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NZ Scholarship 2006

My cut-off predictions were very nearly accurate.  From six predictions, two were spot on, one was about right, one was a bit generous and both physics predictions were rather overestimated. My predictions, as I declared them to be in the blogs I wrote just after each exam, compared with the actual cut-off marks, are:

Subject

Scholarship

Outstanding

Maximum
possible

Prediction

Actual

Prediction

Actual

 Mathematics with Calculus

20 (±2)

20

32 (±2)

35

40

 Chemistry

24 (±3)

24

38 (±3)

36

48

 Physics

30 (±2)

23

40 (±2)

33

48

The marking was interesting, even if hard to follow.  Chemistry and calculus used letter codes, whose meanings are somewhat unknown to those of us who aren’t markers, (from what I can figure) to represent marks.  Well, the marker’s codes didn’t make much sense to me, anyway.  My physics marker, at least, showed me with circles where I had lost marks, and with ticks where I had gained them.  I don’t really have much else to say about the physics and chemistry marking, but as for calculus…

Calculus: go easy on the useless mathematicians

The marking of the calculus exam deserves extensive comment.  I officially conclude that the calculus examiners are now scared of the media.  When word broke out that the pass mark for last year’s calculus exam was 20 from 120, the media went crazy.  Too hard, demotivating, too hard, stupid, were the words that came out, or bluntly: stop challenging our top mathematicians.  First, I hoped that it wouldn’t result in a less challenging scholarship exam, which it did.  The questions were both shorter and the total marks for the exam came down to 40.  Even with this much easier exam, though, it still seems that New Zealand’s brightest mathematicians failed the challenge.

My calculus paper was remarked, to such a degree that it looks like the entire marking schedule was redone.  I would, therefore, assume that all calculus papers were remarked, though I haven’t asked anyone yet.  After the remark, I appeared to be forgiven for all my “minor errors” (and there were lots of them).  And, where I showed a blatant lack of competency for half of a question, I was still given 6 marks from 8 for that question (up from 4).

In short, they marked really easy.  Really easy.  I suppose, in a way, they stopped short of giving half credit for half-completed subquestions.  But for half a question, six marks from eight?  I wonder if it disadvantages candidates who worked to complete entire questions rather than parts of each, but that’s beside the point.  By ignoring minor errors outright, and awarding more credit than the proportion of the question that was answered, the examiners have not only crumbled to public pressure, but done no service to the country’s top mathematicians.  They have, in effect, covered up their failures with the illusion of achievement, and given the impression that careless mistakes don’t matter, so don’t bother taking care with your work, just get the general idea and it’s all good.

But careless mistakes do matter, and if the reality is that New Zealand’s mathematicians are not up to scratch, then this should be reflected in the results.  If the pass mark is low, it should not be taken as a fault on the examiner’s part; rather, it should be a sign that much work is needed on our young mathematicians.  To pretend that they have done better than they actually have might avoid a media frenzy, but it gives a false impression of the level of New Zealand mathematics.  The examiners should not have been afraid to stand up and declare that, despite an extraordinarily easy exam (at least, in comparision to last year), candidates have still been unable to pull some respectable marks.

Permalinks to earlier related blogs of mine

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