Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education

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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 examination in the new 3-3-4 education system introduced in Hong Kong secondary schools, as a replacement of the former Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) in which nearly all Hong Kong secondary student participated.

Subjects examined[edit]

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 the 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]

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 and Religious 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 can optionally 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[edit]

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 (U) also exist in special cases like absence, cheating, or having an attempt not even reaching the 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 2014 HKDSE physics grade 2014 HKDSE physics percentile 2010 HKCEE physics grade 2010 HKCEE physics percentile
A A* (140 UCAS tariff points) A* (140 UCAS tariff points) 5** (145 UCAS tariff points) A 5** 2.8% A 4.8%
B A*/A A*/A 5* A 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* 11% A 14.5%
C B A/B 5 B 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 27.3% B 32.7%
D D C 4 C 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 50.1% C 57.2%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE E D 3 D 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 73.8% D 79.2%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE not recognized not recognized 2 E 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 90.4% E 90.8%
Half of DSE and CE students are not eligible to enter HKALE not recognized not recognized 1 F 1 98.1% 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[edit]

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 schools.


See also[edit]


  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" (PDF). 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" (PDF). 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[edit]