Abstract Public examinations are often used as instruments and targets of control in the school system. A belief that assessment can leverage educational change has often led to top-down educational reform strategies. In 1993, the Hong Kong Examinations Authority introduced major changes into its existing Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in English with the intention of bringing about a positive washback effect on classroom teaching. As a result of this change in the examination syllabus, teachers in Hong Kong secondary schools are experiencing and/or implementing changes in their present teaching situations. This paper presents findings of teachers’ perspectives of the examination change in relation to their teaching situations and classroom practices. Classroom observations and interview methods were employed to investigate the relationship between testing and teaching. The paper also identifies areas in which the examination has impact in the teaching context.