Why Maths Exams Are Getting Harder

I was in 5th year when Project Maths was launched. It caused chaos.

My teacher was hopeless in the face of change. She did not know where to turn. I think her anxiety over the exams increased the students’ anxiety. We did not know what types of questions were going to be on the exam.

The sample papers the Department produced only added to the fear. Pictures of rollercoasters and applying Trig identities to that same picture — oh god, it felt like consternation now, on reflection.

In hindsight, it was much ado about nothing. Project Maths focussed more on ‘real life’ problems. Its whole aim was to have students doing less rote learning and more problem-solving. 13 years on since its initial pilot program, it’s all settled down. Maths exams are now more conceptual. It is more challenging for students to grasp. The Maths is the same, but how you understand and apply it is different.

Maths exams are going to get more challenging in the future for 3 reasons.

1. Ending Of Grade Inflation

I believe Norma Foley made a real mess of the state exams. Inflating every student’s grades by 8% made absolutely no sense. Your place in the CAO queue did not change — the points simply increased. Instead, it created a false sense of expectations. The number of H1 grades in Maths has almost doubled. All because of grade inflation.

Does that mean students of 2023 are twice as intelligent at Maths vs the 2019 cohort? No. It’s a false assessment.

Grades have to revert to pre-pandemic levels. It’s going to be a ‘gradual process’ she says. Expect it to be a lot faster than the Minister will have you believe. We need to reach grade balance again to hold the integrity of the exam. Expect the Maths exams to become more challenging, in either the format or how they are graded, to bring the grades down.

2. University’s Have A Maths Problem

The Leaving Cert Maths curriculum is up to University standards. It is sending students to University with sub par Maths abilities. You see it the whole time in the news – University’s have to do their own Maths courses to bring students up to University speed. Almost every course has their own Maths modules in 1st year. It’s not functioning.

Expect this to change. Our education system is judged on how many University students we produce, have no doubt about that. That’s why we have all that foreign direct investment coming in. Company’s look at the topline statistics of how many students we produce each year. It’s their lifeblood.

If we keep sending students unprepared for University Maths demands, dropout rates will continue to increase. That’s a non-runner. Our secondary school Maths exams will have to increase in standards and difficulty.

3. End Of Rote Learning

The dawn of AI will have an impact on how we learn Maths. Graduates of the future need to be creative and able to adapt. It’s what companies will need. Graduates who can deal with complexity and problem solve. AI will do the ‘grunt work’ and employees will plan strategically.

That’s a very different world of employment in just a few short years. It puts more of an emphasis on the quality of graduates, not just the quantity. Intelligence levels will need to rise above and beyond that which AI can reach.

Say goodbye to rote learning theorems or questions. Those types of questions will prove to be a waste of space on Maths exams in the future.

Maths is the most important subject on the Leaving Cert. Maths teaches students how to problem-solve. How to think creatively. How to link concepts from one chunk of your knowledge and apply it to new problems. Those are the skills that employers want. Hence, Maths exams will continue to become more conceptual. Long gone will be the days of a ‘predictable question 5’ on theorems. The Maths exam will become more conceptual and by default for most students; more challenging.

I’ve watched this play out over the last 12 years, and I think the trends don’t lie — the Maths exams will become increasingly challenging for students.

Stay tuned for more,

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