SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

English exam drills find home on the Net

The Hong Kong tutorial industry is going online with a Web site for Form Four and Five students working towards the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination.'s founder claims that with an hour's home study a day, five days a week, students can ensure a pass at HKCEE English. Subscribers can follow six programmes, including grammar lessons and exam strategies. Apart from tackling more than 7,000 grammar drills, they can familiarise themselves with the format of the four English papers, learn how to skim through passages, and pick up tips on writing compositions and engaging in oral discussions. The cost is $388 per programme.
One selling point is that's exercises are based on students' real lives. For example, a school girl's letter describes how her parents expressed their dislike of her boyfriend. Wider issues, such as environmental protection, also creep into some exercises, although topics are kept simple and technical vocabulary is not stressed. uses the Web's flexibility to present questions, repeat them and respond instantly to the answers with both sound and text. Explanations on grammar are also available online. Founder Alex Ying Ki-luen currently acts as an online tutor, answering questions too complicated for the computer. Extra tutors may be hired if more learners sign up.
Unlike face-to-face tutorial centres, students can control their own pace of learning. Instant scores satisfy an inherent need for a sense of achievement. A repeat facility may also help improve listening ability, as some users have discovered. What students need, however, is discipline to stay the course. could compete directly with the hundreds of tutorial centres in town, and if it is financially successful, young people may soon be able to choose from a range of online tutoring services.
Hong Kong's education system is known for its rote-learning. But drilling for high-stakes public exams happens the world over, and there are numerous software packages on the market to help students through exams such as GCSEs and A-levels in Britain or SATs in the US. So Hong Kong students may welcome this new weapon in their armoury, but should bear in mind that such programmes need to be used wisely and not overplayed.