Teachers and students said that this year’s DSE English Language exam focused on how much candidates cared about social issues, with questions evaluating their attitudes towards family relationships and the community.
The English writing exam (Paper 2) consisted of two parts. Part A was a compulsory question which asked student to write a 200-word proposal on an activity that could be held at an elderly home. In Part B, students had to choose one out of eight questions to answer, and they had to write at least 400 words.
English teacher Ansley Lee Kwan-ting, from Kiangsu-Chekiang College in North Point, said the writing exam placed emphasis on interpersonal relationships. “Values, like respecting others, caring for the elderly and the community, played a crucial part in this question. It gave students an opportunity to talk about social issues and how they can address problems accordingly. For this question, clichés like “broaden my horizon”, “pillar of the community” and “every coin has two sides” won’t work as this question focused more on personal experiences,” she said.
Lee also referred to Q4, which asked students to write an essay to discuss if “romantic love is necessary for a happy marriage”. “This question wanted students to express what they think about family relationship and marriage. It’s relevant to their personal experience too.
“It seems the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority treats personal values as prerequisites of university entry requirements,” said Lee.
Anson Chan Pui-shing, a Form Six student at Carmel Secondary School, said he had to be very careful with his tone when writing the answer to Part A. “I knew I was writing to the principal, so the tone had to be polite, humble and persuasive. I also think the question related closely to my own experiences as I have taken part in many voluntary activities,” he said.
In Part B, Beacon College’s English teacher Kenneth Lau said students needed to be aware of the text types. “Q6 in Part B asked students to write a debate speech. It’s different from writing an argumentative essay. For their arguments, they needed to give concrete reasons and think about how to rebut another team,” he said.
“Another example was Q7, which asked students to write a report,” Lau said. “For this report, they needed to explain the phenomenon of the growing number of ‘Hong Kong’s Neets’ – young people who are not in education, employment or training. For these reasons, they need to give credible sources, like survey methodology and target audience. Then they had to give suggestions about what can be done to help these youths.”
A candidate surnamed Yu chose Q9 to complete, which asked students to write a letter to oppose the opinion that “Hong Kong fresh university graduates are less hard-working and less willing to face challenges”.
“This question required me to use current issues to prove my arguments. The question made me think the exam wanted me to use English to express my opinion in a sophisticated way,” Yu said.
Lau said Q5 asked students to write a letter to the editor supporting the government’s choice of conserving two Hong Kong staples – egg tarts and mahjong. “Students need to have a good understanding of these two things if they select this question. For example, egg tarts have different types, and mahjong can be something used for family gatherings. They should give an in-depth explanation of these features and what they mean to every Hongkonger – such as fostering family relationships and building collective memories,” he said.
The reading passage of Part A (the compulsory section) in the English reading exam (Paper 1) talked about why recycling in the US was not economically and environmentally friendly. Students in Part B could choose either B1 (the easier section) or B2 (the difficult section). Part B1 contained three texts, with descriptions of the characteristics of millennials and their challenges. Students who selected the easier section are only able to score as high as Level 4. Part B2 has an academic research paper which highlights the special qualities of millennials, and how they interact with the older generation.
Lee said the reading exam tested students’ ability to summarise, reason and compare. “Q46 in Part B2 asked which three factors characterised the millennial generation. Students can’t copy the wording from paragraph three, which didn’t give the exact answers. They need to reason and generalise keywords when answering this question,” she said.
Yu added Q46 was challenging because it was not a question type often seen before. “It required us to generalise three factors in a huge passage which has not been seen in previous years. However, the passage in Part B2 was quite standard in its difficulty,” she said.
Lee said students would have had difficulty answering Q60 which asked candidates to match the headings to the outline for the reading passage. “Understanding the main ideas of each paragraph is never easy. Some students have to read many times before grasping the main concept. It’s a bit tricky, as the question was put in the last question.”
Some questions tested the language proficiency of students, Lee said. Lau said the reading passage in B2 was more difficult this year compared to last year. For instance, the word “contend” could be difficult. They needed to use the words in the preceding sentence such as “though” and “admit that” to infer the answer.
Q49 asked students to talk about differences between Twenge’s, and Howe and Strauss’ understanding of millennials. “Students could have found the answers if they paid attention to words like ‘on the other hand’, ‘however’ and ‘clashes’,” said Lau.
Q53 was one of the most difficult questions, Lau said. It asked students which metaphor a scholar in the passage used to describe millennials and then to explain its meaning. To answer this question, Lau said they needed to understand the meaning and features of “natives” that was used in paragraph 14.