Don’t Go West, Young Man

No, Burkard’s and my new book has nothing to do with going West. A signed copy of our book is, however, first prize in our new Spot the Exam Error(s) Competition. (Some information on our previous exam competition can be found here.)

We spend a fair amount of our blog time hammering Victoria’s school curriculum authority and their silly exams. Earlier this year, a colleague indicated that there were perhaps similar issues out West. We then had a long email exchange with the semi-anonymous Charlie, who pointed out many issues with the 2017 West Australian Mathematics Applications Exam. (Here is part 1 and part 2. WA’s Applications corresponds to Victoria’s Further Mathematics.)

Following our discussion with Charlie, we sent a short but strong letter to WA’s School Curriculum Standards Authority, criticising one specific question and suggesting our (and some others’) general concerns. Their polite fobbing off indicated that our comments regarding the particular question “will be looked into”. Generally on the exam, they responded: “Feedback from teachers and candidates indicates the examination was well received and that the examination was fair, valid and based on the syllabus.” The reader can make of that what they will.

The Competition

Determine the errors, ambiguities and sillinesses in the 2017 WA Applications Exam, Part 1 and Part 2(Here, also, is the Summary Exam Report. Unfortunately, and ridiculously, the full report and the grading scheme are not made public, and so cannot be part of the competition.)

Post any identified issues in the comments below (anonymously, if you wish). You may post more than once, particularly on different questions, but please don’t edit on the run with post updates and comments to your own posts. You may (politely) comment on and seek to clarify others’ comments.

This post will be updated below, as the issues (or lack thereof) with particular questions are sorted out.

The Rules

  • Entry is of course free (though you could always donate to Tenderfeet).
  • First prize, a signed copy of A Dingo Ate My Math Book, goes to the person who makes the most original and most valuable contributions.
  • Consolation prizes of Burkard’s QED will be awarded as deemed appropriate.
  • Rushed and self-appended contributions will be marked down!
  • This is obviously subjective as all Hell, and Marty’s decision will be final.
  • Charlie, Paul, Burkard, Anthony, Joseph, David and other fellow travellers are ineligible to enter.
  • Employees of SCSA are eligible to enter, since there’s no indication they have any chance of winning.
  • All correspondence will be entered into.

Good Luck!


Well that worked well. Congratulations to Number 8, who wins by default. Details are here. We’ll attempt another competition, of hopefully broader interest, in the near future.

5 Replies to “Don’t Go West, Young Man”

  1. Paper 1 Question 1, some minor nit-picks:

    Ambiguity abounds in this question. For example (there may be more, but I’m moving on to Q2 after writing this):

    1. Is n=1 the first term, or n=0? Different examining bodies have different opinions on this and usually make a statement of some kind (the IBO for example was quite specific about this). Of course, n=0 cannot work, because the “first” term would then not fit on the vertical axis.

    2. “deduce a rule”. I assume they are after tn=8-3(n-1) but it is probably neater to write 11-3n. Are both acceptable, or do students not need to tidy their algebra?

    3. immediately following this in part (ii) the question asks for the first term less than -500. Is this question asking for the term NUMBER, or the TERM? A lot of students would (I assume) solve for the number (then depending on if they realised to round UP) would give 171, but the actual term is -502.

    Three quite ambiguous points in 8 marks worth of questions (8 marks seems a bit excessive, too, compared to some of the mark allocations elsewhere).

    1. Thanks, Number 8. You’re currently in the lead! I won’t comment on your (or any post) until others agree or disagree.

  2. OK. Question 2 seemed quite OK, I’m used to the rows and columns being the other way around here in Victoria, but I was able to look sideways for that one.

    Question 3… yeah…

    A planar graph doesn’t need to be connected (unless I’ve missed something) and a connected graph doesn’t need to be planar. It seems to me that this makes it possible for Q3aii, iii to be answered in a variety of ways that would be correct mathematically but unacceptable to the examiners (but since the report is unavailable, I don’t know how many different answers they were prepared to accept).

    For example, I can think of a planar graph with 5 vertices, 5 faces and 8 edges (the graph is not connected) for which no Hamiltonian cycle exists. The wording of the question however implies that at least one such cycle must exist.

  3. I’m wondering if you are just fussy…or if the Australian math exams are screwed up. When I think of the closest comparable, I know (AP exams in calculus, chemistry, and physics), the exams are usually pretty decent, with a lot of work on the question selection and grading rubrics. And team grading, with the ability to escalate new solutions or problems revealed in the question to a head grader, question writer to adjuticate and issue grading instructions (while grading going on). This isn’t to say they never have a mistake or ambiguity. But they seem rare. And the FRQs are all public (you can look at old ones going back to the 60s).

    So, I wonder if Oz exams are just worse. Use APs as the comparable. Are you too fussy? I’m not fussy enough? Or the Oz exams are crap and worse than comparables?

    P.s. Since 2015ish, College Board has been moving to more “concepty” tricky question stuff and less algorithms. (I disagree with this, but whatever…it’s a side issue in this context.) But I still wonder if you would be critical of classic (say 80s) FRQs. Do you hate everything?

    1. I’m not the one to answer, and I don’t care all that much. I think the Victorian exams are appalling. I think I argue persuasively that the exams are appalling. I don’t see anyone, ever, argue to the contrary. For me, that’s enough. I don’t much care whether exams in other jurisdictions are also appalling.

      As it happens, the little I’ve seen suggest the NSW maths exams are excellent. So, it’s not automatically an Australian thing. A quick look suggests the ap exam questions are clearly written and solid.

      i’m not asking for great art. I’m asking for basic competence.

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