Quick Notes on the Herald Sun’s Exam Errors Article

There is report today in The Herald Sun (Murdoch, paywalled), titled,

Mistake-riddled VCE maths exams robbing students

Regular readers will know pretty much the lay of the land. However, there may be some non-regular readers in the next few days. So, a few clarifying remarks are probably worthwhile. (This is quick: I’ll adjust as I can through the day.)

First of all, without reflecting at all on the accuracy or the merits of the report, I want to make clear that I had no role in the creation of the report. 

Secondly, at one point the report makes quick reference to this blog:

A Bad Mathematics blog run by a professional mathematician with a PhD in maths has identified more than 90 serious problems with specialist maths exams and 77 in maths methods, including sample exams and Northern Hemisphere exams going back to 2006.

More specifically, this appears to refer to the Specialist and Methods (and there’s also Further) error list posts (and the subsequent links included there). The report refers to “serious errors”. Without rejecting that language, the language I use on these posts is of “major” and “minor” errors:

To be as clear as possible, by “error”, we mean a definite mistake, something more directly wrong than pointlessness or poor wording or stupid modelling. The mistake can be intrinsic to the question, or in the solution as indicated in the examination report; examples of the latter could include an insufficient or incomplete solution, or a solution that goes beyond the curriculum. Minor errors are still errors and will be listed.

With each error, we shall also indicate whether the error is (in our opinion) major or minor, and we’ll indicate whether the examination report acknowledges the error, updating as appropriate. Of course there will be judgment calls, and we’re the boss. But, we’ll happily argue the tosses in the comments.

In recording and characterising such errors, I have made no attempt to determine or guess the effect of such errors on students’ scores. That seems to me to be a very difficult thing to do, for anyone.

Thirdly the report refers specifically to three questions in error on the 2022 Specialist Exam 2. That exam is discussed generally here. (The other 2022 exams are discussed here and here and here and here and here.) The specific questions are discussed here and here and here. These three questions (and others on the 2022 exams) appear to me to be unquestionably in error.

Fourthly, and finally for now, for me the prevalence of errors on the VCE exams is simply the tip of the iceberg. The many posts on this blog concerning VCE and VCAA indicate my more general concerns with VCE mathematics. (My broader maths ed concerns are probably best captured by this post.)

That’s it for now. I’ll update this post if something occurs to me, or if someone suggests in the comments that I somehow should.

10 Replies to “Quick Notes on the Herald Sun’s Exam Errors Article”

  1. I have just discovered your blog due to this HS article. I am very excited to read your work. This issue with Mathematica is compelling. We do not use it here, nor can I currently envisage how it can be used in examination contexts! I look forward to getting up to speed with the intelligent critiques and evaluations you are presenting.



    1. Thanks, Ritch. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “this issue” with Mathematica; I have various issues, but Mathematica hasn’t been something I’ve pondered or written on much. If you word search for “Mathematica”, I imagine posts of interest will be listed.

  2. “This post” = the one we are reading right now?

    The one about the broader mathematical education concerns [the ones that don’t come up in VCE Maths and/or through the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority]?

    [or was “This post” meant to point to another post about more general mathematical concerns? The ones that come up before and after/instead of VCE].

    1. Sorry for the confusion. “This post” with a link refers to the linked post. “This post” without a link either refers to the post to we are reading now, or to the post to which I forgot to link. It’s a great system.

  3. For all their preference for simplicity and plain speaking, Strunk and Gowers might like to see an apostrophe in the heading (“Herald Sun’s”). It may also protect you slightly from those looking for irrelevant nits to pick.

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