One of the movies that didn’t make it into Math Goes to the Movies, appearing just too late, is the 2011 Korean drama, Unbowed. The movie is a legal drama about a mathematics professor and contains almost no mathematics. But mathematics underlies the story, which begins with the professor finding an error in his university’s entrance exam, and with his mathematics department’s reaction: Continue reading “Unbowed”

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.

Witch 108: A Mean Trig

This one, which has been discussed a bit here, comes from the 2023 NHT Methods Exam 2. It is a little strange. There are aspects of the question we like, or at least there are some interesting ideas underlying the question. Nonetheless there is no shortage of crap, and so here we are.

Continue reading “Witch 108: A Mean Trig”

QCAA Shows Some More Class

Not total class, but a ton more class than we’ve ever witnessed from VCAA.

This is a lot of times to write about one multiple choice question, but it is important. A month or so ago we posted a PoSWW on a 2022 Queensland MCQ exam question, for which the accompanying exam report indicated the wrong answer. In a second post last week, we noted that QCAA had updated their exam report, to indicate the correct answer and including a footnote flagging that the correction had been made. QCAA has now gone further. Continue reading “QCAA Shows Some More Class”

The Cost of VCAA’s Dissembling

Last month we posted a PoSWW on a 2022 Queensland MCQ exam question, for which the accompanying exam report indicated the wrong answer. It is depressingly unclear why QCAA had not been previously alerted to the error, but a couple weeks after our PoSWW appeared, QCAA updated their exam report: in the amended report QCAA indicates the correct answer (p 27), and they also indicate in a footnote that the correction had been made.

For QCAA to have done this was professional and classy. It was also important. The uncorrected report invited, effectively demanded, a mathematical misconception (on inflection points); by correcting the report, QCAA ensured that their exam-report could no longer be relied upon as an authority for this misconception.

In Victoria, it’s different. Continue reading “The Cost of VCAA’s Dissembling”

VCAA’s Greater Literary Offenses

The difficulty of critiquing VCAA mathematics exams is capturing the variety and the frequency and the depth of the flaws, and then summing the overall effect, the fundamentally impoverished approach to mathematics and its testing. Documenting straight out errors is not overly difficult, and even non sequitur questions are manageable: the error or weirdness typically speaks for itself. Capturing the ubiquitous awfulness of the writing, and the intrinsic meaninglessness of many of the questions, however, is harder. Continue reading “VCAA’s Greater Literary Offenses”