'Impossible' NCEA algebra exam stumps students

Another NCEA exam has stumped students with a question teachers and academics say is geometrically impossible.

The question in the algebra paper for Level 2 Mathematics and Statistics left some high school students reeling.

Howick College student Jonny Smith read through the question and wasn't sure what he was meant to be doing, so he skipped it and went to the next one.

"I was hoping to get excellence because I needed nine excellence credits, but I'm not sure," he said.

Makoura College student Lily Wright said she knew her answer was "completely wrong" because she didn't know how to comprehend the question.

"It's really annoying when you put so much work into the exams, and especially as a Level 2 student you are wanting to get those excellent marks, so you are able to impress the universities," she said.

The question asked students to work out the area of a square, but the answer was geometrically impossible.
The question asked students to work out the area of a square, but the answer was geometrically impossible. Photo credit: Newshub

Victoria University School of Mathematics and Statistics programme director Lisa Orloff Clark said the answer is geometrically impossible.

"When I first looked at this problem I thought oh that's fun, all good, no problems," she said.

One square had a length of nine, but it was inside a larger square that had a length of eight.

"There's no way the picture could look like this and that's the problem," Orloff Clark said.

It's the second time NCEA have got their sums wrong recently. Last year, a review panel found an impossible-to-answer question in a 2016 Level 3 statistics exam.

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said there was a comprehensive review of, in particular, maths exams after this incident, and the new systems put in place "should have picked this up".

NZQA estimates nearly 35,000 students were entered for this year's Level 2 Mathematics and Statistics exam, and said they expect most students would have answered the question as intended.

Deputy chief executive of assessment Kristine Kilkelly said to identify that there was an error, students would have had to complete the working for the answer which markers will then be able to consider.

NZQA said they will review the exam.