More than 44,000 pupils took the last liberal studies paper under Hong Kong’s university entrance exams on Thursday, as the controversial subject would soon be scrapped, with some describing the experience as “bittersweet”.
Some test takers said the questions were generally “easier” compared with past Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams, while others expressed nostalgia over bidding farewell to the subject.
The final exam on Thursday did not involve any questions related to politics. The test featured three mandatory questions about the city’s plastic shopping bag charge, drug patents and the quality of life for elderly residents, while the selected topics included global food security, e-learning and the impact of food delivery platforms on mainland China.
Angel Leung, a 17-year-old pupil from True Light Girls College, said she believed learning liberal studies could improve critical thinking and organisational skills.
“Now, I only hope that the new subject [citizenship and social development] can also help students improve these skills,” she said, referring to the renaming of the subject under a new syllabus.
Leung added that she was happy that the final paper was easier than she had expected, especially when compared with the English and mathematics exams she took earlier this week.
The DSE candidate said she was doubtful about getting the top grade in liberal studies, even though she had answered all the questions. “I feel like many students can answer the questions very well. It would be really hard for me to stand out,” she said.
Liberal studies was first introduced as a mandatory subject for senior secondary students in 2009. It was seen by some as presenting biased views and accused of radicalising young people that participated in the anti-government protests in 2019.
The subject was then renamed to “citizenship and social development” in 2021, with more focus on national security, identity, lawfulness and patriotism. The first DSE exam for the revamped syllabus will take place next year.
Liberal studies tutor Liu Tin-yan, of King’s Glory Education, said the last ever paper for the subject was a lot more manageable compared with past years.
“Topics that were tested this year are fairly common ones that we read about frequently in the news. They are also adequately covered in liberal studies textbooks,” Liu said.
“Students should have had ample time to tackle them as [this year’s] sources are more straightforward. Time management used to be a big problem, but this year, most of my students were able to finish both papers.”
She said that while this year’s paper was not the easiest in liberal studies’ history, students should be able to secure a pass or even a level 4 grade.
According to Liu, those aiming for the highest level 5 score would have to ace the two trickier questions in the mandatory section, namely questions 1c and 2a in Paper 1.
Question 1c required pupils to examine the shopping bag charging scheme and compare two different solutions to the city’s plastic waste problem – fee charging and a usage ban.
Liu explained that to achieve a solid score for this question, candidates needed to include a minimum of three paragraphs to compare the two options and at least one counterargument. “Students also need to ensure their responses are tailored to the local context,” she said.
As for question 2a, which asked candidates to “identify two prejudices some people have towards the elderly … and explain why these are prejudices”, Liu said some pupils might have been stumped by the word “prejudices” as it was the first time it ever appeared in a liberal studies paper.
“Overall, this year’s students have a very manageable paper, and I think this is a somewhat happy ending to liberal studies,” the tutor said.