Scotland

SQA calms 'impossible' Maths exam fears

Pupil sitting an exam
Image caption Some students claimed the Higher Maths exam reduced them to tears

Scotland's exams body has sought to calm fears that pupils will be disadvantaged by a Higher maths paper which candidates claim was impossible.

Some pupils were said to have been reduced to tears by questions in the exam, which took place on Wednesday.

More than 14,000 people have signed two online petitions about the exam.

They urged the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to take into account the difficulty of the exam when marking papers.

An SQA spokesman said: "We recognise that the exams period is a stressful time for young people and their parents. We are aware of the concerns many of them have raised on online petitions about the Higher maths exams and we want to reassure them.

"As is the case every year, we do not set the pass mark or the number of marks required for each grade until the marking process is complete, later in the summer."

'Statistical information'

He added: "This procedure ensures that we have the necessary statistical information on how the exam performed and whether it was harder than intended.

"Only then will we set the marks required for each grade.

"We would therefore expect someone who got an A, B or C grade last year to receive the same result this year.

"These rigorous processes are in place to ensure that no-one will be disadvantaged."


Analysis by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

There's nothing new about students complaining that they found an exam harder than they had anticipated.

But once these conversations were confined to the relatively narrow social networks of personal friends and classmates.

Today social media allows such concerns to be shared much more widely.

The fundamental questions remain the same though: was an exam just hard or was it tougher than teachers and students might realistically have expected?

Read Jamie's analysis here.


One of the online petitions was titled "Explain why they set the Higher maths exam to an impossible level".

The other petition was titled "Reconsider new CfE higher maths exam grades".

Logan Fraser, from Alva Academy in Clackmannanshire, told BBC Scotland that many S5 and S6 pupils experienced "shock and devastation after being confronted with an overwhelmingly difficult and somewhat impossible SQA Higher exam".

'In tears'

He said: "In my three years of sitting exams, I have never been approached by an exam paper so far beyond the difficulty level and question style of past papers, all of which I have studied from the year 2000 - 2014.

"Further, the number of pupils leaving the exam hall in tears far surpassed any other - which in my opinion is dreadful."

Logan added: "The fact that the questions were so wordy, required you to read over them a number of times to just understand what the question meant, never mind what formula to use or how to work it out.

"This resulted in the very short 1hr 10min we get becoming a limiting factor to our success in the exam."

He said nothing he learned in class or revised could have prepared him for the "horrendous" exam.

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