Implicit Suggestions

One of the unexpected and rewarding aspects of having started this blog is being contacted out of the blue by students. This included an extended correspondence with one particular VCE student, whom we have never met and of whom we know very little, other than that this year they undertook UMEP mathematics (Melbourne University extension). The student emailed again recently, about the final question on this year’s (calculator-free) Specialist Mathematics Exam 1 (not online). Though perhaps not (but also perhaps yes) a WitCH, the exam question (below), and the student’s comments (belower), seemed worth sharing.

Hi Marty,

Have a peek at Question 10 of Specialist 2019 Exam 1 when you get a chance. It was a 5 mark question, only roughly 2 of which actually assessed relevant Specialist knowledge – the rest was mechanical manipulation of ugly fractions and surds. Whilst I happened to get the right answer, I know of talented others who didn’t.

I saw a comment you made on the blog regarding timing sometime recently, and I couldn’t agree more. I made more stupid mistakes than I would’ve liked on the Specialist exam 2, being under pressure to race against the clock. It seems honestly pathetic to me that VCAA can only seem to differentiate students by time. (Especially when giving 2 1/2 hours for science subjects, with no reason why they can’t do the same for Maths.) It truly seems a pathetic way to assess or distinguish between proper mathematical talent and button-pushing speed writing.

I definitely appreciate the UMEP exams. We have 3 hrs and no CAS! That, coupled with the assignments that expect justification and insight, certainly makes me appreciate maths significantly more than from VCE. My only regret on that note was that I couldn’t do two UMEP subjects 🙂

UPDATE (22/4) The examination report has appeared.


11 Replies to “Implicit Suggestions”

  1. I agree with everything this student has said.

    At least two marks solely for the totally pointless “mechanical manipulation of ugly fractions and surds”. It is true idiocy.

    (And if the student loathes “button-pushing speed writing” at the expense of mathematical talent, I wonder what s/he thought of multiple choice Q4 ….)

  2. I believe this opinion is widely shared, and I would expect the exam setting panel to get this feedback. The “meet the assessors” session early next year could get interesting.

    In general, while this year’s Exam 1 was not difficult, it did seem mis-directed and off-track in many ways.

    1. SRK, I’ve been to a couple MtA sessions, and I have never seen the “assessors” confronted in an appropriate manner about the nonsense that has been inflicted upon students. It has always seemed to me that teachers go to those sessions not to give feedback on the crap, but in order to learn how to cope with the fait accompli crap and, in particular, to learn more about the ritualistic manner of grading exams. I don’t see why you would expect next year to be any different.

      1. The Meet The Assessors session …. What a waste of time. They just deflect and avoid anything ‘interesting’ on the basis of VCAA confidentiality. I’d like to see a complete boycott of Meet the Assessors. It’s the biggest con job of all time, a complete travesty. But there are always suckers who think that they might get a straight and honest answer. You will get told nothing more than what is in the Examiner’s Report (although, admittedly, you will get told in February rather than 8 months later [another disgrace to add to a litany of disgraces]).

        Instead of the farcical Meet the Assessors, the actual marking scheme used for the exams should be made freely available. At the start of Term 1 of the following year.

        By the way, I heard that the “assessors” will be writing all of the MAV VCAA exam solutions this year. Their minimalist and restricted-on-the-basis-of-VCAA-confidentiality approach, together with a steadfast refusal to acknowledge the impact of VCAA exam errors on a solution, will make the freely available on-line solutions even more attractive (I loved how their 2016 Methods Exam 2 solutions, apparently written by a VCAA assessor, completely avoided mentioning that the function in Q4(h) was not a pdf, meaning that their ‘solution’ was completely misleading and complicit with VCAA’s attempted cover-up of this). I know that some of the previous non-assessor writers made a huge effort to make these solutions as educative and thorough as possible, with the presentation of detailed multiple methods of solution and the inclusion of detailed discussions, advice, extensions etc. rather than just giving minimalist VCAA-white-washed answers and pasting useless calculator screenshots (presumably to make the solutions look more impressive).

    2. Indeed. Q5 part(a) could easily have been deleted (it was totally Methods content and completely inappropriate on a Specialist exam) so that it was a stand-alone question worth 3 marks, say. And you could have had a more appropriate Q10 worth 4 marks, say. All of which would leave 3 marks available for an eleventh question (for which there is precedent).

      And the whole linearly dependent vectors thing is really living up (or is that down) to it’s utter pointlessness.

    3. I doubt that Meet the Assessors will get interesting. This is exactly the sort of question that will get deflected. I’ll be very surprised if the Assessors don’t stick to their script and simply deliver an advance preview of the Examiners Report (which will be silent about the idiocy in this question).

  3. I don’t teach Specialist Mathematics, but I assume that the first part of the question involves knowledge of Specialist Mathematics while the second part does not. However, to solve the second part requires that you can solve the first part.

    The point of assessment should be to see what students have learned in their study. Where are they up to? If you want to know whether students can carry out implicit differentiation, by all means ask a question on this. If you want to know whether students can evaluate and manipulate trigonometric functions, by all means ask a question on that too.

    However, in this question, you cannot be properly assessed on whether you can evaluate and manipulate trigonometric functions until you have proved that you understand implicit differentiation.

    This could have been fixed if the first part asked students to show that dy/dx = … and then follow on with the second part, or, as John Friend suggests, omit the second part all together and give the students more time to show their stuff.

  4. As an aside, I would like to point out that, yet again, NESA (NSW Education Standards) have released their 2019 exams within days of them being sat by students:

    And they always release their marking guidelines, in a timely manner.

    And, yet again, it will likely be many months before VCAA releases its exams (using the excuse that there are ‘copyright issues’ that have to be resolved by their ‘legal team’) …. So for those people who think lazy and apathetic are too harsh labels (see my comment at Marty’s Decomposing blog), think again. (And don’t even think that the Examiners Reports will be available before the end of Term 2 next year. Lazy, apathetic, gutless – see Decomposing).

  5. The examiners report for Paper 1 is out (finally!) and mentioned this question. In the “done poorly” at the start of the report it mentions this question but as to what was done poorly? Just one word from the examiners: algebra.


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