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Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education

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Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education

The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE; Traditional Chinese: 香港中學文憑) is an academic qualification offered by Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA). The HKDSE examination is the only public exam in the new 3-3-4 education system introduced in Hong Kong secondary schools, as a replacement of the previous two years of Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) in which nearly all HK secondary student participate in. About 1/4 of elite students also have the equivalent qualifications of the first year of advanced supplementary level qualifications(most students study 6-8AS equivalent subjects in previous form six in HKALE). About 1/4 students get the equivalent qualifications of pre-associate degree programme in which DSE students are directly admitted to associate degrees while HKCEE students need to study one year of pre-associate degree programmes, these students are not considered to having the first year of HKASE qualifications since they do not have the equivalent score to be admitted to HKALE. However, near half of the students who scored lower than 10 points in HKDSE( which is equivalent to previous students who scored lower than 5 points in HKCEE) need to study Yijin project, they are not considered to have a pre-associate degree qualification or the first year of AL qualification. The final year of Advanced Level syllabus is included in the first year of curriculum of the new 4 year university programme. Those among the best can also use the result to apply for the Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS, the undergraduate admission allocation system in Hong Kong). Approximately 17000 students get 5 subjects of 4 or above, it is equal to the previous HKCEE 14 points, which is equivalent to the minimal standard for studying advanced level exam for most students, so only those who score more than 5 subjects of 4 or above is viewed as having one year of advanced level qualification, while those scored below 5 subjects of 4 and above 5 subjects of 2 are viewed as having one year of pre-associate degree programme in which DSE graduates are directly admitted to associate degree programmes which HKCEE graduates need to study a year of pre-associate programme. However those who scored less than 5 subjects of level 2 also need to participate in the yijin project which is the same as students of HKCEE who scores less than 5Es. Scores of HKCEE and HKDSE can be directly compared since the students entering the two exams are nearly completely identical. However, scores of HKDSE and HKALE and pre-associate degree exam results' comparison requires some statistical background. Those scored more than 5 subjects of 4 which is the equivalent score of HKCEE 14 points, can be used as the bottom line to be compared to the scores of HKALE. The DSE grading of 4 and HKCEE grading of D can be compared to a mere pass in HKASE level and is an important point in comparing the grading of public exams of HK. Moreover, HKDSE 5**, 5*, 5, 4, 3,2 are near to HKCEE A, B, C, D, E and F grades. However, HKDSE grades are a bit harder to get. The HKDSE grade 5**, 5*, 5, 4 can be compared to form six level of HKASE A, C, D, E respectively, for those who score 4, 3 and 2, the result can still be compared to pre-associate degree results. Students received 8 subjects( with maths elective included) of HKDSE 5** is considered as HKALE 8 AS A(previous AL 5A) and HKCEE 8As or above.

Subjects examined

Under the new examination framework, many subjects in the HKCEE and HKALE have been combined to suit the varying interests and abilities of the students. Candidates are examined on core subjects and elective options of their preference. Most candidates are expected to take four core subjects plus two or three elective subjects (see list below).[1]

Each HKDSE subject includes a compulsory part and an elective or extended part. The elective or extended part consists of modules from which students may choose. An elective module is an integral component of the standard curriculum, whereas an extended module is designed for students who may need additional knowledge and skills.

  • Elective Part Example: The elective part of the HKDSE English Language curriculum will take up 25% of lesson time. Proposed modules in the elective part are divided into two groups: Language Arts and Non-Language Arts, both of which are about learning English in different contexts and media.[2] In examination, the paper is divided into two levels which students can choose during the exam, which the easier level only allows a maximum grade of 4 but the other can have a 5**.
  • Extended Part Example: HKCEE Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, HKALE Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Mathematics and Statistics will be merged into a single new subject known as Mathematics. Canditiates who wish to study Mathematics at a higher level will have the flexibility to choose whether they would like to take one of the extended part modules, namely Calculus and Statistics or Algebra and Calculus.[3]

Whenever it is available in JUPAS or not, in order to fulfill the requirement of undergraduate programmes provided by tertiary institutions, a certain degree of minimum requirements is needed to be achieved:

  • For Bachelor Degrees: Level 3 in English Language and Chinese Language, plus Level 2 in Mathematics, Liberal Studies and at least one electives.
  • For Higher Diplomas/Associate Degrees: Level 2 in English Language, Chinese Language, and any other 3 subjects.

Some institutions may have a higher general entrance requirement such as a higher language requirement and/or an extra elective. Moreover, results obtained in non-Category-A subjects may not be counted.

Examinations of most Category A subjects are conducted between early March to early May, while the oral examinations and some other subjects are conducted at earlier time. Category C subjects are conducted in June (for French and Spanish, they may be taken on previous November). Category B subject do not have an open examination.

Students can take maximum of 8 subjects in HKDSE, and, in the case of taking 8 Category A subjects only, at least one of them should be Ethics andReligious Studies, Music, Visual Arts, or Physical Education.


Category A: New Senior Secondary Subjects
Category A subjects are offered by HKEAA which traditional secondary education provides.These include Core subjects which all candidates are required to study, and elective subjects which can be used/will be used as admission requirements in Universities.

For Mathematics, grades for the extended part (Module 1 and Module 2) are listed separately on certificates.

Core subjects

For Mathematics, in addition to the compulsory part which all students should study, candidates are optional to take one of the following extended part modules for each sitting:

However, except in special cases, a pass in extended part cannot be used to replace a pass in compulsory part for university admissions.


If at least one of the subjects below are included, candidates may take at maximum of 8 category A subjects. If not, at most of 7 category A subjects can be taken.

Category B: Applied Learning Subjects
Category B subjects are offered by certain providers, and the results are subject to HKEAA's adjustment.They are vocational-oriented subjects in order to satisfy the needs of employers. Applied Learning Subjects may be used by tertiary institutes as admission requirement. Which is equivalent of a Grade 2 in an elective for Attained and Grade 3 for Attained with Distinction.

Category C: Other Language Subjects
Possible to use as replacement for Chinese for University admissions, but only allowed for students whose mother tongue is not Chinese, and cannot be used as a replacement for English. It may be used as an elective for Chinese students as long as not using it as an language requirement.In some cases, instead of Category C subjects, IGCSE Chinese Language pass (or similar Chinese qualification) is required for admission in some institutes for non-Chinese students.

Category C subjects adopt the same paper as the General Certificate of Education AS-level, and are provided and marked by the Cambridge International Examinations.

  • Japanese
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Hindi
  • Urdu

It is also to be noted that it is not necessary for institution or departments to recognize student's results in Category B and C subjects, though sometimes they might consider them as referencing materials.

Grading and Standards

For Category A subjects in HKDSE, results will be expressed in terms of seven levels, of which level 5** is the highest and level 1 the lowest. Distinction levels 5** and 5* (read as Five-Double-Stars and Five-Star) will be awarded to the two best-performing groups of candidates attaining Level 5.[1] Unclassified grade also exist in special cases like absence, cheating, or having an attempt not even reaching standard of level 1.

HKALE grade GCE A-Level grade suggested by UK GCE A-Level grade suggested by HK HKDSE grade HKCEE grade Grade point in HKDSE Equivalent grade point in HKCEE Academic standard Equivalent grade 2010HKDSE physics grade 2013HKDSE physics percentile 2010HKCEE physics grade 2010HKCEE physics percentile
A A A 5** A 5** 2.4% A 4.8%
C B A 5* B 5 5* or above 27 median score for those who enter HKU or among the best 1500 in Hong Kong Approximately 1500 candidates get a total score of 30 or above in best five DSE( in average 5* in each subject),the number of people is equivalent to those who receives CE 27 in HKCEE (3A3B) and above which accounts for the top 67% of student in the best university of Hong Kong. 5* 9.6% B 14.5%
D C A 5 C 5 5 or above 22 the total number of university place of HKU and CUHK or the best 5000 in Hong Kong Approximately 5000 candidates get a total score of 25 or above in best five DSE( in average 5 in each subject), which is near to the number of candidates who gets 22 in HKCEE (which in average 4B2C), which accounts for the top 50% of HK students who can enter university 5 23.9% C 32.7%
E D C 4 D 5 4 or above 15 equal to the previous minimum standard to attend HKALE Approximately 17000 candidates get a total score of 20 or above in best five DSE( in average 4 in each subject), which is near to the number of candidates who gets 15 in HKCEE (which in average 3C3D), this is equal to the lowest mark of 14 that a candidate need in order to study in the Hong Kong advanced level.Bachelor and Associate degree of Hong Kong equivalent to getting a combination of scores of mixing 5 and 4. 4 48.8% D 57.2%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE E D 3 E 5 3 or above 9 Institute of vocational education student's typical score and previous HKCEE repeater Approximately 34000 candidates get a total score of 15 or above in best five DSE( in average 3 in each subject), which is near to the number of candidates who gets 9 in HKCEE (which in average 3D3E). Many of the students who has HKCEE marks under 14 are required to repeat in HKCEE rather than taking the HKALE. However, many of those choose to enter vocational education like the institute of vocational education in Hong Kong. 3 73.0% E 79.2%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE not recognized not recognized 2 F 5 2 or above 5 equivalent to HKCEE 5 passes qualifications used for Yijin project,the minimal requirement of civil servant Approximately 45000 candidates get a total score of 10 or above in best five DSE( in average 2 in each subject), which is near to the number of candidates who gets 5 in HKCEE (which in average 5E1F). 2 88.8% F 90.8%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE not recognized not recognized 1 U 1 97.0% No such grade No such grade
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE not recognized not recognized U U U 100% U 100%

Also, the criterion-referenced grading system; experts from each subject will set the standards for each level. Level descriptors and examples will be based on syllabus objectives and collected data, including past exam statistics and answer scripts. Grading in a criterion-referenced system reflects a candidate's level of attainment in the particular subject and not where the candidate stands compared with others who have taken the exam. Before the exam the candidate will be familiar with the different level descriptors and samples, and may use them as objectives for their study. After results are released, candidates will have a clearer picture of their attainment level. Tertiary institutions and employers will have more robust information to use for admission or recruitment purposes. Exceptions are the 5* and 5** grades; they were awarded in normal distribution as in previous examinations, and given to the top 30% and 10% respectively of students in the grade 5 range.

Taken in secondary 6, the standard of the HKDSE exams according to UCAS' expert report are comparable to international accepted exams such as the IB Diploma and UK A-Levels, normally taken in secondary 7, but arguably easier than the HKALE, which it replaced.

One should be aware that the HKDSE exams are designed for local students in Hong Kong to allow them to apply to local universities through JUPAS. The IB Diploma and other international qualifications are normally taken by private school students. These international exams and the private schools associated have become more popular in Hong Kong. Saying that there have been a considerable degree of concern for the emergence of a bipartite education system that is based on wealth instead of merit would be grossly conservative. However, students with solely international exams result cannot apply through JUPAS, which has a higher number of admission in terms of total intakes.

A criterion-referenced system fits the principles and objectives of the new 3-3-4 secondary system in Hong Kong. Clearly stated learning outcomes and grading standards help teachers and students understand the topic at hand, provide a guide for improvement, and realistically benchmark attainment levels.

Apart from this high-stakes examination, School-based assessment (SBA) will also be implemented to reduce reliance on ‘one-off’ public oral examination.

Impact on Schools

One notable impact on schools in Hong Kong is the discontinued need for a sixth form college. Nevertheless, the first such college, PLK Vicwood KT Chong Sixth Form College, remains in operation, mainly as an upper secondary school.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education". Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 
  2. ^ "English Language Curriculum and Assessment Guide". EMB: Senior Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Guides (Final Version). Curriculum Development Council and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 
  3. ^ "Mathematics Curriculum and Assessment Guide". EMB: Senior Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Guides (Final Version). Curriculum Development Council and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 

External links

  • Hong Kong Education Bureau
  • Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority
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