Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE)

Last updated
Last verified

Updated July 2016

  • Hong Kong
Education context

Following the implementation of the new academic structure in 2009, Hong Kong provides 12 years of free primary and secondary education – six-year primary; three-year junior secondary; three-year senior secondary education.

The HKDSE is taken at the end of senior secondary education (year 12).


The HKDSE examination comprises three categories of subjects: Category A Senior Secondary (SS) subjects, Category B Applied Learning subjects and Category C Other Language subjects.

Most Secondary Six students take four core subjects (Chinese language, English language, mathematics and liberal studies) and two to three elective subjects from Category A, B or C (core subjects are in Category A).

HKDSE standards are overseen by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA).

Apart from language-related subjects and Chinese history, all subjects can be taken either in English or Chinese – with common examination papers and marking systems across both languages. The language used in the examination is not recorded on the certificate.

Subject areas

There are three categories of subject within the HKDSE.

Category A: Senior Secondary subjects – academic focus.

  • Core subjects common to all: Chinese language, English language, mathematics (in mathematics students may choose the compulsory part only or compulsory plus extended (M1 / M2) which are more advanced), and liberal studies.
  • 20 elective subjects: biology, business, accounting and financial studies, chemistry, Chinese history, Chinese literature, design and applied technology, economics, ethics and religious studies, geography, health management and social care, history, information and communication technology, literature in English, music, physical education, physics, science – integrated science / combined science, technology and living, tourism and hospitality studies, visual arts.

Category B: Applied Learning subjects – strong elements of practical learning linked to broad professional and vocational fields.

  • Applied science
  • Business, management & law
  • Creative studies
  • Engineering & production
  • Media & communication
  • Services

Details about the Applied Learning courses on offer is available at: http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/en/HKDSE/assessment/subject_information/category_b_subjects/

Category C: Other Language subjects – assessed through the GCE AS level exam (CIE).

  • French
  • German
  • Hindi 
  • Japanese
  • Spanish
  • Urdu

Level 3 – acceptable as group qualification satisfying HE general entrance requirements.

For further information on the qualification level you may wish to refer to UK NARIC, which is the UK body responsible for providing comparability of overseas qualifications.


Category A subjects: there are five levels of performance, of which 5 is the highest and 1 the lowest. The grading from levels 1–5 are standards referenced. Within level 5 there are additional grades of 5* and 5**. 5** is awarded to the highest achieving 10% of level 5 candidates, and level 5* to the next highest achieving 30% (approximately) of level 5 candidates.

Category B subjects: ‘Attained’ and ‘Attained with Distinction’ reported on certificate. Standards of 'Attained' are initially determined by course providers and moderated by panels of judges with reference to the performance descriptors of individual subjects. Candidates awarded 'Attained with Distinction' are deemed to have performed at a level comparable to level 3 or above for Category A subjects.

Category C subjects: results reported A–E as for GCE AS and at the same level.


Category A subjects – assessed through combination of externally set and marked examination and school-based assessment (SBA) – HKEAA responsible for grading of all Category A subjects. Reported at levels 1–5**.

HKDSE assessment is standards-referenced. Details about standards-referenced reporting is available at http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/en/hkdse/assessment/the_reporting_system/

The majority of assessment is external – comprising a variety of essay questions, structured questions, short questions, and multiple-choice questions, depending on the subject. Assessment requirements for subjects are available at http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/en/hkdse/assessment/subject_information/

Some HKDSE subjects have an SBA component. All SBA is school-based, coordinated and moderated. This forms a 15–20% typically of the total marks of a subject.

Category B – assessment undertaken by course providers, moderated by HKEAA.

Category C – these are examined through the CIE GCE AS level.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

There is no overall grade for the HKDSE as a whole. For each subject achieved the HKDSE certificate lists both subject level results as well as component level results (if any). SBA is an integral part of Category A subjects, so SBA results are not reported separately.

Moderated SBA results are combined with public examination results to form an overall component level (for Chinese Language, English Language and Combined Science only) or subject level as appropriate. Subject results are reported by level 1–5** (Category A subjects), Attained / Attained with Distinction (Category B subjects), grade a – e (Category C subjects). Mathematics is reported separately for compulsory and extended parts.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

Size is based on the individual subject components.

The curriculum guides indicate that, for English and Chinese language, the recommended lesson time is around 310 to 375 hours.

For mathematics compulsory part, there should be around 250 to 310 hours of lesson time. If the elective module (M1 or M2) is included, the lesson time required would be around 375 hours.

For liberal studies and Category A elective subjects, the recommended lesson time is 250 hours.

UCAS Tariff points

Unknown qualification

Grade Points

Unknown qualification

Grade Points

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Grade Points


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Universities and colleges may wish to make offers based on particular subjects offered within different categories.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Exams taken April / May, results mid – July

Qualification dates notes

First examinations for HKDSE were in 2012. HKDSE replaces the HKCEE and HKALE.

Reporting and certification information

Total no. of candidates who sat the 2015 HKDSE = 72,859

Total no. of Category A subjects sat = 396,505

5** 5* or above 5 or above 4 or above 3 or above 2 or above 1 or above U
1.20% 4.80% 12.00% 33.70% 59.50% 83.30% 95.20% 4.80%
Progression information/access to HE within home country

Universities and colleges offering four-year degrees in Hong Kong admit mainly on the basis of four  core subjects (minimum requirement ‘level 3 in Chinese language; Level 3 in English language; level 2 in mathematics (compulsory part); Level 2 in liberal studies’) plus one to two elective subjects.

Further information

Information about structure/standards etc. of HKDSE: http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/en/hkdse/introduction/

Information on results/statistics: http://www.hkeaa.edu.hk/en/HKDSE/assessment/exam_reports/exam_stat/