Open Letter to Hon. Ben Carroll MP, Victorian Minister for Education

In December 2022, two mathematicians, Professor Burkard Polster and Dr. Marty Ross, wrote a critique of the 2022 VCE mathematics exams. Polster and Ross's critique covers many aspects of the exams and their administration but, in particular, identifies and discusses what they refer to as five major mathematical errors on the exams.

We are university mathematicians, we have read the exam questions at issue, and we agree with Polster and Ross. Whatever term one wishes to use, all five questions are unacceptably flawed. Each question exhibits some fundamental misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the underlying mathematics. Each question, at minimum, would have created unnecessary confusion, with a subsequent loss of time for at least some students, and probably many. It is difficult to imagine how the questions could have been graded in a fair and consistent manner, and in any case the flaws are simply, on a mathematical basis, unacceptable.

We have also read the exam reports on these questions, and they are as concerning as the questions themselves. The reports are completely silent on the flaws in the questions. This is professionally unacceptable and it is also exacerbating the damage. Current students look to past exams and reports for guidance; in these instances, the 2022 exams contain significant misguidance.

As university mathematicians, we are acutely aware of how difficult it is to write mathematics exams that are both clear and correct. Errors will inevitably occur from time to time. When errors occur, however, it is critical to be open and honest about it, and to do one's best to mitigate the damage.

It is also critical, of course, to have the proper procedures in the first place, to do as much as one can to avoid the occurrence of serious errors. For the production of senior school mathematics exams, this proper process requires the intimate involvement of competent and attentive mathematicians. These mathematicians must be properly involved in both the writing and the vetting of the exams. The 2022 exams are evidence that such procedures are not currently in place in Victoria.

We urge the Minister to take this matter seriously. We urge the Minister to consult with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, along with senior Victorian mathematicians, with a view to revamping the current processes for the writing and vetting of VCE mathematics exams.


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