Maths teachers and students at schools all over the state are talking about a new style of HSC exams that will be implemented next year at the end of 2012 – affecting this term’s new year 12. Here are some facts, and why I think the new maths exams are ‘dumbed down’ versions of the old.

Since 2009 the Board of Studies has been in consultation with teachers around NSW to set changes to the way HSC mathematics courses are assessed and examined. The proposed changes have been announced and are ready for full implementation from 2012 onwards. This means class of 2012 (new year 12 students of this year’s term 4) will be the first year to be affected by these new exam structures.

The main changes are set out as below:

- There will be 10 “objective response” questions worth one mark each. Sample question:
Source: Board of Studies

- There will now be six questions, each worth 15 marks. The paper will now be out of a total of 100 marks, to be done over 3 hours.
- Each question will also contain short-answer parts.

Objective response questions are questions with a correct answer – usually in the form of multiple choice, but also can involve asking you to write a specific number in boxes.

- There will be 10 “objective response” questions each worth 1 mark, just like Mathematics 2 unit.
- There will now only be four questions, each worth 15 marks. The paper is now a total of 70 marks.
- Each question will also contain short-answer parts.

- There will be 10 “objective response” questions each worth 1 mark, just like Mathematics 2 unit.
- There will now only be six questions, each worth 15 marks. The paper is now a total of 100 marks.
- Each question will also contain short-answer parts

The following is inferences I’ve made as to the practical implications of these changes, they are my opinions and not based on studies or facts. I invite you to consider my arguments and form your own opinions.

The introduction of 10 marks worth of objective-response (mostly multiple choice) questions can be of benefit to some students. Many maths questions give a clue as to the correct form of the answer – students with a good intuition can often ‘sense’ what the correct answer looks like, and introducing multiple choice questions will benefit such students.

Students who are less careful with their work and often make ‘silly mistakes’ will also benefit from multiple choice questions. Errors that are carried forward are less likely to lose you marks if you’re dealing with multiple choice. However these benefits are limited to the first 10 marks of section 1.

According to background information published by the Board of Studies, they seem to be aiming to do away with the current ‘speed test’ style of the calculus-based exams, hence why they are reducing the total number of marks while allowing the same amount of time for all three exams (Mathematics 2 unit from 120 marks to 100 marks, Extension 1 from 84 marks to 70 marks, and Extension 2 from 120 marks to 100 marks).

This is unfortunate because relaxing the time limit on these exams will make it harder to differentiate the top students from the rest. A student who is familiar with all the topics and has studied hard before their exam will have no problem with the old time requirements, so relaxing the time limit makes the exams unnecessarily easier.

There are a couple of reasons behind these changes, namely:

**A varied format makes things fairer:**the Board has been trying to change the format of maths exams to appeal more fairly to a wider variety of students. By having a more varied format, it can be argued that the exam is now fairer to a wider variety of students.**Cost reduction:**before 2012, the marking centre needed 8 teams of markers to mark a maths exam, now they only need 6 teams (1 for each question) and multiple choice can be marked by computers.**Exams marked out of 100:**the Board argues that since other subjects (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) can be marked out of 100, there should be no reason why maths exams cannot. Making the exams marked out of 100 adds minor conveniences to the marking process.

Matthew Lim is a mathematics tutor at Dux College. Apart from taking several classes at our Parramatta location, he is also involved in course materials design.