Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

University of Sussex

Master of Arts
United Kingdom

Exam & Academic Ability

                        Upon becoming home-schooled when I was eight, I stopped taking any formal academic assessments or exams. Exams are not a part of my educational curriculum. Conversely, the conventional educational system of Hong Kong is an exam-based mode of academic learning and assessment. Here I shall share some of my perspectives on these two educational approaches through comparing and analyzing them. Then I shall offer my opinions on what makes a good education.

                        An obvious result of an exam-oriented approach is that learning is highly geared toward excelling at exams. Local schools are mainly judged and ranked by its students’ scores in public exams. Students and parents alike often go to great lengths to get admitted by schools with good reputations. Even when moving towards university, places and scholarships are principally awarded based on exam results. Simply put, one’s academic excellence is entirely dependent on exams.

                        For schools, they must maintain hectic teaching schedules to ensure their students’ exam success. However, the learning process mostly focuses on memorizing information relevant to exam questions. In addition to school hours, many students also attend private tuition centers on a daily basis. These offer students various practical skills, strategies, and tips for exams.

                        When preparing for exams, students here rely on several things. One of them is their teachers' “golden notes”, which students use to memorize important points. They consult past exam papers and model questions with answers, as well as take mock exams and exercise drills. This process is repeatedly done as students confront successive layers of both school and public exams.

                        However, students may only have a vague understanding of the concepts involved in the questions. Studying is no longer about obtaining meaningful knowledge or insights, and students face great pressure throughout their entire school life in their quest to obtain good scores.

                        Under these conditions, exams cannot realistically reflect one’s academic capabilities. Underscoring this is a statement that economist Steven Cheung Ng-Sheong once made in a Chinese article. He wrote that if he was to take the SAT writing test, he would get zero points even though his English proficiency was considerable.

                        For me, I am no longer part of this exam-oriented system. My education does not have any exams, tests, or even homework. Instead, it places emphasis on a communication-based assessment, through both writings and oral presentations. Logical and accurate presentation of a subject always requires a thorough understanding of the involved concepts.

                        Accordingly, I gave oral presentations to explain the concepts and theories that I had learned in my science textbooks. Each presentation lasted for two hours on average, and my presentations tools only consisted of a whiteboard and a few markers. I also wrote Commentary essays about science-related books that I have read and Original writings that express my own ideas on a specific topic. Each essay would also be followed by an oral presentation.

                        Certainly the ultimate main goal in the conventional education curriculum is to get the maximum score in the exam systems. But in the process, students literally become – as often criticized – exam robots. In contrast, my study approach places emphasis on enjoying studies of the highest quality and quantity through learning. This makes learning a much happier experience.

                        In preparing for exams, students are highly pressured to learn technical exam skills, techniques and strategies for answering questions. They also devote considerable effort in familiarizing themselves with various question formats, from multiple-choices to reading comprehensions. In comparison, my studies are based on relatively straightforward approaches, namely to obtain, understand, and communicate knowledge. The purpose of studying itself is purely a pursuit of knowledge and insights.

                        When actually answering exam questions, students mainly give standard answers with the right keywords. Conversely, my parents always encouraged me to ask questions and think from multiple angles in order to get the best possible answers.

                        Finally, students under the conventional education system inevitably sacrifice most minor subjects at some point. By doing so, they can focus on improving their performance in exams for major subjects. Yet throughout the years, my whole home-schooled curriculum has steadily maintained a broad yet in-depth study approach with various interesting subjects.

                        Having said that, I do not think it is fair or appropriate to condemn the role of exam-oriented methods. For certain, they have their share of benefits as well. The question perhaps lies on how these methods are applied, and to what extent.

                        Apparently, the approaches both geared toward and away from exams are quite different. But what exactly makes a good, effective education?

                        I believe education must provide enlightenment, inspiration, confidence to one’s action and promote independent thinking. Plus, pursuit of knowledge is most effective only when driven by personal motivation, rather than by perceived practical need. Possessing any body of knowledge without clearly understanding them shall offer no wisdom, logical sense, or creativity. Most importantly, one must understand that lifelong learning is the best education.



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