John Larrysson Column: How To Get A Guaranteed A+ Mark

You can get a guaranteed A+ mark in the TSA (Hong Kong Territory-wide System Assessment) as it is currently run. First understand that the unpopular TSA is not a useful test.

The secret is that the test is a bluff. A real test must assess the people taking it. That way your teacher knows what you did or did not understand and how to help you. No one will ever know your TSA mark! Your teacher, your parents and your school principal will never know your mark. They are not even allowed to check your test paper. So how useful is it?

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Only the school and the government will even see the school's average mark. If the school's average TSA mark goes down, teachers might even be fired. So your teachers want to drill you with past TSA questions, rather than spend that time actually teaching something interesting or useful.

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Follow these instructions to get an A+. During the test, try to look as if you are reading it carefully, then answer randomly. Do you really want to be troublesome? Are you very tired of having to do TSA exam practice? Try to answer half the questions right and the other half wrong.

For the writing section, just write down anything you like. You might tell the exam writers how much you hate them. You might write nonsense. In one Calvin and Hobbes comic the test paper said "Explain Newton's First Law Of Motion In Your Own Words". So Calvin answered with the words he made up, "Yakka Foob Mog. Grug Pubbawup Zink Wattoom Gazork. Chumble Spuzz." ( ) The writing task in the TSA could be done this way and nobody could scold you.

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Your parents and teachers will never know what you wrote. After the test, tell your parents and teachers that you did very well. The test was easy and you knew all the answers. They will not know the truth.

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Why The TSA Is A Useless Test


The TSA only tests a few limited points of the English language. Each year the test is a rewritten version of the previous years. That is why drilling helps you get higher marks. That is also why the test is not a valid assessment.

The raw test results and the Hong Kong-wide statistics created by the TSA are a secret. If the full details were released, the public might come to understand how weak the test really is. A self-serving report is published by the HKEAA (Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority) and some limited statistics are given to each school principal.

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The government will see each school's average mark. I have heard from English teachers who have been told, by their principal, that if the school's TSA score drops that they will be fired. It is not surprising that teachers want to drill students with TSA questions, rather than put the classroom time towards lessons that will help students.

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Students are made to drill possible questions. Even the HKEAA offers practice tests for the TSA. These are called the SA (System Assessment). What happens to a test when there is a lot of drilling and test practice? The test becomes invalid. Does the TSA test a student's Chinese, English and maths ability? No, to a large extent it tests whether or not someone has done the practice tests!

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Watching a Frozen DVD in English, with English subtitles, would be better teaching. Especially if the vocabulary could be taught first and a fun exercise done afterwards to assess how much was understood. For younger children, with shorter attention spans, individual scenes should be shown one at a time. Instead, what is actually being taught to students? They learn that school is for exam practice, not learning.

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There is a serious problem with Hong Kong schools that is not being solved. There are some very good schools and many very poor schools. I have seen both. Many people working for the Education Department (EDB) send their children to private international schools. How can you expect such people to care about government and other public schools. If Education Department employees were required to send their children to government schools, they would be motivated to improve those schools.

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In theory the TSA should find out which schools are good and which are bad. But nothing is done about it. The weaker schools are not reformed or closed. Those students are ignored. The schools' average marks are kept a secret. If parents knew the mark, they might move their children. They might also ignore the TSA, if they had more faith in their school. The problem is that Hong Kong has different qualities of schools for upper and lower class children and the TSA has not done anything to solve the problem.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday. Next issue will be on Jan 26, 2016.

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