The nightmare is over! The tough liberal studies Independent Enquiry Study - the senior secondary school-based assessment for one of the four core subjects in the HKDSE exams - is being simplified.
Many students - even some teachers - found the IES too difficult. It is spread over two to three years and contributes 20per cent of the total marks.
However, after April's major review, new clearer guidelines have been introduced. The liberal studies IES will be much easier for Form Four students from this September.
"It was easily the toughest thing of any subject in the public exams," says Bowie Leung Po-yi, 18, a Form Six student at Jockey Club Ti-I College in Sha Tin, who has just taken the exam.
Four new steps will help new students complete their IES in a "more focused manner", says the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Assessments have been cut from two to one, and tasks halved so students have only one final report.
The IES' marks, forming 20 per cent of the total, will now be awarded in four areas: 6per cent for problem definition and identification of concepts and knowledge; 10 per cent to explanation and justification; 2 per cent to presentation and organisation; and a final 2 per cent for initiative.
Written reports must be no longer than 4,500 words. Non-written video and audio reports must not be longer than 22minutes of recording time; any linked written report is limited to 1,100 words.
Bowie chose sub-divided flats as her project theme. "I started the project in Form Four and spent the whole of the year setting up my research," she says. "Then I did lots of data collection, made a site visit and carried out analysis over the next two years. It was a really long process, and so time-consuming."
Before, examiners never gave any limit for reports, which caused lots of problems for students.
"I handed in a report of 3,000 words - my school's own word limit," Bowie says. "But my friend, who goes to another school, said her classmates wrote reports of up to 50 pages - more than 10,000 words long. This was a bad sign."
Chan Lit-ho, 20, who was among the first year of students taking the HKDSE exams, was also unhappy about the confusion over the length of IES projects.
"I saw classmates writing more than they needed to try to improve their reports," says Chan, whose study focused on career and life problems facing athletes who retire from competitive sports. "Then they worried about handing in too many pages, so they made the size of the letters smaller - down to 8point - making it really hard to read."
Chan, a graduate of Buddhist Ho Nam Kam College, in Yau Tong, says: "I didn't find the project had much to do with liberal studies. Perhaps it helped me improve my interview techniques and communication skills. But overall, far too much time and effort was involved.
"My classmates and I often had to stay late after school to work on our weekly progress reports. It wasn't fair."
Tang Yuen-kwan, panel head of liberal studies at SKH Leung Kwai Yee Secondary School, in Kwun Tong, welcomes the changes. "The original IES placed a heavy extra burden on final-year students, who also needed to fulfil the SBA requirement of other subjects," Tang says. "The new changes will help to standardise IES requirements at all Hong Kong schools.
"New assessment rules will also ease the burden on teachers. In the past, I used up lots of teaching time to be fair to each student during marking.
"Each student had to present his or her ideas in front of the class; two classes, each with 24 to 25 students, used up at least 12 teaching lessons.
"Now the assessment can be done outside the classroom, through individual consultation. I've more time to talk to students about topics that often come up in public exams."