced many new question types and topics, requiring students to have a deep and detailed understanding of concepts. For example, students are usually tested about competitive demand, but Q. 22 asked about competitive supply. They also had to solve the question in two parts, and could easily pick the wrong answer if they got the first part wrong.
“Before, that was given in the question, but [this year] they had to find this out by themselves. So it was harder, and time was also tighter,” said Carl Hung, a tutor at King’s Glory Education.
Another tricky question was Q. 27, which tested students on the short and long-term effects of building a new infrastructure. Hung said previously only the long-term effects were tested. In addition, Hung noted that there were a lot more graphs involved in the questions and answers, such as Q. 34, where students had to pick a correct diagram when money supply is growing at a constant percentage. Daniel Yu, a tutor at Modern Education, said this new question type was challenging because the answer options involved many different concepts, distracting them from the correct answer, D.
Yu said other questions tested basic economics concepts but required students to have some common sense about things that they don’t normally come in contact with. For example, for Q. 10, students needed to know that newspaper columnists are paid per word they write, instead of receiving a monthly salary like a full-time journalist. Students also had to be careful on Q. 14, because the way the question was asked could have mislead them to think the first blank space was asking about the demand, and the second blank space the derived demand, when in fact it should be the other way round. Other difficult questions include Q. 37, Q. 38, and Q. 43, which asked students about balance of payments. A similar question appeared in previous years, and only 19 per cent of candidates got it right.
Several of the questions also involved real-life elements, such as Uber (Q. 16) and i-bonds (Q. 37). “The question didn’t explain what i-bonds are, and students needed to know that it has a minimum guaranteed return,” said Alan Chan, a secondary school teacher. “So you really needed to know about local current issues.”
Hung added that with an increased personal allowance in the budget this year, it is very likely that this would be tested next year.
Yu also said it is common that new elements in Paper One will appear in future exam papers as long or essay type questions.
For Paper Two, Yu said about a fifth of the marks were challenging questions to differentiate candidates aiming for Level 4 and above. This year, there were nine questions in Section A, instead of only eight questions in previous years. “This allows the examiners to include more combinations of questions types,” he said. The toughest question in this Section was Q. 9, a complicated assessment of students’ understanding of the basic demand and supply concept. “I’ve noticed this trend since 2013, and it’s clear that the examination authority is making this a focus in the DSE,” said Yu. “You won’t be able to handle questions like this just by memorisation or doing the former Hong Kong Certificate Examination past papers, because those are too simple.” He suggested doing more mock papers as a good way to up your level.
For Section B, Hung said Q. 12c was rare, because it asked students to argue both for and against Macau cutting investment but keeping its cash-sharing scheme, while students usually are allowed to pick a side. Yu said this reflected a trend in the exam of questions becoming more open ended, giving less guidance to students on how to answer it in a particular way. Q. 13b was another example of requiring students to analyse economic proposals on their own, giving only indirect cues.
For Section C (electives), Yu said the questions have become harder. “There are still some simple questions, but if you want to score high you really have to target to score in the tougher parts of this section,” he said.
Hung also believed the Economics paper will get harder in the future, with more graphs and data analysis involved. “There were fewer calculations this year, but I expect more next year,” he said. He advised students to think about how questions could be answered better than they are in marking schemes of past papers, and think of alternative ways that the question could be asked.
Chan also suggested doing IB past papers. “The IB syllabus is broader than the DSE one, with a lot of questions on value judgement, so it’s definitely helpful to do more of it. They also have more question types so it’ll be good training,” he said.
According to Yu and Hung, students generally need at least 88 to 92 per cent to score a Level 5**.