Watch: Matric pupils say maths question was ‘impossible’ to solve

An unsolvable question in the second maths paper has left learners frustrated and experts and teachers concerned.

Matric pupils say question 5 in the mathematics paper 2 final examinations worth seven marks had an error and was impossible to solve. The paper was written on Monday morning and is worth 150 marks in total.

Maths error explained

An education analyst, professor Vimolan Mudaly from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says the error occurred in the initial statement given in question 5.1. because it shouldn’t give a negative answer.

“Clearly, there may have been a typographical error, but this should have been checked thoroughly before it went to the printers. The students who had a good pedagogical knowledge of this would have immediately picked up the error and this may have affected their answers for the questions totalling seven marks.”

He adds the department needs to explore how much this affected pupils to warrant a rewrite of the paper.

Mudaly says it is known that all pupils were affected and instead of subjecting all students to a rewrite, the examiners should simply add the seven marks to all scripts even though it may not compensate them for the time lost.

He says pupils who expect 100% are affected quite severely since answering a question which may seem to be simple, will confuse and delay them.

Pupils say error not fair

Raisethorpe Secondary School pupils, Kiash Badhur and Mihle Zungula say the error was not fair on them because they had to spend more time on question 5 and ended up having less time to spend on the rest of the paper.

They say the paper was already challenging and question 5 made it worse.

They both agree that they feel the department should give everyone full marks for question 5 because of the amount of time they spent on it and that it was the department’s fault they could not answer the question.

Badhur says he spent almost 15 minutes trying to figure out the question and knew something was wrong. He added even though he knew there was an error, he still answered the question with whatever answers he could come up with.

Zungula concurs and adds he answered the question because he was afraid of what would happen if he left it blank.

They both say even though they spent more time than usual on question 5, they were able to complete the paper on time.

Their maths teacher, Vetty Noubouth, agrees with the pupils and says it was a question that pupils would generally score full marks on.

Noubouth says some of the pupils came to him after the exam to enquire about question 5 and he agreed with them that there was an error.

“The time allocation was also an issue. The paper was challenging and difficult. It was totally different from the one they wrote during trials.”

A parent, who asked not to be named, says her daughter came home frustrated after the paper.

“This is not acceptable of the department. Our children studied hard for this paper — now I can only imagine how they felt when they saw this question. My daughter couldn’t even study that day, she was depressed thinking she wouldn’t get the distinction she had promised herself she’d get.”

Minister to hold briefing on Sunday

The spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, Elijah Mhlanga, says Minister Angie Motshekga will be briefing the media tomorrow on the department’s findings.

Educational psychologist, Nosipho Mkhwanazi, says it was common to be anxious about a question that one couldn’t answer during the exam but it was likely one would try and find the expected answer after the exam just to resolve the anxiety that was triggered by the question.

“Therefore, it must have been a terrible experience for students to discuss the question after the exam only to find out that it was not ‘answerable’. This leaves an unresolved anxiety which could make students fear that such mistakes are likely to happen in the future. It could make students lose confidence in the system.”



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