Introduction to HKDSE

The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Examination, or HKDSE, is a public examination for the new academic structure. The new academic structure implemented since 2009. After completing the 3-year senior secondary curriculum (S.4 to S.6), the student may attend the HKDSE. The attained results are essential for applying the 4-year bachelor degree or 2-year sub-degree programmes through JUPAS or E-APP, or choosing other development paths.

Senior secondary subject

The students who intend to take the HKDSE are required to choose the elective subjects at S.3 for their study in S.4 to S.6. Students are required to take the 4 core subjects (so-called compulsory subjects) and maximum 4 elective subjects. However, 2 to 3 elective subjects are recommended to most of the students. The new curriculum has no barrier of traditional arts and science streaming. When choosing the elective subjects, the students should consider individual interest, aptitudes and aspirations. These help the students to have the best performance in the examination and better pathways for future development. To achieve the aims of whole-person development, students are required to participate in Other Learning Experiences (OLE), which can be used as reference when applying the post-secondary programmes.

Subject categories

The subjects of HKDSE are divided into 3 categories:

Category A: Senior secondary subjects

There are 24 category A subjects in HKDSE, including 4 core subjects (Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies) and 20 elective subjects. The elective subjects are categorized into different learning areas, including “Language Education”, “Personal, Social and Humanities Education”, “Science Education”, “Technology Education”, “Arts Education” and “Physical Education”. To know more, please visit: HKDSE - Category A: Senior secondary subjects

Category B: Applied Learning Subjects

Applied learning (or ApL) subjects in HKDSE emphasise candidates’ knowledge, understanding and skills related to the particular industries. The subjects are provided by more than 10 course providers that are approved by the Education Bureau. Each course lasts for 2 years. To know more, please visit: HKDSE - Category B: Applied Learning Subjects

Category C: Other Language Subjects

In 2024 HKDSE or before, the Other Language Subjects in HKDSE include 6 languages: French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish and Urdu. The Cambridge Assessment International Education (Cambridge International) provides the exam papers of the Advanced Subsidiary (AS) level, and also conducts marking and grading. To know more, please visit: HKDSE - Category C: Other Language Subjects

Choices of subjects

Category A includes 4 core subjects in which “Chinese Language”, “English Language”, “Mathematics” Compulsory Part and “Liberal Studies” are the required subjects for entering the local undergraduate programmes. They therefore generally called “compulsory subjects”. The extended part of “Mathematics” is optional. For entering the local sub-degree programmes, only “Chinese Language” and “English Language” are required subjects.

Besides the 4 core subjects, each candidate may choose at most 4 elective subjects from the 20 Category A elective subjects, Category B Applied Learning Subjects of various areas and the Category C Other Language Subjects. However, choosing 2 to 3 elective subjects is the most popular. A candidate can enter maximum 8 subjects in each examination. The Extended Part of Mathematics from Category A, if chosen, will be together with the compulsory part regarded as one subject, but not an extra elective subject. However, many JUPAS programmes consider the Extended Part of Mathematics as an elective subject when calculating the admission score. For those taking 8 subjects, at least one of them must be chosen from the following subjects: (Category A) Ethics and Religious Studies, Music, Physical Education, Visual Arts, all subjects from Category B and all subjects from Category C. The Category B Applied Learning Subjects are 2-year programmes. Candidates may apply to EDB through their schools for, stating from S.5, taking at most 2 Category B subjects. In general, a candidate should not take less than 6 subjects. It is because many JUPAS programmes have the minimum requirement of 4 core subjects plus at least 2 elective subjects. If a candidate takes only 5 subjects, the choices of JUPAS programmes will be greatly reduced.

Levels of results

The results of the subjects in Categories A, B and C have different presentations.

Category A: Senior secondary subjects

The results for Category A subjects are indicated by 5 levels, from the lowest Level 1 to the highest Level 5. Within Level 5, approximate 10% of the top candidates are awarded Level 5**. Approximate 30% of the next top candidates are awarded 5*. The rest 60% are awarded Level 5. However, for “Chinese Language”, “English Language” and “Combined Science”, the cut scores for Level 5** and Level 5* are determined by other systems. The ratio may not be 10% and 30%. The results below Level 1 are “Unclassified” or designated by “U” and are not reported on the certificate. Therefore, there are totally 8 possibilities in the results of Category A subjects, from high to low as: 5**, 5*, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, U.

Category B: Applied Learning Subjects

The results for Category B subjects have 3 possibilities. Their orders from high to low are: “Attained with distinction”, “Attained” and “Unattained”. The unattained results are not reported on the certificate. Effective from 2018 HKDSE, “Attained with distinction” will be refined into “Attained with distinction (I)” and “Attained with distinction (II)”, excluding “Applied Learning Chinese (for non-Chinese speaking students)”.

Category C: Other Language Subjects

The results for Category C subjects are indicated by 5 grades: a, b, c, d, e. Grade a is the highest and grade e is the lowest. The results below grade e are “Ungraded” or designated by U and are not reported on the certificate.

Representation of HKDSE results

The result of a candidate is usually simply represented by a sequence of numbers with a plus sign (+) in between. For example: {{ex[0]}}{{ex[1]}}{{ex[2]}}{{ex[3]}}+{{ex[4]}}{{ex[5]}}

The 4 numbers before the plus sign represent the results of the 4 core subjects respectively in the order of “Chinese Language” (Level {{ex[0]}}), “English Language” (Level {{ex[1]}}), “Mathematics” (Level {{ex[2]}}) and “Liberal Studies” (Level {{ex[3]}}). The numbers however after the plus sign represent the results of elective subjects. The above example indicates the results of 2 electives as Level {{ex[4]}} and Level {{ex[5]}} respectively.

Some of the tertiary programmes (mainly associate degree and higher diploma) specify only Chinese Language and English Language as admission requirement. In this case, there are only 2 numbers before the plus sign. For example: {{ex[0]}}{{ex[1]}}+{{ex[2]}}{{ex[3]}}{{ex[4]}}{{ex[5]}}

The 2 numbers before the plus sign represent the results of Chinese Language and English Language respectively. The numbers after the plus sign represent the results of electives that may include Mathematics or Liberal Studies.

Total grade point

Because each candidate entered for different subjects, in order to indicate the overall result of a candidate, HKEAA adopts a scoring scheme to convert an exam result to a “total grade point”. Higher the value of total grade point, better is the candidate’s result. The maximum total grade point is 35.

First, convert the result of each Category A or B subject to a grade point according to the following table. Each subject may have maximum grade point at 7. The result of Unclassified in Category A subject or Unattained in Category B subject obtains no grade point. And all Category C subjects are not counted.

Category A: Senior secondary subjectsCategory B: Applied Learning SubjectsGrade point
DSE exam in 2017 or beforeDSE exam in 2018 or later
4Attained with distinction (II)4
3Attained with distinctionAttained with distinction (I)3

Then, calculate the total grade point by adding up the grade points of respective subjects. HKEAA in general use two methods to calculate the total grade point.

Method 1

For admission requirement of undergraduate places, add up the grade points of the 4 core subjects and the best one elective, totally 5 subjects. If the candidate sat Extended part of Mathematics, take the better result of either Compulsory or Extended part. Taking {{ex[0]}}{{ex[1]}}{{ex[2]}}{{ex[3]}}+{{ex[4]}}{{ex[5]}} as an example, total grade point is {{gp[0]}}+{{gp[1]}}+{{gp[2]}}+{{gp[3]}}+{{gp[4]>gp[5]?gp[4]:gp[5]}} = {{gp[0]+gp[1]+gp[2]+gp[3]+(gp[4]>gp[5]?gp[4]:gp[5])}}.

Method 2

For admission requirement of associate degree or higher diploma, add up the grade points of Chinese Language and English Language, in addition the best 3 other subjects, also totally 5 subjects. Taking {{ex[0]}}{{ex[1]}}+{{ex[2]}}{{ex[3]}}{{ex[4]}}{{ex[5]}} as an example,total grade point is {{gp[0]}}+{{gp[1]}}+{{gp[2]}}+{{gp[4]}}+{{gp[5]}} = {{gp[0]+gp[1]+gp[2]+gp[4]+gp[5]}}.

The methods of calculating total grade points described above are used by EDB for doing statistics. The tertiary institutions however use their own different methods to calculate the admission scores of their applicants. Moreover, each programmes of each institution may use different formulas to do the calculation. When choosing the programmes, a candidate should fully understand the scoring scheme used by their favourite programmes in order to maximize the chance of success.