for t ≥ 0, along with the initial condition

The differential equation is separable, and parts (i) and (ii) of the question, worth a total of 3 marks, asks to set up the separation and use this to show the solution of the initial value problem is

Part (iii), worth 2 marks, then asks to show that “the graph of

*Q*as a function of t” has no inflection points.** Question 3(b) is contrived and bitsy and hand-holding, but not incoherent or wrong. So, pretty good by VCE standards. Unfortunately, the MAV solution and commentary to this problem is deeply problematic. The first MAV misstep, in (i), is to invert the derivative, giving

prior to separating variables. This is a very weird extra step to include since, not only is the step not required here, it is never required or helpful in solving separable equations. Its appearance here suggests a weak understanding of this standard technique. Worse is to come in (iii). Before considering MAV’s solution, however, it is perhaps worth indicating an approach to (iii) that may be unfamiliar to many teachers and students and, possibly, the assessors. If we are interested in the inflection points of

*Q*,*** then we are interested in the second derivative of

*Q*. The thing to note is we can naturally obtain an expression for Q” directly from the differential equation: we differentiate the equation using the chain rule, giving

Now, the exponential is never zero, and so if we can show Q’ < 1 then we’d have Q” > 0, ruling out inflection points. Such conclusions can sometimes be read off easily from the differential equation, but it does not seem to be the case here. However, an easy differentiation of the expression for

*Q*derived in part (ii) gives

The numerator is clearly smaller than the denominator, proving that Q’ < 1, and we’re done. For a similar but distinct proof, one can use the differential equation to replace the Q’ in the expression for Q”, giving

Again we want to show the second factor is positive, which amounts to showing

*Q*> t. But that is easy to see from the expression for Q above (because the stuff in the log is greater than ), and again we can conclude that

*Q*has no inflection points. One might reasonably consider the details in the above proofs to be overly subtle for many or most VCE students. Nonetheless the approaches are natural, are typically more efficient (and are CAS-free), and any comprehensive solutions to the problem should at least mention the possibility. The MAV solutions make no mention of any such approach, simply making a CAS-driven beeline for Q” as an explicit function of

*t*. Here are the contents of the MAV solution:

Part 1: A restatement of the equation for Q from part (ii), which is then followed by

**.˙.**

Part 2: A screenshot of the CAS input-output used to obtain the conclusion of Part 1.

Part 3: The statement

Solving **.˙. ** gives no solution

Part 4: A screenshot of the CAS input-output used to obtain the conclusion of Part 3.

Part 5: The half-sentence

We can see that for all t,

Part 6: A labelled screenshot of a CAS-produced graph of Q”.

Part 7: The second half of the sentence,

so *Q*(t) has no points of inflection

- Is using CAS to calculate a second derivative on a “show that” exam question acceptable for VCE purposes?
- Can a stated use of CAS to “show” there are no solutions to Q” = 0 suffice for VCE purposes? If not, what is the purpose of Parts 3 and 4 of the MAV solutions?
- Does copying a CAS-produced graph of Q” suffice to “show” that Q” > 0 for VCE purposes?
- If the answers to the above three questions differ, why do they differ?

Note that any reference to CAS producing ‘no solution’ to the second derivative equalling zero would NOT qualify for a mark in this ‘show that’ question. This is not sufficient. A sketch would also be required as would stating for all t.

These definitive-sounding statements are confusing and interesting, not least for their simple existence. Do these statements purport to be bankable pronouncements of VCAA assessors? If not, what is their status? In any case, given that pretty much every exam question demands that students and teachers read inscrutable VCAA tea leaves, why is it solely the solution to question 3(b) that is followed by such statements? The MAV commentary at least makes clear their answer to our second question above: quoting CAS is not sufficient to “show” that Q” = 0 has no solutions. Unfortunately, the commentary raises more questions than it answers:- Parts 3 and 4 are “not sufficient”, but are they worth anything? If so, what are they worth and, in particular, what is the import of the word “also”? If not, then why not simply declare the parts irrelevant, in which case why include those parts in the solutions at all?
- If, as claimed, it is “required” to state (which is indeed the key point of this approach and
*should*be required), then why does the MAV solution not contain any such statement, nor even the factorisation that would naturally precede this statement? - Why is a solution “required” to include a sketch of Q”? If, in particular, a statement such as is “required”, or in any case is included, why would the latter not in and of itself suffice?

*Q*, but VCAA loves them their words. ***) Or, if preferred, the points of inflection of the graph of

*Q*as a function of t.

**Update (26/06/20)**