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Anger over baffling maths exam

Students were left frustrated by the difficult maths exam. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES


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Even the brightest and best students were left frustrated and confused on Monday after the NCEA Level 1 maths exam gave them little chance of answering questions correctly.

There was fierce backlash from students across the country as they tried to comprehend how something they had studied for could be so difficult, but the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has rejected the criticism.

Exasperated teachers are drafting a letter of complaint after the exam left even their brightest students struggling for answers.

Solway College student Amy Rossiter-Stead sat the exam, and said the whole experience had left her deflated and frustrated.

“Most of us spent study leave actually studying for maths, and then you go into the exam and it’s very deflating when you get questions that you haven’t actually learned how to do, or the style of questions are not the same.

“The whole year of study is wasted really.”

She had flown through her internal assessments with flying colours, but said the way the questions were written in Monday’s exam meant you had to pick them apart to find out what they were actually asking you to do.

Even if you had the knowledge, it was impossible to know what they were asking you to do in some questions, she said.

“I decided to do the geometry paper first, but I opened it up and realised I didn’t know how to do it, so I closed it and went to the tables, equations and graphs paper.

“Both were tricky, but I decided to do the one I thought would be easier, which was geometry . . . it was very, very difficult.”

A lot of what Amy had studied wasn’t in the exam, and some of it was made up of content she had never seen before.

“It feels very unfair, especially when these exams count towards your future,” she said.

“I always try and answer every single question in an exam, but coming out of that one I left at least three or four on each paper blank — there was just nothing I could do to answer them.”

Rathkeale College principal Willy Kersten said the issues were with the geometry paper in particular.

“Teachers share the students’ views in regard to the geometry paper.

“There was no indication of any variation to the same papers encountered by students in the last few years.”

The exam had caught students and teachers by surprise, and one of the school’s top students had commented that the paper was very long and required students to look for a great deal of detail hidden in the context of the questions.

He said it was difficult for students to gain an understanding of what was required, and some questions contained detail that was not required to answer any part of the question which added to the confusion.

“The absence of numbers in many questions was off-putting, and for many questions students needed to have higher level knowledge to start the question.

“Therefore, for many students, especially average students capable of gaining ‘achieved’, did not know where to start.”

NZQA’s deputy chief executive of their assessment division, Kristine Kilkelly, said they were confident in the quality of the examination.

“The Level 1 mathematics examination was set by a team of experienced mathematics teachers, for the right curriculum level, and is consistent with the specifications for the standard.

“Students may find some questions in examinations more difficult than others, especially those parts of the question aimed at excellence.”

She said NZQA provided ongoing communication about examinations through a number of channels including publication of resources about particular standards, which included examples of the types of questions that would be asked.

They also sent emails and circulars to schools, she said.

“This examination was featured in the workshops run by the New Zealand Association of Maths Teachers and supported by NZQA earlier in the year.”

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