Counting on success in VCE specialist maths exam

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The prospect of a lengthy, complex maths exam would stoke fear into many, but twins Hardik and Hritik Jagtap have relished the challenge.

The year 12 students completed the second VCE specialist mathematics examination on Monday, capping off a year studying the most advanced maths subject in the Victorian year 12 curriculum.

Twins Hardik and Hritik Jagtap were among those completing the second exam for VCE specialist mathematics on Monday afternoon.Credit: Simon Schluter

Hardik, a student at John Monash Science School, said he started specialist mathematics in year 11 because he thought it seemed like “a very fun subject to do”.

But he said it was clear that the degree of difficulty of the subject, which is geared towards students who want to do further mathematics study and perhaps work in areas such as medicine and engineering, accelerated in year 12 units 3 and 4.

“The difficulty was harder than I thought it was going to be, and that difficulty was maintained throughout the whole year,” Hardik said.

There was no denying the attention to detail needed for the subject when the students showed The Age how they approached some examples of problems included in the first specialist mathematics exam, which was held last Friday. The solutions take up a full whiteboard.

Hritik, who is a student at Nossal High School, said that despite the difficulty, there was satisfaction in working through the questions.

“I think the affirmation you feel after you’re able to solve the hard problem, especially when you’re able to do that in exam conditions, gives you a lot of self-motivation and confidence that you can achieve what you want,” he said.

Both students are focused on medicine as a possible career path.

The owner and principal of Worm’s Maths Academy, Andrew Weremijenko, said this year’s second specialist mathematics exam had held unknowns because the subject had a new study design. But he noted that the content appeared quite straightforward.

“Exactly what I thought was going to be on it, that was pretty much what was on it,” he said.

The accuracy of maths exam papers has been in the spotlight this year after thousands of VCE students were awarded a bonus point following the discovery of an error in the second general mathematics paper. 

Teachers and students had previously reported errors in 2022’s specialist mathematics exam.

Mathematicians Professor Burkard Polster and Dr Marty Ross subsequently wrote a critique of 2022’s VCE maths exam papers.

Polster and Ross have now approached Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll with their concerns about last year’s exams, penning an open letter signed by more than 60 maths academics urging a consultation with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) and senior mathematicians to revamp processes for writing VCE maths exams.

The letter points to five questions in last year’s exam papers that were flawed, arguing these “would have created unnecessary confusion, with a subsequent loss of time for at least some students, and probably many”.

Carroll said on Monday: “It’s my expectation that all curriculum and assessment is high quality and grounded in academic integrity.

“I have directed the VCAA board chair to work with my department to review their current policies following these mistakes – to ensure they don’t occur again and ensure parents and students have continued confidence in the exam process.”

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