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Smarter than a 16-year-old? The maths question that baffled students

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 24 Nov 2019, 12:33PM
The question has baffled teachers and students alike. (Photo / NZ Herald)
The question has baffled teachers and students alike. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Smarter than a 16-year-old? The maths question that baffled students

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 24 Nov 2019, 12:33PM

Puzzled by polynomials? Confused by calculus? Then this test could make you break out in a cold sweat.

Students and teachers alike say they were left baffled by the NCEA level two maths exam - with some pupils giving up and walking out of Thursday's exam after 45 minutes.

These five questions are from the exam - how many can you answer correctly?

The stumped many Year 12 students with the algebra and calculus papers decried for being far more difficult than previous years.

Two Southland students have set up a Facebook event to "get all Level 2 maths students to storm NZQA headquarters" - the head office of the NZ Qualifications Authority, which set the exam.

A Napier Boys High student told the Herald the algebra paper was "cryptic".

"Before you can apply the skills you've studied and been taught you have to first figure out what the question is actually asking you, so you can decide what skills to apply.

"In many of the questions I couldn't get past the first step of understanding the question, even though I probably had the skills to complete the question if it was asked more simply."

However not all students found the exam so difficult. One Year 11 said she sat the papers and while they weren't easy, the content was not new.

Calculus was "run of the mill, nothing new from previous years", she said.

"The Algebra exam was more difficult, with a format resembling Level 3 papers. Although, unfamiliar questions must be asked in unfamiliar ways, to truly measure students' ability to manipulate and solve algebraic expressions.

"It is not use asking the same format questions every year, which can all be solved in the same way. This teaches rote memorisation of techniques over using logical thinking and good problem solving skills."

But an Auckland maths teacher argued questions should be consistent from year to year. She taught students who spoke English as a second language.

"I teach them to recognise words to guide them how to attack a question. Well this paper did not allow them to exhibit their mathematical prowess."

QUESTION 1

Question 1(b) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

Question 1(b) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

QUESTION 2

Question 1(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Algebra exam.

Question 1(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Algebra exam.

QUESTION 3

Question 2(e) of the NCEA Level 2 Algebra exam.

Question 2(e) of the NCEA Level 2 Algebra exam.

QUESTION 4

Question 3(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

Question 3(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

QUESTION 5

Question 1(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

Question 1(c) of the NCEA Level 2 Calculus exam.

It's not the first time students have complained about the level of the exam. In 2017 students were left in tears by a Level 1 exam that reportedly required Level 2 knowledge.

NZQA deputy chief executive Kristine Kilkelly said the agency had received three complaints about the exam out of only five complaints across 59 exams so far.

Initial feedback from the marking panel was that "students were able to respond to the questions, but students may have felt the questions were more difficult at the Excellence level".

"NZQA's marking processes are designed to make adjustments and ensure results are comparable from year to year. This includes taking into consideration any variation in difficulty from one year to the next to ensure students are not disadvantaged," she said.

The authority had found an error in the design of Question 2d of the algebra paper - but it would not have stopped students attempting the question.

"To identify the error, students would have had to complete working which markers will be able to consider. Those workings will have demonstrated excellence to the markers, so we do not expect any students will be disadvantaged.

 

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