Comparing Mainland China's Gaokao English and Hong Kong's DSE English

As a high school student in mainland China, I have recently studied the structure and requirements of the Gaokao English exam and Hong Kong's DSE English exam. Here, I will compare these two important English exams.

Exam Structure

Gaokao English: 

Listening: Tests students' ability to understand spoken English materials.

Reading Comprehension: Requires students to read passages and answer related questions, assessing their reading comprehension skills.

Cloze Test: Students select the correct words or phrases to fill in blanks based on the passage, testing grammar and vocabulary.

Writing: Students write a short essay based on a topic, evaluating their writing ability.

Hong Kong DSE English:

Reading: Assesses students' ability to comprehend and interpret written texts.

Writing: Divided into two parts:

Part A: Requires writing a short piece, possibly involving error correction.

Part B: Students choose one of eight topics and write an extended piece of about 400 words.

Listening and Integrated Skills: Tests listening comprehension and integrating information from various sources.

Speaking: Assesses oral proficiency through group discussions and individual presentations.

Key Differences and Similarities

Writing Section:

Both exams include practical writing tasks such as letters or emails. For example, Gaokao might ask for a suggestion letter, while DSE might require an invitation letter.

The HKDSE writing section offers eight topics, allowing students to showcase different writing styles and knowledge. Gaokao, on the other hand, has only one mandatory writing task.

Language of Instructions:

Gaokao's writing prompts and instructions are in Chinese, whereas all parts of the DSE are in English. This means that HKDSE demands a higher level of English proficiency to understand the exam requirements.

Error Correction:

Gaokao includes a "short passage error correction" section, which accounts for 10% of the writing score. This section requires students to identify and correct grammatical, spelling, and structural errors. HKDSE has no dedicated error correction section but may include similar tasks in the reading section.

Word Count:

Gaokao typically requires a short essay of about 100 words, while HKDSE requires around 400 words for the extended writing task. This indicates a higher expectation for detailed and well-developed responses in HKDSE.


Examination Environment and Trends

Listening Section:

Recently, Gaokao's listening section has become more realistic, including various accents and background noises, which helps improve students' practical listening skills.



While the HKDSE English exam appears more challenging regarding word count and the complexity of writing tasks, Gaokao English is also progressively raising its standards, particularly in the listening section. Both exams aim to equip students with practical English skills, though they cater to different educational contexts and expectations. Understanding students' distinct structures and requirements is crucial for adequate preparation and success for students considering these exams.