Some top maths students have been reduced to tears by questions in a Level 1 maths exam which teachers say required Level 2 knowledge.

The Herald has been inundated with complaints from students, parents and teachers after reporting this morning that maths teachers are organising an open letter to the NZ Qualifications Authority complaining about the three maths papers, which students sat yesterday.

One mother said her daughter was "a top maths student at a top private girls school" but now wanted to drop maths because she felt she had failed the exam.

"She is in Year 10 doing NCEA maths this year and said Year 11 girls were crying in the exam," the mother said.

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Evie Yeo, a 15-year-old Year 11 student at Middleton Grange School in Christchurch, sat a Level 2 internal maths exam as well and said it was easier than the Level 1 papers.

"All of my maths internals I have been getting excellence for them," she said.

"But I felt really discouraged, I felt the work that I'd done this year hadn't paid off."

She said students who sat the Level 1 exam were confused.

"As soon as we got out we were just bursting out complaining, it was so hard."

The exam comprised three papers which students were expected to do in one hour each during the three-hour exam, but Evie said there were far too many questions.

"You have to be doing an average of completing one page in five minutes, and there's no way this can be achievable," she said. "We need time to figure out what to do but it felt like the whole time I was rushing."

A student who said he was "an all excellence student with a 100 per cent grade point average for all subjects" described the exam as "incomprehensible in parts".

Students who sat NCEA Level 1 maths papers yesterday said they had not been taught the material. Photo / File
Students who sat NCEA Level 1 maths papers yesterday said they had not been taught the material. Photo / File

"In some cases calculations were impossible given the lack of information. In others, there were questions not covered in the syllabus," he wrote.

A Year 11 student at Carmel College in Auckland wrote that none of the work that she had prepared for was in the exam.

"I just wanted to walk out because I had never felt so unprepared for an exam."

Another Auckland Year 11 student, Lydia Finch, said she had not been taught what was in the graphs paper.

"Most people I have spoken to said they found it really hard and left many questions blank and others handed in an empty booklet."

Another 15-year-old said the exam was "basically impossible".

"The amount of stress these exams put on people around me including myself isn't what young teenagers should be going through at this point in their lives," she wrote.

Maths teacher Jake Wills, who is collecting comments from other maths teachers in an open letter to NZQA, said some of the questions were at Level 2 level, not Level 1.

"It's not super-major. It's not like the issues we had last year where one of the questions was impossible, but for a national exam you would expect better," he said.

The letter has been signed so far by 22 maths teachers, most of whom Wills said were heads of maths departments. Four others have said they will sign it once a final version is agreed.

Wills has asked teachers for comments by November 27 and said he would then finalise a letter to go to NZQA on December 1.

"The idea behind this is not to bash NZQA," he said. "We want good exams."

However, NZQA deputy chief executive Kristine Kilkelly said the authority was still "confident in the quality of the Level 1 Mathematics examination".

"All NCEA assessments are aligned to the standard and the NZ Curriculum," she said.

"The Level 1 Mathematics examination was set by a team of experienced mathematics teachers, for the right curriculum level and is consistent with the specifications for the standard.

"Students may find some questions in examinations more difficult than others, especially those parts of the question aimed at excellence. Parts of the examination will be challenging, but students often do better than they expect."