This study examines the range of cognitive processes assessed in the English language reading literacy test as part of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE), the secondary school exit test in Hong Kong. Prior studies have suggested that higher order cognitive processes are often undermined in high-stakes tests and classrooms, due to what is called the “washback effect.” This prompts the following hypothesis: despite its top-performing education system, Hong Kong has failed to provide a versatile collection of test items that involve complex reasoning. To investigate the cognitive demands of the test, as well as their relationship with student performance, this study maps the test items with reference to the cognitive levels assessed using in-depth document analysis. ANOVA is used to statistically determine differences in accuracy rates to supplement the analysis throughout. Results indicate that the test has placed an overwhelming emphasis on lower order cognitive processes over the past decade (2012–2019) and that items assessing higher order cognitive skills are, as expected, met with statistically significantly poorer performance in the test. Implications for future revision of the test and curriculum policy are discussed. Copyright © 2022 Springer.