The countdown for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams (HKDSE) is on.
Across the city, Form Six students are burning the midnight oil in the hope of acing their exams, and getting into a good university.
Their future prospects are at stake.
Excelling on the battlegrounds of the DSE is no easy task. Young Post spoke to some experts on study skills, and put together a few nuggets of advice for our brave Form Six warriors.
Ask the experts
Given their heavy weighting in exams and widespread use in daily life, language subjects are pretty significant. Getting a Level 5** can seem a big challenge, but if you acquire the right skills, that milestone is a lot easier to reach.
Dr Yvoone Loong, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the HKDSE is very practical; students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their language skills in realistic situations.
She uses Paper 3: Listening and Integrated Skills to make her point.
"Listening is never an isolated skill; when we listen, we do so with a purpose in mind. For example, we answer a phone call from a client, take down important information [about a meeting] and then write a short e-mail to confirm the details with all relevant parties afterwards," she says.
"It's not just listening skills, but also skills in differentiating important and unimportant details, skills in organising a coherent message and skills in putting information together in an e-mail format using the proper vocabulary and tone."
To get better at speaking English, exposure is key, she adds.
"There is no magic answer when it comes to learning a language. Apart from focusing on the textbooks and the exam curriculum, students should grasp every opportunity to read and speak the language."
If students want to do even better, Loong has some tips on expanding vocabulary.
"When you come across a new word, you should be actively making different kinds of mental connections. If it's a noun, think about its countability, or think about its synonyms or near synonyms. If it's a verb, think about its transitivity, or think about its various tense forms," she says.
"By actively engaging the mind, you'll be able to remember the newly learned words better, and over time with more exposure to the words in different contexts, you'll gather enough confidence to start using the words in your writing or speaking."
Many electives require a substantial amount of facts, so a sharp memory is necessary.
Young Post spoke to Professor Mark Antoniou, adjunct assistant professor of the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages at Chinese University, about some useful study techniques.
Things we remember are stored in different parts of the brain, but no one part of our mind is responsible for memory.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. When we are memorising things, brain cells work together to process information by sending signals to each other.
"With every new experience we have, the connections strengthen and our brain determines how it is organised. Scientists call this plasticity. This means that if you practise remembering and studying, you can become much better at it and improve your memory," he says.
Antoniou says one of the most effective memorisation skills is repetition; this can be done by repeatedly reading, writing and saying the materials out loud. He recommends doing this over a long period of time.
"Cramming the night before an important paper is most certainly not something you want to be doing," he warns.
Another useful memorisation technique is mnemonics.
"Mnemonics help us to remember better. Examples include creating acronyms or phrases using the first letter of each thing you are trying to remember; take the colours of the rainbow, for example. When I was in school, we were taught to remember the acronym "ROYGBIV" [pronounced Roy G. Biv] for the colour sequence red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet," he says.
Hated by many Hong Kong students, the dreaded Liberal Studies requires critical and logical thinking skills, as well as extensive knowledge about current affairs and social issues.
Dr Joe Lau, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, took us through the fundamental skills for this subject.
Studies have shown critical thinking stimulates the cortex of the brain, but science has yet to offer a concrete answer.
Such skills can be strengthened by grasping basic concepts and principles related to logic and reasoning, as well as doing various exercises.
Furthermore, being able to control one's impulses and immediate reactions gives one more time to think.
So the next time you see a question asking you whether Leung Chun-ying is a good chief executive, don't take the opportunity to criticise all his policies. Calm down and you'll discover that, in fact, you have time to form a balanced and considered opinion.
Critical thinking is a skill, so it takes time to perfect.
Be more reflective, read more and think more: all these things will improve your critical-thinking skills.
Moreover, it is important to keep track of your previous performances in this area to get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. "Most people over-estimate their thinking skills, and that's not something you want to be doing," Lau warns.
Having an extensive knowledge of current affairs is another requirement for the Liberal Studies exam.
But when students come across unfamiliar issues, it is very important to come up with relevant and accurate answers.
New events and situations happen all the time and it is impossible to know all the facts. Lau suggests having a good understanding of the main issues.
"Cost and benefit analysis, dealing with market failures, setting the boundaries of freedom and rights, and understanding the role of the government are issues that often come up in questions," he says.
Needless to say, eating and sleeping well play a crucial role in improving brain functions.
It's not a smart idea to be up all night before an important paper.
The Young Post wishes all Form Six students the best of luck in their upcoming battle!