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NZ Herald Focus host Tristram Clayton attempts the NCEA maths exam that left students in tears

NZ Herald Focus host and broadcaster Tristram Clayton attempts the controversial NZQA paper, but is left broken just as many students were.

Thousands of Year 11 students were devastated by the maths exam that they and their teachers said was 'too hard' but there will be no re-sit as early indications are that pupils have responded to the questions "as expected".

The NZ Qualifications Authority has come under fire for a tough MCAT (maths common assessment task) level one algebra paper, which was sat by thousands of Year 11 pupils last week.

The exam required the first-year seniors to apply algebraic procedures in solving problems and is worth four credits. At least one problem must be answered correctly to get an achieved pass grade.

Maths teachers are set to lay official complaints with the exam authority saying the paper was far too difficult and did not represent what students had been taught. One upset teacher says he feels he owes his classes an apology for not covering work in the paper.

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School pupils from across New Zealand have described their dismay after struggling to answer a single question necessary for a pass mark. They have revealed many walked out of exam rooms with papers incomplete and certain of failure.

An NZQA spokeswoman said there had been "quite a few comments" from maths teachers about the difficult paper.

The benchmarking process for the exam is due to finish this week as scheduled, then schools will be advised on the release of the first marking schedule.

"This benchmarking exercise has involved checking around 1000 student booklets to see how they answered the questions," she said. "If we had found, for example, that a question was more difficult for students than expected, the marking schedule could and would be adjusted. This is a standard quality-assurance process for all NCEA examinations and is one of the ways we ensure all student work is marked fairly and in line with previous years, and that no student is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.

"There are no plans in place to initiate a reassessment exercise and early indications from the benchmarking exercise indicate that students have responded as expected to the questions."

Student Jayden Lal said just a fraction of questions he was expecting were in the paper, and despite long hours of study he walked out devastated.

"I studied for days over a long weekend for my math exam and I went into class to get help from my teacher. My teacher let me know what types of questions will most definitely be in the exam and 10 per cent of the questions she told me would be in it were. I left the exam broken and I felt like crap."

Brooke Valkenborg said the entire paper was like reading a different language.

"I know I failed, there was nothing in the book I knew. It was like learning Japanese but being given a test in French..."

Onehunga High School student Joshua D'Silva said: "As a 16-year-old I walked into my first ever external examination and sat there hopeless for a whole hour as the MCAT was way too difficult for me. I was completely unprepared for it."

Pupil Esther Tomkinson said even though she was in an advanced class she could not stress how difficult and unfair the exam was.

"I have practised previous years' examinations and found them easy, even on a practise exam we did in class I got excellence but when I walked out of that exam I was scared I would fail. It may just seem like a fail, but if I don't pass I can't get into the right class for me next year, it's all based off this exam, which was horrible."

Kingsway School pupil Nathan Hatch said he "pretty much knew that I hadn't done well".

He said despite studying from various sources of mock tests to make sure he had a general idea of what to expect in the test he was disappointed to find himself in the situation where the problems and equations had not been covered in class.

Frustrated pupils said that despite getting extra tutoring outside class time it was likely to make no difference.

"I have been having extra tutoring weekly on what we were being taught in class so came away feeling like I was going to fail," one pupil wrote.

Te Arahi Fletcher said the whole exam was far too difficult.

"My peers and our teachers worked incredibly hard to do well in this exam and it was incredibly unfair to be blindsided by such a difficult paper. NZQA has made a mistake."

Even maths teacher Jono Batchelar said the exam "sucked" and he felt the need to apologise to his class for not fully preparing them for the shocking exam.

"This exam sucked," he posted on Facebook.

"I read through it as they were sitting it and my heart sank. Standing outside the exam hall and watching my students leave with a look of shock and despair (even my top students) on their faces was pretty heart-breaking.

"I feel like I need to apologise to my class for not preparing them fully. But then based on the curriculum, resources available, and previous exams being used as a yard stick - I did prepare them, so on the other hand I have nothing to apologise for."

MathsNZ's Jake Wills said questions in the exam bore a striking resemblance to questions from standards measuring a higher level.

The Kapiti College maths teacher said any potential scaling would not help the scores of stunned pupils who left their answer booklets blank when they couldn't answer the first set of difficult questions.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said if a significant problem with the exam was confirmed a re-sit could be needed.

"NZQA need to be really, really careful now because the impact on kids' mental health of mistakes like this are huge.

"Clearly NZQA have got some real questions to answer. I think at the very least NZQA needs to investigate the situation and then, ultimately, if it is found that the exam was too hard, then they do need to give kids a second opportunity."

Hipkins said he was concerned about the amount of pressure students were being put under.

"Exams have now become incredibly high stakes for kids. They were always reasonably high stakes, but it seems to have become even more so."

- NZ Herald

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