Hong Kong star tutor breaks down how to be a top scorer in the HKDSE Chinese exam

Hong Kong star tutor breaks down how to be a top scorer in the HKDSE Chinese exam

Here is an in-depth breakdown of how to approach all three papers

The HKDSE Chinese Language exam takes place in less than a week (April 9-10). It can be daunting, we know, but don’t worry; this guide will give you a better idea of what to expect in each of the three papers.

Young Post spoke to Lam Yat-yan, a renowned Chinese language tutor from Beacon College, who offered his tips on how to tackle each section and achieve high marks in the exam.

Paper 1: Reading

For Paper 1, students are given 90 minutes to complete a series of reading comprehension questions on two texts: one modern Chinese text and one classical Chinese passage. Lam suggests that students “spend half the time on each section”, as marks are split evenly between the two.

“The most common mistake students make in this paper is misread the questions. Most likely because they have overlooked some important keywords,” he said.


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The solution is simple: “Make sure you read the questions carefully.”

Each of the questions has been carefully worded, so keep in mind that each character used is probably important.

Most students feel particularly anxious about the classical Chinese text, but Lam assures them it’s not as difficult as it seems.

“It is important to first understand the overall message of the text. Then, you can begin to break down sentences and translate them word by word,” said Lam.

“The easiest way to do it is to first identify the subject, object, and verb ... identifying the sentence pattern also helps,” he added,

“But most importantly, stay calm and focused as you read everything,” said Lam.


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Paper 2 : Writing

In the second paper, students are asked to choose one out of three questions, and write at least 650 characters in 90 minutes. Lam said students should spend “at most 10 minutes for planning, and after that they should start writing immediately”.

It is crucial “to ensure your content is relevant to the exam question”, he stressed. “Last year, some DSE candidates were off topic. For instance, when asked to write about anger, they talked about complaining, or situations that were not directly related to the topic.”

As well as staying on topic, Lam says it is important that students also try to use more Chinese idioms and phrases in their writing to add colour to their essay.

Lam also said that it’s not necessary for students to present unique arguments or ideas in their essay, and that they should focus more on developing a well structured argument.


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“If you want to write a good essay – a narrative essay for instance – just make sure you meet the criteria of the HKEAA [Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority], such as including an introduction, development, turning point, and conclusion, as well as responding to the keywords in the questions.”

After constructing the basic framework, you may elevate your writing and make your argument more meaningful by “[building] up the emotional intensity of the story”.

When asked which genre is the easiest to handle, Lam said it’s different for everyone.

“It depends on the students’ individual strengths and preferences. But I’d recommend that skilful writers attempt the narrative or descriptive essays,” he added.


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Paper 3: Listening and integrated skills

This paper is divided into two parts. Part A consists of multiple choice questions which test your listening skills, while Part B is a writing task that tests your ability to interpret data and elaborate on it.

For Part A, Lam said although local students should have no difficulty understanding every single word in the audio, they should “be wary of the common tricks that have come up in past papers”. For example, to make things a bit more challenging for candidates, the HKEAA have previously deliberately written audio scripts in which “a person’s name is put at the front of a sentence, rather than the end”.

“As a result, students would be likely to miss the name, and have no idea who the person in the dialogue is talking to,” he warned.

Students should therefore pay attention to the ordering of the questions before the exam so as not to fall into such traps, he said.


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The recording for Part A will be played once, then students will have four minutes to finish writing and refining their answers. Lam advised candidates to make changes as quickly as possible and move on to reading the questions and data file in Part B.

In that short period of time, he said students need to grasp the main idea by quickly (but carefully!) skimming through the information provided. The most essential information can usually be found in the first two pieces of data. Lam advises that you read the rest in detail after hearing the recording for Part B.

You only have an hour and 15 minutes to show your ability to interpret, integrate and elaborate information in Chinese, and also demonstrate your argumentative skills in this part of the exam, he remarked, so be sure to use your time wisely.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
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