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High school students are left stumped and 'very upset' over maths exam questions

Year 12 students across NSW were left frustrated after struggling with a string of left-field questions in Monday's HSC standard mathematics exam.    

A change to the syllabus resulted in many questions being common to both the standard and advanced mathematics courses. 

One particular question in the standard maths paper about crickets chirping blindsided thousands of pupils.

Students were given a box-plot of temperature data and then asked to: 'calculate the number of chirps expected in a 15-second interval when the temperature is 19° Celsius. Give your answer correct to the nearest whole number'.

Oak Ukritnukun, Matrix Education's head of mathematics, admitted the question was 'really challenging.'

The question about cricket chirping (pictured above) which baffled many HSC students sitting their 2020 maths exam

Some students sitting the 2020 maths exam were confused by a few questions on Monday (stock image)


1) Identify the median (22 degrees Celsius)

2) Identify the mean temperature (21.475 degrees Celsius) 

3) Find the mean number of chirps over 15 seconds (34.2)

4) Find the value of b, by substituting x and y into the equation given:

 y = -10.6063 + bx 

34.2 = -10.6063 + b (21.475)

 b= 2.0864

5) Using the above information, find the number of chirps (y) when the temperature (x) is 19 degrees Celcius.

y = -10.6063 + (2.0864) (19) 

The answer is 29.02, or 29 to the nearest whole number

'You need to do quite a few things right to get full marks,' he said.

'Focus should be placed on first identifying the median, then the mean temperature. After that calculate the mean number of chirps and the value of B. You then use the value of Y to determine the number of chirps, which as a whole number gives you an answer of 29.'  

A spokesperson from the NSW Standards Authority acknowledged some of the questions were 'challenging,' before adding they were part of the broader syllabus. 

Karen McDaid, the Mathematical Association of NSW president, felt the introduction of an extra booklet also rattled many students, particularly those sitting the standard maths exam.

She revealed it 'wasn't part of the instructions for what students expected' and many said at the conclusion of the paper it was 'very difficult.'

Belinda Aylett, Parramatta High School's head of maths, also said there was a 'little bit of surprise' for her students. 

Earlier this month, an interpretive question baffled tens of thousands of students who sat for the English HSC exam.

Students were presented with an image of a man rowing a boat with a pencil through a wild sea accompanied by a number of words.

They were then asked to explain how the image used a variety of language forms and features to best communicate creative ideas. 

American based Julie Paschkis, the artist behind the painting, said her aim was to 'savour language' and show students that answers can be open ended.

'When I put words in paintings I am thinking about the meaning of it, but I am also thinking about the sound of it or the look of it. It is a playful approach to the language, it is not just one meaning, she said.

'My hope in education is that there is room for open ended exploration.'

The interpretive painting (pictured above) which confused tens of thousands of students sitting the English HSC exam earlier this month

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