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HKDSE, IB or A Levels?

Many parents ask me for advice about which high school exam to take. They are VERY different. The answer depends on

1) Your child's personality

2) University plans

The information below is for suggestive purposes only. This is a very important decision to make.

HKDSE (Hong Kong Diploma of Education

This is the main exam taken in mainstream schools in Form 6. It includes a number of mandatory subjects (English, Chinese, Maths) and electives

It is a very difficult exam, especially the Chinese but the English Paper 3 is also considered very difficult.

It best suits students who prefer passive learning, memorizing, less small group work, less self-inspired learning and are planning to stay in Hong Kong for university although many overseas universities are now accepting this diploma for entrance.

The standard of Chinese (Traditional characters at the time 0f writing this) is high.

IB Diploma 

From my own experience with two children, with teaching HKDSE students and taking A levels myself (many moons ago), I consider this to be the hardest exam currently.

It requires students to be good all-rounders who are capable of self study, are very organised and have a broad interest in subjects. The Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay papers are particularly challenging.

It suits students who are high self motivated to do research tasks and are inquisitive with a very high degree of creativity and the ability to think out of the box.

It is not suited to students who have clear strengths in a small number of subjects (e.g. sciences).

Some say it is as difficult as university.

BEWARE: Do not be tempted to leave local school at a late time (e.g. F3) to begin studying IB. From my experience most students are unable to adjust to the enormous changes.

A Levels

In my opinion, this is the exam that suits the widest number of students. It suits students who have interests in particular subjects as they can really go in-depth. The exams have lots of materials available for self study.

They are very good for students who want to study in highly competitive fields such as medicine.

They are recognised globally, especially in the UK but also in HK under the Non-Jupas system.

There is a very small number of schools offering A Levels in Hong Kong.


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My Philosophy



"Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire!"

- William Yeats




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