The HKCEE is conducted from late April to May, for most subjects, by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA). For oral examinations, they are conducted in late June.
The results are released in the second week of August. There are 44 subjects available in the HKCEE. Most day school candidates take 7 to 8 subjects in the HKCEE, with 10 being the upper limit. Apart from Chinese Language and English Language which are taken by almost every school candidate, and language-specific subjects (French, Chinese History (Chinese only), Buddhist Studies (Chinese only), Literature in English (English only), Putonghua (Chinese only) and Word Processing & Business Communication (English only).), all subjects can be taken in either Chinese or English. The same standards are applied in marking and grading regardless of the choice of language, and the language medium is not recorded on the results notices or certificates. It is, however, recorded on the admission forms.
The certificate of HKCEE is well-known and widely recognised in Hong Kong as a formal document for seeking a job or pursuing further studies. The HKEAA has arrangements with examination boards in the United Kingdom and most subjects are functionally equivalent to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). However, it is widely known that the HKCEE examination is qualitatively much harder than its General Certificate of Education (GCE) equivalent. Moreover, there are also significantly less students obtaining a grade of A on a percentage basis. This steep curve is introduced partly to accommodate for the lack of resources in the local university system.
For comparison, the Mathematics syllabus of HKCEE is equal to New Zealand's NCEA Level 2 Mathematics at Form 6 (Year 12) level (excluding Calculus) rather than NCEA Level 1 or its predecessor the School Certificate examination sat by the country's Form 5 (Year 11) students.
Additional Mathematics in the HKCEE is on balance academically more advanced than NCEA Level 3 Mathematics with Calculus, sat by Form 7 (Year 13) students in New Zealand to gain university entrance in science and engineering. HKCEE's Additional Mathematics is also recognized by most of the programmes in Hong Kong's universities as qualificationally equivalent to HKALE Pure Mathematics.
For the examination questions on the same topics, those in HKCEE tend to be loaded with hard to understand wordings and difficult manipulations compared with their NCEA counterparts.
In other subjects, such as the sciences like Chemistry, Physics, the syllabi covered in HKCEE are similar to that of the SAT Subject Tests sat in Grade 12, but it is arguably easier to obtain a score of 760 on the SAT Subject Tests then to obtain a grade of A in the HKCEE examination despite theoretically, Grade 12 is equivalent to Form 6 under the Hong Kong school system.
|A (5*)||5||Equivalent to A* in GCSE|
|E (2)||1||Minimum requirement for employment purposes, a pass in HKCEE|
|U (u)||0||Unclassified, a grade lower than F|
Results below grade 'F' are designated as unclassified ('UNCL'), assigned either when candidates hand in unanswered or unintelligent paper(s), or when candidates are assumed to have cheated. Candidates not taking the exam are designated as Absent ('ABS') for that subject.
Before 2002 grades A - F were each divided into two fine grades, making the original number of grades available twelve, from A(01) to F(12). The fine grades in both HKCEE and HKALE were lifted in 2002, as such system was accused to have discrimination on students.
The results are graded 'on the curve' but at the same time a cutoff score for each grade is also used. Obtaining an A is very difficult, especially for languages, where only about 1.5-3% of the students get As. On average, only the top 3-4% in each subject can get an A. The cutoff scores vary greatly from subject to subject and from year to year. To give a clearer picture, for Chinese language A-grades are sometimes given for candidates having scored 70 or above, while for Mathematics, an A invariably translates to a score in excess of 90. The cutoff scores are not released by the HKEAA publicly; the information being only available to teachers.
Official statistics can be found on the HKEAA website: http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/doc/fd/2004cee/39-60.pdf
Points correspond to each grade is calculated for Form Six admission, the six best subjects are calculated. Thus, the maximum possible points is 30. This does not imply that a student scores full marks in the HKCEE exam. The minimum requirement for participating the HKALE is getting a level 2 in both languages, and getting at least 4 points in 3 subjects, or passing in 4 subjects. Although students who failed in either or both languages in HKCEE may be admitted to Form 6 if provided that he/she retakes the failed language subject in Form 6 (They would be admitted in the last stage of Form 6 admission ONLY). Most schools refuse to admit this type of students unless the student performed exceptionally good in non-language subjects. For IVE admission, seven best subjects are calculated and the maximum possible points is 35. In most cases students are able to get a place in Secondary 6 with no difficulty, providing passing (or level 2) in both languages and having 14 points in best-6 subjects, and a good conduct in the school)
In 2007, the grades of Chinese Language and English Language are modified to suit the syllabus changes. Also they outlawed 'on the curve' system in both subjects other than giving 5* among the 5's. The 'on the curve' system are expected to be ended with the introduction of HKDSE.
There are seven new grades under the system:
(Note: The points above is used by offical Form 6 admission processes, which may vary in point calculations by schools)
Even passes in both languages will officially count for at least 4 marks in offical admission processes, but in most cases, schools would take a point away each in Language Subjects during admission process on their own (other than 5*), since taking Level 2 in both languages is the minimum requirement to participating the HKALE examination. In some cases, schools may not admit students with a Level 2 in English. As a importance of Putonghua is increasing since the handover of Hong Kong, HKEAA accepts Grade C in Putonghua as an alternative requirement in the EAS scheme towards Chinese Language's Level 4, which use Cantonese as a medium of examination. Putonghua (or French) can be an alternative subject towards Chinese Language only if student didn't take the latter subject.
In terms of international recognition, HKCEE results were originally linked to British GCE 'O' level standards.
For HKCEE subjects, a grade of "C" or above is equivalent to a pass in GCE O-Level examination conducted by a British awarding body, except English Language, Accommodation & Catering Services and Fashion & Clothing.
However, GCE have been replaced by the GCSE in 1988.
A recent research study on the equivalence of HKEAA awards to GCSE is conducted by UK NARIC in 2007. The study compared examinations of a similar academic standard – the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) with the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The study concludes that the percentage of Hong Kong candidates achieving top grades in Hong Kong for subjects (excluding English language, which is subject to a separate comparison) of the same academic standard are generally lower and top grades more difficult to achieve than for GCSE and has issued the following comparative tables:
|F||E, F, G|
UK NARIC is the UK's National Agency for the UK Government. They are the official information provider on information on wide-ranging international qualifications and skills attained from outside the UK.
Please note that although NARIC is a National Agency for the UK Government, but the institutions of higher education may make their own decision on what foreign qualifications or study they will accept, and UK NARIC has only an advisory role.
The two new HKCEE language subjects have been benchmarked against the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) by the Cambridge Assessment. The HKCEE results in Chinese Language and English Language are recognised as equivalent to the IGCSE results as follows:
To deal with this problem, the HKEAA has started to release the marking schemes together with the examination papers of that year since 2003.
Owing to the transition from the 5+2-year curriculum (5 years of secondary and 2 years of sixth form / matriculation) to a 6-year curriculum of secondary education, the HKCEE and the HKALE will be phased out and replaced with a new examination, namely Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE).
In 2007, the curriculum of the subjects Chinese Language and English Language were revised. The two subjects were no longer graded along the normal distribution curve but rather by criteria referencing. Letter grades will also be abolished and numerical levels used instead, with 5 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. In addition, level 5 will be further sub-divided into 5 and 5*.
The proposed revisions specific to Chinese Language include:
The proposed revisions specific to English Language include:
HKEAA had also announced that candidates sat in the 2006 exam who wish to retake Chinese or English subjects shall take the new syllabi. It is questionable whether whose candidates, previously adopt to the old syllabi, can follow the structure of the new syllabi in just about half year.
In an attempt to mitigate the situation, the HKEAA publicly apologised and offered free rechecks on the oral component of the English language subject for all candidates. Candidates who would have resulted in a higher score received an upgrade. In total, the error affected 670 candidates. 422 candidates had their oral component mark upgraded while 248 had their overall English Language subject grade upgraded. This cascade reaction affects 233 candidates which are eligible for Form Six Admission.
However, the mistake was discovered far too late. It was discovered when Form Six Admission process was almost over. Since some candidates were unable to find a school for their matriculate education because they received an incorrect grade, the EMB was forced to increase the school quotas for some schools to accommodate those affected students. HKEAA chairman Irving Koo assured to the students that their education will not be affected due to this error.
Numerous discussions have been initiated on local forums. Candidates sitting for the paper are currently demanding a re-take of the paper and an apology from the HKEAA. Some candidates have collaborated with political parties to hold protests against the HKEAA decision to not re-administer the paper. A protest (Cantonese) is proposed for the 31st of May or the 1st of July.
On a local forum, a candidate has threatened to sue the HKEAA, saying that justice needed to be defended. More than 100 complaints have already been received by the HKEAA regarding the incident.
The actual articles used in the exam:
2 students have lodged a complaint to the Hong Kong Examinations & Assessments Authority regarding this incident. A spokesperson of the HKEAA claims that any kinds of copying by candidates will result in no marks given to the parts copied.
The fourth and fifth item in "Instruction to candidates":
4. "...Write your answers clearly and neatly in the spaces provided in the Question-Answer Book. Use a pencil to write your answer."
5. "For multiple-choice questions, blacken the appropriate circle with a pencil..."
In paper 1, the format in previous years was that two passages were supplied, one in Vernacular Chinese and one in Classical Chinese, and candidates were required to answer questions mainly in words. In 2008, however, the second passage was a Chinese poem instead. Also, half of the total scores were from multiple choice questions, and in some questions choices were said to be difficult to distinguish. For example, in question 1, the four choices were "believable" (可以相信), "affirmative" (肯定的是), "proved by facts" (事實證明) and "undeniable" (無可否認). Some teachers said even they cannot make decisions in short time, or said the paper requires deduction skills and common sense rather than Chinese knowledge, while some candidates said the paper was more like gamble than examination. Some also commented the passages were too difficult for CE level. Even the university professor admits he cannot finish the exam without using reasonable amount of time. The first Vernacular Chinese passage was said to be of the difficulty of Form 7 Advanced Level Examination Chinese Language and Culture, and the second poem, Moonlight Of Spring River (春江花月夜) in Tang Dynasty, was even said to be of difficulty of university Chinese Literacy. The Examinations and Assessment Authority replied that papers can be set in any format and style.
In paper 5, where candidates were required to listen to recording and do various tasks, both the recording and the data file were criticized. A Halloween advertisement was included in the recording, and some candidates afterward said that they felt uneasy or thought the radio channel has been switched. In the data file, Chinese slang terms were discussed in a piece of newspaper article and in a poster promoting reading. Some teachers and students criticized that the materials promote slang terms, some students say that they had not heard of such terms, and more said that the Examinations and Assessment Authority has misconceptions on the use of those slang terms. However, also some scholar said the paper encouranges critical thinking, making students know not to use slang terms.
On YouTube and Internet forums, ringtones of the recording appeared after the paper, including the imitation of Cantopop duo Twins singing their song "Lian Ai Da Guo Tian" (戀愛大過天, Love Is More Important Than Anything), and also the recording of the Halloween advertisement.
Some candidates also suggested actions to protest the difficulty of the comprehension paper, by wearing black clothes and staying on seats after the end of examinations on 2 May and 3 May 2008, when the English Language examinations will be held.
Since 2003, the authority issued the examination report and question papers in year form and this book inclued question paper, suggested answers, candidates performance and examination statistics, and the price ranged from HK$20-45.