By Form 6 student Winnie Tam

Hong Kong’s university entrance exam, the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), is scheduled to begin on April 22. As a DSE candidate this year, I have a number of concerns over the examination’s arrangements and I believe other candidates may empathise with my worries too.

Chemistry study notes. Photo: Supplied.

The Education Bureau announced on February 28 that every candidate will need to conduct a Covid-19 rapid test before going to the exam venue. Those who test positive will not be allowed to sit the examination and their grades will be estimated based on their assessed school results. The highest grades will not be attainable through this route.

First and foremost, I would like to ask if government officials will put themselves into the shoes of the candidates. Can they try to imagine how devastated a candidate would feel if he or she unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19 during the exam period?

The government’s arrangements are tantamount to telling Hong Kong students that their endeavour could be easily wasted because of an unexpected and unfortunate event. Even the prospect of this nightmare happening triggers candidates’ fear and concerns – seriously affecting their mood when preparing for the DSE examination.

A HKDSE examination hall photographed in 2020. Photo: GovHK.

As many people are urging, instead of forbidding Covid-positive candidates from sitting the examination, the government should set up an isolation rooms in each school for these unfortunate candidates who have contracted the virus during the exam period. Last year, seven candidates took their exams at the Penny’s Bay quarantine centre.

The Education Bureau said it would be difficult to make such an arrangement this year because of the lack of quarantine facilities. Indeed, cases remain high in Hong Kong so considerable resources and time may be required if an isolation rooms are to be set up. The government might be thinking it is just an examination and it is not worth wasting much time and effort.

But I wish the government could consider one more thing. Having spent a lot of time and effort studying, do candidates’ endeavour and prospects deserve to be sacrificed? We have been putting so much effort into studying, and we expect good results in return for our hard work. If some students are infected during the exam period, should they helplessly see their hard work go to waste?

Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) textbooks. Photo: Supplied.

Moreover, the government says it is easier and more feasible, due to practical concerns, to evaluate infected students’ performance based on their school results. Yet, the highest score awarded for these students will be Level 5 rather than 5**, which is the highest grade. Why will it only set Level 5 as the maximum score?

The Education Bureau adds that setting Level 5** as the maximum score will be unfair to those who can take the examination as usual. However, could it think more deeply about what is meant by “fair”?

Some students may have given up many leisure activities and put a tremendous effort into getting good grades in examinations. They may aspire to become a doctor or lawyer in the future, yet they would only be able to go to medical or law schools if they achieve outstanding results in the DSE exam. It will certainly be a severe blow to these students if they are infected and can only get a maximum of a Level 5 in all subjects.

The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Would it be fair to these students to be deprived of the right to pursue their dreams just because they are unfortunately infected?

I sincerely wish that the government will give more thought to all DSE candidates. We have prepared for this exam for so long, and we desperately hope everything will go smoothly. Our concerns could be eased if the government is willing to listen and take measures to address them.

As a Form 6 student, I regard the DSE exam as an opportunity for me to prove my abilities and the effort I have been putting into my studies. I believe most candidates would desire this chance as much as I do – and no one should miss out of it because of their misfortune.


Winnie Tam is a 17-year-old Form 6 student with an interest in English writing.

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