Calculus scholars should expect challenge
Okay, yea, the calculus exam was hard. It no doubt pushed some of New Zealand’s top mathematicians to their limit. But did they really expect anything less? For New Zealand’s top secondary examination, is it really fair slam it as "too hard"?
The Scholarship examination is intended to extended top scholars; that is what it is for. It is the type almost none would expect to complete — and none did; even a silver medallist at the International Mathematical Olympiad didn’t quite hit 100 out of 120 — and few would expect to fare well in. It is an exam that should be hard enough to be able to discriminate the elite from the outstanding from the brilliant from the pretty damn good.
The ruthless marking schedule is only to be expected at this level. The scholarship examination is meant to be demanding, and should not reward candidates with pitiful half-solutions. Someone that can do a little bit of each question, never getting close to a full solution, does not deserve Scholarship. In the same way, it should not penalise minor errors in answers that were otherwise perfect. The marking schedule for the 2005 examination did neither. It awarded marks fairly for the performance you’d expect at this level. The awarding of half-credit for half-solutions should not be considered for the 2006 examinations, to do so would be to undermine the validity of the exam.
The difficulty of the questions was very very difficult, but were within reach of the well capable, even if not all completable within three hours, or for that matter, eight hours. It would have been important, however, to include a range of questions to allow candidates to play to their strengths, ensuring that no-one was disadvantaged by a stroke of luck.
At the end of the day, candidates are ranked and anyone that deserves Scholarship gets it. So why complain? Getting a scholarship is the highest honour (except for top awards) in the secondary school examination and anyone that attains one should be rightfully proud. No-one, ultimately, was disadvantaged by the difficulty of the exam.