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5 Study Tips for the HKDSE Liberal Studies Exam

If you’re looking for tips to help you ace the Liberal Studies exam, you’ve come to the right place. The HKDSE Liberal Studies paper has a reputation for being the most challenging exams secondary school students have to face. According to a guide published by education authorities in 2007, Liberal Studies aims at "broadening students’ knowledge base and enhancing their social awareness through the study of a wide range of issues."

How is the Liberal Studies Exam Scored?

There are 2 papers in the HKDSE Liberal Studies exam.

Paper 1 is comprised of data-based questions. It is a 2-hour exam with a weight of 50% for the total mark.

Paper 2 is made up of extended questions and students will sit for 1 hour 15 mins. Paper 2 holds a weight of 30% for the total mark. The remaining 20% of the total mark is derived from a school Based Assessment.

It’s understandable that students may feel trepidation as the exam date looms closer but preparation is 90% of the battle won and we have some great tips to help you prepare for the challenge. These tips come from the experienced tutor Liu Tin-yan of King’s Glory Education derived from an interview she did with YP.

1. Zero in on your Themes

The HKDSE Liberal Studies curriculum has six main themes. These themes range from local issues to globalism to the environment. Focusing more intently on the most common ones, is a good rule of thumb.

Liu’s offers some crucial advice. "Out of the six modules, three are more likely to emerge than others year after year. If you are short of time, focus on Modern China, Hong Kong Today, and Globalisation thoroughly as these topics appear in the paper again and again. Some students are not comfortable with topics like Modern China and Globalisation, because they think the topics are too complex and too big. But I think a good attitude to have is to study them thoroughly even if you think they’re too difficult."

This doesn’t mean students need not study the remaining three subjects. It simply means they should devote more attention and study these three more in-depth. The markers want to see that students are able to go in-depth on more than just one topic.

Liu suggests that students should "read extensively on current affairs and controversial issues related to the city, such as social and housing problems, social mobility, and quality of life."

2. Pace Yourself

When it comes to writing the HKDSE Liberal Studies exam, remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. The Liberal Studies paper is long and requires mental stamina. Take your time so you don’t burn out in paper 1 and have no energy left to complete (the more challenging) paper 2.

Liu regularly sees that students' answers in paper 1 are full and extensive. Paper 2 is full of long answer questions but because students have poured all their energy into paper 1, they have trouble focusing and writing the full-length answers required for the remainder of the paper.

Lui says, "In paper 2, as a rule of thumb, if the question is worth 10 marks, you should be spending roughly half of your time on each answer. The points are assigned based on how much the marker expects from your answer."

3. Use Mind Maps

It’s important to be able to draw connections between the topics. Liu believes that mind maps are the very best way to achieve this and study the material. Mind maps help give students a clear idea of what the subject is about, as well as its relationships to the other main topics. Local events in the news could have far reaching effects in other parts of the world. A mind map helps students identify these connections and organises larger topics into bite-size pieces. According to mind maps unleashed, "mind mapping increases your creativity and productivity because it's an excellent tool to let you generate more ideas, identify relationships among the different data and information, and effectively improve your memory and retention."

Lui agrees and believes that mind maps help students draw on the correct knowledge, even if they are unsure of the question being asked. An exam question might be to discuss the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption. Even if at first, students feel bamboozled by the question and that they have not studied this material, Liu is confident the mind map used during study sessions can come to the rescue. "If you made a mind-map, even if you are unfamiliar with, for example, the Chinese corruption crackdown, you will at least know two or three things connected to that issue, such as the opening up of the country and changes in government ministries."

4. Spend Time Reading the Questions

A major piece of advice Liu offers, is to spend 2-3 minutes reading the exam questions before deciding which one to answer. Once you’ve chosen your question, take a few more moments to remember your mind map and jot down the relevant concepts and examples that you want to discuss. The more you can remember, the more points you will earn. The marks allocated tells you how much time to spend on a question. The total score of both papers is usually between 44 and 46 marks.

5. Practice on Past Papers

Doing past papers is an excellent way to study and gives students the opportunity to practice writing long form answers and building up sound and balanced arguments with examples and references. It will also teach them not to panic when they see unfamiliar words because new terms are used every year.

You can find past papers here.

We are offering exam prep for DSE, AS & A-Levels, AP and IBDP. For more information on our 2021 all year courses, please call us at +852 2383 0300 or WhatsApp +852 92983538.

** "I was a student at Delia School of Canada and I spent one month studying at ME to prepare for Harrow International School's Entrance requirements. I am so happy because I got into Harrow and in the process, I met awesome teachers at ME who helped me a lot."

Eric Cao


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