Maths questions that made students cry

The maths question so hard it made students cry.
The maths question so hard it made students cry.

A QUESTION in an end of year exams in New Zealand was so hard it left some students crying in frustration.

The exam has sparked an open letter by maths teachers to the NZ Qualifications Authority complaining that the exam was too hard for Level 1 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Level 1[Year 10] maths students would have had to know the formula for quadratic equations to answer one of the questions in yesterday's exam - a formula that maths teachers say is not taught until Level 2 [Year 11].

The New Zealand Herald has been inundated with complaints - but NZQA is standing by the test.

Deputy chief executive Kristine Kilkelly said the authority was still "confident in the quality of the Level 1 Mathematics examination".

However, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has ordered a full report on the maths exam, saying no-one wants to see students and their families upset, believing that the exams were "unfair".

One question provided a diagram of a rope swing in the shape of a parabolic curve and asked students to calculate the distance between the holes in the seat of the swing, given other key measurements.

The question that reduced students to tears.
The question that reduced students to tears.

Kāpiti College head of maths Jake Wills said Level 1 students should know how to answer the question when the values involved could be "factorised", or broken into numbers that produced the values when multiplied together. But in this case there was no simple factorisation so students would have had to know the formula.

"That should be at Level 2," he said.

Another teacher commented that the question effectively asked students to ignore everything they knew about how swings work, noting that the seat would pull the rope into a U-shape rather than a parabola.

In another part of the exam, students were given a graph showing how many males and females from various age groups were charged with reckless driving and were asked: "How many more times more likely was it that, chosen at random, a vehicle driver who was charged with reckless driving would be a male rather than a female?"

Students were angry about the exam questions.
Students were angry about the exam questions.

The answer simply required dividing the total of all males by the total of all females, but Wills said it tested a concept of "relative risk" which was part of the curriculum for Level 2, not Level 1.

On the other hand, he said Level 1 students at "excellence" level should have been able to answer a geometry question asking students to calculate the size of an angle of a kite inside a square.

"It's a difficult question that a number of students would have had difficulty with," he said.

They would have had to choose either a numerical value or an algebraic term such as "a" for the side of the square, then express the answer as a multiple of that value.

"That is the sort of thinking we want students to demonstrate with excellence, joining those ideas in different sorts of ways," Wills said.

Topics:  editors picks maths

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