YP editor takes the HKDSEs (Part I)

YP editor takes the HKDSEs (Part I)

Is it as awful as everyone says?

admission_letter.jpg

Ramsay and her HKDSEs admission form.
Ramsay and her HKDSEs admission form.
Photo: Susan Ramsay/SCMP

This escapade all started with an idea by deputy editor, Karly Cox. We, she said meaning me, her and our then lib studies writer, Wong Yat-hei, should do the HKDSEs. Yeah, I'm game for most things, so we signed up. Let it be known that the instigator dropped out of contention for "various reasons", leaving just Hei and me to face the dreaded gauntlet that secondary school students face at the end of their education. 

So, we decided to take the Lib Studs and the English exams. It should have been a cinch, right?

Ha.

Deadly procrastination set in and as the exam dates drew nearer. What was there to study anyway? I speak English and Liberal Studies is just news with questions right? But even so, I just became busier and busier at work, and the exam dates drew inexorably closer.

Well, first of all I had no clue about the English exam, its format or extent. So I spoke to some English teachers and even an examiner, and they told me I would do fine. That did nothing to soothe the increasingly niggling feeling that I was missing something important. It took some serious "self talk" before I thought I might be prepared for it.

One of them, we'll call her A, gave me the best bit of advice regarding the oral. "You'll have one kid who has gone to a tutorial class and will take charge of the talk," she said. "Just remember you don't have to finish all the points."

A junior reporter, J, sagely told me all I needed to know about the listening exam. I had never actually done one, but I had done plenty of listening exercises. One thing that stymied me was how I would hear the script. For some reason, I thought I had to have a miniature radio. And, let's get serious, who has a radio these days. A panicked note went out to all JRs, that we were looking for a radio for the listening exam, and one obliged. He was paid handsomely in candy for his generous equipment loan.

J also told me to be sure to "define terms"...in the Liberal Studies. Darn I keep on thinking people understand words. Why did I have to waste time telling them what their question means?  Yeah okay, fine, I'll define.

I did try to study, really I did. I went through the very useful exam tips on our website, and looked over past papers for the liberal studies.  I always believed that if I  knew the principles I would be okay.

Sue sits the Lib Stud exam at a school in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Susan Ramsay/SCMP

So, lib studs was first, and I trudged off to the school, seriously out of place among the uniformed students and those in casual clothes. I obviously attracted a few odd looks. Eventually a very helpful young man approached me and asked if I was looking for my son. Er... no. Right then.

More worrying was the fact that everyone seemed to be still studying hard. Their noses were buried in books, they had intense looks of concentration on their faces. I still don't understand what they were studying.

Doing a last-minute check of pens, pencils, sharpener, highlighter - another tip from J - I realised that the eraser I had flung into the pencil case was well past its sell-by date and more appropriate as a fossil. Help!

(It's odd how the mind works. I had two rolls of correction tape primed and ready, but it was the eraser that suddenly became "the thing I had to have". )

I worked out that I would definitely not have time to dash all the way back to the shopping centre to buy a new one, and besides, shops don't open until well, after the exam was due to start. PROTIP: 7/11 doesn't carry erasers, neither does Circle K, but students will sell you one for the right price. 

Thus armed, I entered the hall with scores of other pale-faced victims and found my seat. Goodness, had I come to a primary-school exam? The desk was miniscule! Now I know how they fit 40 students in a classroom.

By the time I had my pencil case out, my exam id paper and my id card there was no space left for anything else. Then I found out I couldn't even have the pencil case, so my pens and pencils and highlighters were slipping and rolling all over the place. For the rest of the exams I had them tied down with hair bands. But for liberal studies I just tried to corral them into a place where they wouldn't go flying off my desk causing me endless shame and humiliation.

We could have calculators though... uh oh... who needs a calculator for lib studs, I wondered. Everything else had to be under the desk. A far cry from the exams I wrote at home where I could have sweets and drinks and all the pencil cases I wanted. No comforts here, then. Sadly I bade goodbye to my cooldrink.

One of my biggest exam "faults" is that I tend to just start and go go go, but this time I wasn't going to do that. I knew I had to read the whole paper, choose wisely... blah blah blah. I got that down to a mantra "calm down, slow down".

Yeah, as soon as they said "go" or whatever they say, I wasn't too sure, I flipped over my paper and instantly forgot everything, even my own name.

A bit of time is taken up with silly tasks like sticking barcodes on things. That was new experience. And I had never taken an exam where the question papers were not stapled together. To save space on the desk I folded the paper back, and started answering the questions. Big mistake!

The question paper from the lib stud exam. Photo: Susan Ramsay/SCMP

 

Well, to be honest the questions weren't difficult. What was really difficult was holding back and not unleashing a 2,000 word article on each of them.  But I had forgotten other pieces of advice... short answers and long answers. There was always one more point to make.

"Calm down, slow down"

I also realised that years of using a computer to type my work had done two things: made my writing look like the proverbial drunken spider, and robbed me of eni ubility 2 spel. Gosh I missed spellchecker.

So I was doing okay, feeling quite pleased with my progress, shooting down the questions, working steadily, taking time to read over what I had written, to read the whole question and consider the answers. Yeh yeh , I had this... in the bag.

Then came the time warning. Wut! Wait, no! I thought I had another hour! Holy erm moly! I squinted at the clock and it was no help at all. I really thought I had another hour. Nevermind, I was almost done. I had actually just wanted to write something out more neatly and add a few more points or clear them up... then...

HUAH! I turned over the question paper to find I had missed like an entire page of questions. OMG. I scrawled a few of  the answers in point form, my hand now cramping severely from using the pen. My visions of 5** faded fast, in fact my vision of 5 faded too and now I was wondering if I would pass.

(Part II to be continued)

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