'Impossible' math exam made school students cry

Can you do the math?

A New Zealand maths exam for high school students has been criticised as “impossible” with even the best students left in disbelief and in tears at the difficulty of the questions.

Recently New Zealand year 11 students sat the math exams, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has since received a number of complaints regarding the unreasonable difficulty of the paper. Some NCEA students were reduced to tears, and others were said to have had their confidence shattered by the "far too difficult" examination.

The NZQA mathematics test was a “disaster for the second year in a row”, prompting the country’s education minister, Chris Hipkins, to ask for a “full report on the matter”.

“We are trying to enable these kids to do well and you set an exam like this and they come out deflated, it is not giving them much hope for next year, or for maths in general,” said Logan Park high school math teacher Amanda Fraser, who is also president of the Otago Mathematics Association.

“I think the exam was off, it was too difficult. I am concerned about the impact it has had on the self-esteem of students. We are are already fighting an uphill battle because there is a stigma around mathematics and this is definitely not helping break down the barriers students have.”

Several teachers said the test included questions not covered in the syllabus and longwinded instructions.

One question from the contentious exam paper.

“In total, out of about probably over 15 questions, I answered probably two or three like a lot of other people I talked to after. I also know a lot of people just left the paper completely blank,” a student who took the test told New Zealand Herald.

Fraser said the geometric reasoning section of the exam was the main stumbling block for average and talented students alike, and she and other maths teachers struggled to work out some of the questions for a test designed for a 15-year-old child.

One student who studied for weeks in preparation for the exam said she was thrown by the difficulty of some of the questions, which tested skills she hadn’t been taught.

“Both my parents are scientists so I have always been interested in mathematics and always almost assumed I’d go into it. It is an important subject for me,” she said.

“I struggled in the geometric reasoning section but I thought it was because I hadn’t prepared enough. A friend of mine was quite shocked, she said, ‘They have never asked us to do this sort of maths in any of the practises we’ve done – what happened here?’”

One of the tasks from the exam and it's solution is shown in the video below: 

However, the deputy chief executive of the assessment division of NZQA, Kristine Kilkelly, said she believed the test was in line with the national curriculum.

“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.”

An open letter from teachers raising concerns about the exam is being sent to NZQA and the ministry of education.

Here is a section of the test paper released by the NZQA and uploaded on Scribd by stuffnewsroom.

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