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NSW Education Standards Authority defends ‘cruel’ HSC maths exam

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But he said exams varied in difficulty each year and must differentiate student achievement. He said all students’ results would ultimately be subject to a process that fairly aligned them to performance bands.

Some parents told the Herald their children had returned home in tears or despondent after the test; others labelled it a “cruel” or “soul-crushing” exam after a challenging year.

“A well-prepared student should come away [from an exam] feeling it was fair … Most HSC students came out of yesterday’s standard maths HSC exam reeling in dismay,” one parent said.

Another parent, who is also a school counsellor, said students were shattered. “Not only were they unable to answer a lot of the questions, but they also made the very valid point that there were unable to show what they have learnt and studied this year.”

Students said they had not been prepared for the content in the exam, which included a puzzling five-mark statistics problem, or did not have access to practice papers that indicated the level of rigour required.

But Mr Martin said the new maths syllabuses, which were designed under the “stronger HSC reforms”, had specifically required students to problem solve, interpret information and think critically.

” HSC maths exams are designed to provide opportunities for students at all levels of ability to demonstrate what they know. With more than 30,000 students, the maths standard 2 exam caters to a diverse range of ability,” he said.

“The exam includes a full range of questions from easy to hard and must differentiate student achievement.”

The new common content allows NESA to compare students who are studying different levels of maths. “It also provides a disincentive to students choosing lower-level courses to gain a perceived advantage in their ATAR,” Mr Martin said.

He said the scope of syllabus content, student skill level and exam specifications had been considered when developing the paper.

“The exam paper was written by an exam committee of highly experienced teachers, markers and academics. It was reviewed by experienced teachers, academics and the supervisor of marking, the curriculum inspector and NESA officers,” he said.

NESA’s usual standard setting process will take place to determine how students’ raw exam marks will be aligned to performance bands.

“This process ensures that every cohort of mathematics standard 2 students reported in, say, band 5 will have demonstrated similar levels of achievement, regardless of any changes in the difficulty of the exam from year to year,” Mr Martin said.

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A NESA spokeswoman said students should remain focused on their remaining exams, which formally conclude on November 11.

“Students should continue to focus on all that they have achieved this year and not pre-empt their results. HSC exams are meant to challenge students – but no exam is more important than their wellbeing,” she said.

“This has been a challenging year for HSC students and they are nearly at the finish line.”

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