Changes to HSC Maths in 2012

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:

Mathematics (2 unit)

  1. There will be 10 “objective response” questions worth one mark each. Sample question:


    Source: Board of Studies

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. Each question will also contain short-answer parts.

Mathematics Extension 1

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

Mathematics Extension 2

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

What could this mean for students?

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.

Intuition will be rewarded

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.

Silly mistakes are less severely punished

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.

More time for less marks

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.

Reasons behind the change

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

About the author

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.

HSC Exams less than 2 weeks away

With less than two weeks left till the first day of HSC exams 2011, how are you spending these last moments preparing for the big exams? Are you racked with nerves or taking it easy? Do you have a clear plan on how long to study for each subject? Are you worried about being unprepared for any particular subject?

Here are some tips for how to make the most of the last couple of days studying before your big exams.

In what order do I study for my subjects?

Look at your exam timetable and work out which exams come first and so on. The 2011 HSC timetable is available here. Generally, it’s advised that you study for your last exam first, and your first exam last, that way you are studying for your first exam till the very last day before the first exam.

For example, for most people, English paper 1 and paper 2 will be their first exams. This means you should leave studying English till last, so that the content will be freshest in your mind just before 18th October when you sit paper 1, and the following day when you sit paper 2. For most people, there will be several days in between your next exam after English, so you can use these days to revisit the subject to be examined next. Don’t rest too much after each exam! The clock is ticking fast to your next one.

English – a tip for everyone

In paper 1, you have three sections. The first is short answers, the second is a creative writing task, and the third is almost always an essay (sometimes a speech, but usually an essay). You should do the essay first, then the short answers, and finally the creative writing task.

The reason is simple: in case you find yourself running out of time by the time you completed 2 sections, the creative writing tasks is the most forgiving section in that scenario than any other section. You can potentially grab most of the available marks in creative writing as long as your story contains all the necessary elements of a well-written story, and captures belonging in a meaningful way. But the same can’t be said for the essay – if you spend only 30 minutes on it, you would probably only be able to put in 75% of the points required.


The best advice for all levels of maths is to do as many past papers as possible. If you’re aiming for a band 6, focus on the question 7 and 8 (if you’re doing Maths Extension 1 or Maths Extension 2) or question 10 (for 2 unit students). These are the questions with the most creativity, and are the most difficult – getting good at doing these questions will differentiate you from the rest.

For the many maths (2 unit) students, remember not to neglect some commonly forgotten bits of info that will cost you easy marks:

  • Simpson’s rule
  • Trapezoidal rule
  • Trigonometry exact values
  • Sine and cosine rule (you learnt this in year 10 but it will be needed sometimes!)

For higher levels of Maths (Ext. 1 and 2), know your integration substitutions. It’s easy to forget which situations demand which technique.

All questions are of the same value, but are in increasing difficulty. Try to go through the exam as quickly as possible the first time around, and skip the questions where you can’t immediately see the path to the answer. Then use the time left over to focus on the skipped questions and also check your work. Don’t get too comfortable with a slow pace at the early questions!

For extension 2, some less obvious things that will help you are: know your speed of curves (helps with graphing undefined / undefined situations), know how to apply LIATE (google it if you’ve never heard of it!) for integration by parts – to work out which bit to set as u and which to set as v.

Don’t lose focus

Think about this: each HSC exam you do now is worth the total of everything you’ve done for that subject at school for the entire year 12. All the preparation you put in for your half yearlies, trials and assessment tasks throughout year 12 – each exam now is worth the total of all of that for one subject. That’s why, now is the worst time to lose focus. You’re at the home stretch now, but your focus and dedication is needed most here.

On the other hand, it’s important also to not get too stressed out. Stress is good – it leads to productivity, and this short term stress before these big exams is normal, but don’t let it negatively affect you. Do your best, and you will be fine.

The life ahead

Don’t lose perspective – there’s a bright future waiting for you regardless of how things go now. Do try your best, but don’t think it’s the end of the world if you don’t get the ATAR you need. There are alternative ways of getting into the Uni course you desire.

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