Hong Kong’s annual university entrance examination is not until late April, but hundreds of thousands of people have already taken an alternative and equally challenging quiz which puts their knowledge of the city’s streets and landscape to the test.

The “exam paper,” the “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge,” features 105 multiple choice questions split into 11 levels of difficulty. It begins with straightforward ones such as asking about the city’s English name and its time zone, and gradually advances to locating particular streets, buildings, housing estates and shopping malls.

Designer of the viral “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge” Kieran Ho. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Candidates” are also quizzed on places with peculiar names, as well as the historical development of Hong Kong. Questions at level zero were said to be simple enough for tourists to answer, while people who ace level nine and 10 are admiringly called “Mad man” and “God” for their exceptional knowledge of the city.

The quiz has taken the internet by storm since its launch on March 17, with more than 340,000 people completing it as of Monday morning. Social media platforms were swamped with results of the test, as people challenged their peers to have a go at the 13-page assessment, often described as “insanely hard.”

The quiz designer and map enthusiast Kieran Ho, better known as Xotarios, told HKFP the average score was around 300 out of a maximum 1,000 marks. He set the pass grade at 150 instead of 500, as difficult questions carried more weighting and he did not want to discourage people.

The “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge” was released on March 17, 2022 as a Google form. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Some people thought they might not find the quiz as difficult [as their friends]… they started it out of curiosity, but finished it feeling a bit disheartened,” he said, laughing.

The 26-year-old came up with the idea of the online quiz as entertainment for his friends – some were geography and map-reading whizzes – who he could not meet in person due to a fresh and deadly wave of Covid-19.

He first shared the test as a Google form on his personal Facebook account and later on his page with public access. Staring at the back end of the online form, Ho was astounded to see new responses to his questions when he refreshed the pages every minute. Responses kept rolling in well after midnight, with answers still being submitted at 5 a.m.

The part-time research assistant at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University woke up at noon the next day to find his inbox flooded with messages, ranging from a secondary school geography teacher asking permission to share the quiz with his students, to a media interview request. Ho was taken aback by the popularity of his work.

“It felt as if the world was different, but the first thing that came to my mind was how come people didn’t have to sleep… it was a Thursday night,” he recalled.

A question from the online geography quiz that asked about the total number of piers at the Central Pier. Only around 33% of the respondents were able to give the correct answer, which is 10. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The viral test took Ho around three days to compile, as he devised unique types of questions that intrigued many quiz-takers. For instance, he asked people to put 10 streets in Mong Kok in the correct order based on their positions from east to west. He also inserted a photo of Tai Wai in the New Territories and asked people to identify a location shown in the image.

None of the options provided — Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon Bay, Clearwater Bay and Tung Lo Wan — seemed right at first glance. But the correct answer was Tung Lo Wan, a district whose name in Chinese reads the same as the Hong Kong Island commercial district known in English as Causeway Bay. It was an obscure fact that few Hongkongers knew.

“I was very happy that many people told me they learned a lot from the quiz. It was very unexpected that I ended up sharing this niche knowledge with hundreds of thousands of people,” Ho said.

Designer of the viral “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge” Kieran Ho. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The success of Ho’s geography challenge has inspired dozens of spin-offs. From tests about Cantopop music and local films to Hong Kong public transport, to how much one knows about the city’s leader Carrie Lam, Hongkongers were eager to prove their expertise in areas that had not been formally assessed academically or professionally.

Some even challenged themselves to tackle more than 30 of these quizzes, slotting them into a timetable as if it was an actual examination week. One was independent artist and urban history researcher Lam Siu-wing, who completed 38 tests over the past two weeks.

The 36-year-old was one of the few people who scored 700 or above in the geography quiz, earning himself the honorific of “God of Hong Kong geography” according to Ho’s marking scheme. Like Ho, Lam has been reading maps since he was a child and knows the streets of Hong Kong inside out. He previously walked across the city and is part of a popular YouTube channel known for encouraging people to take a walk “when in doubt.”

A video of Lam Siu-wing walking around 24-hour retail shop Don Don Donki.

“Among all online quizzes, I thought the questions in the geography one were set well,” said Lam, a Hong Kong Design Institute lecturer teaching Communication Design. “The parts where I found to be challenging, those were really things that I did not know.”

Others tests were not as well-designed, Lam opined, saying some omitted crucial elements or iconic figures in the field. The Cantopop music quiz , for instance, had no mention of the late lyricist James Wong. He is a household name in Hong Kong for classics such as “Below the Lion Rock,” which is said to represent the core values and “can-do” attitude of Hongkongers in the 1970s.

“It is like writing a quiz on Chinese history that does not mention Emperor Qin,” Lam said, referring to Qin Shi Huang who was considered the first emperor of a unified China.

Hong Kong maps published by the Universal Publications Limited. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Nevertheless, the newly emerged quizzes were a leisure activity that Lam looked forward to after a long and exhausting day at work. The Ming Pao columnist would add them to his rotation of web-based games to play before going to bed, including word puzzle Wordle that recently found global fame.

Entertainment aside, Lam said the quirky tests also opened up discussions on knowledge and skills that “did not fit into the structure of traditional academia and professional qualification.”

“These are very concrete skills, such as the ability to recognise streets. There was never an official test, so [the geography challenge] felt like the very first assessment for us,” he said.

Designer of the viral “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge” Kieran Ho. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Map enthusiasts like Lam should keep studying, as quiz designer Ho released the “Hong Kong Geography Expert Challenge 2.0” on Friday. The brand new question formats using street view images, maps and aerial shots would hopefully stretch the minds of quiz-takers, Ho said, and perhaps make them scratch their heads on April Fool’s Day.

“People always say they love Hong Kong. Maybe they can find out to what extent they love and know about Hong Kong,” Ho said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.