Hong Kong mock DSE candidates in mainland China do well in maths, but ‘could do better’ in Chinese and English

Hong Kong-born secondary pupils in mainland China did better in maths in mock city university entrance exams – but teachers involved in the tests said they could do better in Chinese and English papers.

June Leung Ho-ki, the founder and chairwoman of Beacon Group, one of the largest private education providers in the city, organised Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) mock test in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, in February in the three core subjects for more than 100 youngsters.

Leung said cultural differences played a part in mainland-based pupils’ performances in English papers as Hong Kong prepared to offer DSE exams across the border for the first time.

“When students are required to write a letter of complaint, they may just voice out their negative comments without knowing what they are required to write in the task, that is, they need to interact with others … it may be related to the different tones of lodging complaints on the mainland and Hong Kong,” she suggested.

Pool coverage of first day of 2023 DSE English Language examination at HKUGA College, Aberdeen. Photo: Handout
Jonathan Lai Bing-wah, the chief principal of the Affiliated School of Jinan University for Hong Kong and Macau Students ( Dongguan) in Guangdong, added pupils in the city still had a higher English proficiency as the teaching strategy emphasised use of the language, even if it was not used absolutely correctly.

“The teaching strategy in Hong Kong is putting fluency before accuracy and it results in better performance in the language,” he said.

But he admitted the grammar skills of pupils from the mainland were better than their Hong Kong counterparts.

Lai said that “primary schools and junior secondary schools on the mainland heavily train students’ grammar skills compared to Hong Kong”.

Both agreed that pupils from the mainland had the edge in maths.

Lai said mainland children were trained from a young age to calculate faster.

“Junior secondary schools’ mathematics syllabus on the mainland is perhaps the most updated around the world,” he said.

“The mathematics teaching strategy not only teaches students the concept, but teaches them how to calculate faster by other methods, maybe just having an answer two seconds ahead of others.”

Pupils on mainland expected to sit Hong Kong DSE exams without crossing border

Leung said mainland-based pupils who opted for arts subjects could also perform well in maths, but those from Hong Kong studying similar subjects could score “very badly”.

They were speaking as Hong Kong’s examination authority prepared to offer the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) across the border for the first time next year.

A few hundred candidates from the mainland are expected to sit the exams next year.

The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority amended its regulations to allow institutions outside the city that used the DSE curriculum to apply for the first time to become “participating schools” and act as examination centres.

Candidates studying in participating schools on the mainland will sit the DSE as “school candidates”.

Private entrants across the border will also be able to take the tests in the designated schools.

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Lai said four out of the six mainland schools teaching Hong Kong pupils had applied to become DSE assessment centres.

The pair also agreed the mainland pupils’ assessment results in Chinese were not necessarily better than Hong Kong resident youngsters.

Lai said the poorer performance of mainland pupils in Chinese exams could be attributed to the design of the paper.

The DSE Chinese paper required candidates to absorb a lot of information and then begin writing their answers, a new format for students across the border.

“The paper tested their use of the language, but not their literature knowledge. Hong Kong students master the language in daily life better in a freer city,” Lai said.

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Leung added mainland pupils’ relatively poor performance in Chinese could be because of a lack of knowledge about the city in areas such as transport, which has featured in past papers.

Lai said the participation of mainland pupils in DSE exams would not affect the pass rate of Hong Kong youngsters.

He said a standards-referenced reporting system was used, which meant individual grade attainments reflected pupils’ abilities and were not affected by the performance of others.


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