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Volume 17 Number 4, Winter 2020, Pages 1158-1546 PDF Download

What does Text Selection in the HKDSE Reading Comprehension Paper Say about the Exam?

    Man-Chit Chak

The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examination is a high-stakes matriculation system that determines the opportunity for higher education and social mobility for most local students. This means that content featured in the tests poses strong washback effects on classroom teaching and learning. Despite the fact that the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) recognizes the effects of washback and the necessity to use it in a positive way, certain aspects within the HKDSE English Language Reading Comprehension paper might have been overlooked. This paper looks at the genres, text sources and topics featured by the HKDSE examination since its inception in 2011. It finds that while there is an effort to diversify the topics featured and ensure their appropriacy to local candidates, the Authority falls short in utilizing a wide enough range of text genres in its examinations, possibly leading to narrowed English reading abilities in the population. Additionally, texts are also usually selected from sources that favor affluent, professional demographics, which has possible implications for the fairness of the test.

Keywords: assessment, reading comprehension, text selection, Hong Kong, Genre theory, washback effect, fairness in testing