NZ minister orders probe into 'impossible' maths exam

Students sit an exam Image copyright AFP
Image caption The examinations authority stands by its maths exam, which has been described as "absolutely absurd"

New Zealand's education minister has ordered an investigation into an examination paper which reportedly reduced students to tears.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 1 maths exam was held on Monday, and is the standard secondary school qualification in New Zealand. However, pupils left the exam complaining that the three papers they had sat were "impossible" and contained concepts that they had not been taught, the New Zealand Herald reports.

The paper reported one student as saying the paper was "incomprehensible in parts", and that "in some cases calculations were impossible given the lack of information. In others, there were questions not covered in the syllabus".

One question which came under particular scrutiny appears to involve quadratic equations, which are not covered until Level 2 in New Zealand; while two others were described as "effectively identical", meaning students would be penalised twice if they didn't know the answer.

Image copyright NZQA
Image caption How's your maths? One question from the contentious exam paper, to which we don't know the answer

Second year running

So far, 22 maths teachers have signed a open letter of complaint to the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), which set the exam.

The letter's author, teacher Jake Wills, told the NZ Herald "For a national exam you would expect better... We want good exams."

It's not the first time this has happened, and Education Minister Chris Hipkins is demanding a full report on the affair.

Last year's NCEA Level 1 maths was also criticised for being too tough, while a level 3 exam contained an error which made one question impossible to answer, Radio New Zealand reports.

However, the NZQA stands by the quality of the papers.

"Students may find some questions in examinations more difficult than others, especially those parts of the question aimed at excellence," NZQA deputy chief executive Kristine Kilkelly said.

But parents aren't pleased with the NZQA response, with Pip Field, whose son sat the exam in Auckland, telling "I know kids from a range of schools around Auckland, and around the country, who are just in pieces."

Image copyright NZQA
Image caption You may lose marks if you do not justify your answer

Reporting by Alistair Coleman

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