I caught this story on the BBC website earlier today. It concerns a mathematics exam which was taken yesterday, and which has apparently turned half of the teenage population suicidal as a result of one of the questions. Here’s the question which has caused all the fuss:
The BBC quotes a pupil:
There was one person in the exam hall who was crying their eyes out during the exam.
Naturally, being 2015, the whole affair warranted numerous tweets and Facebook posts. These showed fairly conclusively that modern pupils’ sense of humour is as bad as their maths skills.
The Beeb quotes another one:
I found the exam bearable at the beginning but then it took a sharp turn to maths that was way too hard.
I can’t remember the numbers, but the one about Hannah’s sweets in particular made me want to cry.
And Georgina (another pupil) is quoted:
The question involving Hannah’s sweets was the most annoying question I have ever seen in a GCSE paper.
I think Edexcel want us to be like Einstein. It’s crazy, and I hope the exam board lower the grade boundaries because most of the people who took that exam did not know what that question meant.
I think it’s fairly obvious that someone somewhere has screwed up if pupils hadn’t effectively been given the answers before they went in. That’s how it works these days, isn’t it? The exam people reckon it was deliberate, but with so many unhappy boys and girls crying to mummy and daddy… well, let’s see who backs down first.
Georgina and her friends might want to consider the kind of questions we used to have to answer when O Levels were still around. Here’s the first one from a maths paper (syllabus 1) from way back (the first question on any paper was always the easiest):
Or this one from syllabus 2:
I passed my maths O Level with questions like this. As I’ve said before, modern kids don’t know they are born.
The question about Hannah and her sweets is funny, because it’s all typically baby-like (as you’d expect of a 21st century exam paper), then you are smacked in the face by a proper equation and asked something in terms modern pupils have most likely never had to deal with (i.e. “show that… etc.”). But what’s even more surprising is the depth of knowledge of probability theory needed to answer it – the key is that you have to multiply probabilities to solve it. I ought to add that if this sort of thing really is being taught to school kids these days, I’ll happily take back some of what I’ve said about exams getting easier.
Like I say, someone somewhere – and we’re talking about Edexcel here – has cocked up. If not now, they will have once enough complaints have been made.