The national exam board has today revealed how it will mark the controversial NCEA maths exam which left some students in tears.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), which set the Year 11 NCEA Level One exam, has provided a marking schedule for schools to advise them on how to grade the test.

It follows uproar from students and teachers alike, and complaints to the authority from schools and principals' associations, over the level of difficulty of the exam and the types of questions that were asked.

Some pupils reportedly broke down in tears during the Maths Common Assessment Task (MCat), with many failing to note down any answers or workings out for some of the most difficult tasks in their "shock" at the questions.


Students sat the MCat on Tuesday and Thursday last week. The exam required the first-year seniors to apply algebraic procedures in solving problems, and was worth four credits.

Many had hoped for the opportunity to re-sit the exam, or that marking would take into consideration the difficulty - which some put at two curriculum levels too high.

Today, the NZQA told the Herald it had issued a marking schedule for the two exams to schools yesterday afternoon, and it would follow "our usual procedures".

"NZQA conducts a benchmarking process for all externally assessed standards prior to the commencement of marking.

"This involves testing the draft schedule with approximately 1000 actual student papers to ensure the schedule provides appropriate consideration of all possible responses from students.

"It would be unusual for a schedule not to be amended through this process as students always provide a wider range of appropriate responses than are covered in the draft schedule. The extent of the adjustments to the schedules for the 2016 MCats is consistent with previous years."

The schedule was provided to teachers yesterday "once we were satisfied they reflected the requirements of the standard and would allow teachers to mark their students' work fairly", a NZQA spokeswoman said.

Many have slammed the paper for risking turning students off maths and adding more anxiety and pressure to already stressed teenagers preparing for their upcoming exams.


Some schools, such as Long Bay College on Auckland's North Shore, have already moved to reassure parents and pupils that last week's MCat results will not be used to determine the subjects students sit next year.

"We will ignore the MCat for 2017 pre-requisites and use other assessments and our knowledge of the students," Long Bay College principal Russell Brooke said in a weekly newsletter to parents, issued today.

Speaking to the Herald, Brooke said: "The kids are pretty stressed, and we've had some kids and parents come up to us and say, 'hey, what are you going to do?', and so we're saying, 'don't worry about it, we've got plenty of other information and we can sort it out, don't stress about it'."

The school is one of many planning to lodge a complaint with NZQA over the test.

Brooke expected the marking schedule to "effectively scale everyone up", but said the problem was many students left pages blank because they were "shocked by it [the exam]".

"Because of the nature of the paper, it was very difficult for the children to engage with the questions, so there will be a lot of children throughout New Zealand that have got very little down there. And you can't scale nothing."

NZQA had indicated some changes to the exam earlier this year, he said, but "hadn't said anything about the depth that was going to be required, and that's what's caught everyone by surprise".

The exam body came under fire for setting questions that were too difficult for a Level One test, and types of equations that had not been seen in past papers. However, yesterday two university professors claimed the questions were suitable for the year group, and said students would only have found it difficult it their teachers had not prepared them for those types of equations.

NZQA has today also provided information on how it developed the exam - a process which started 12 months ago.

Exam papers are developed by a writing team made up of experienced teachers who are currently teaching at the relevant level, it said.

"Writers develop papers at the appropriate curriculum level, which enable assessment of knowledge and skills aligned with the standards they are assessing.

"The writing team revises initial drafts as needed, based on reports and feedback from the previous year's examinations.

"Subsequent drafts of the papers are thoroughly checked by teachers who are currently teaching at the relevant level. They also provide sample responses that they would expect from their students in order to 'test' the questions, and further professional feedback in the form of a report.

"Subject matter experts examine all aspects of examination materials from a technical point of view to ensure it is technically correct.

"All examination material is revised along the way, as needed, in light of the feedback from these checks and reviews."