Singapore Exam Board sets mathematically impossible question

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Exam Board of Singapore handled many complaints about the incorrectly written math question on an end-of-the-year examination.

The Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) are taken nationwide and determine what secondary school students enter. The students get into secondary schools based on merit. Based on this system, Singaporeans commonly determine how 'smart' a student is based on what school they got into.

"This is ridiculous," said a secondary student.

Question 13 of the Math exam required students to calculate the area of rectangle C based on the area of triangles A and B. The dimensions of the rectangle of which the triangles were in and the triangles themselves are inconsistent. Based on these calculations, it is mathematically impossible to draw that diagram.

All students have been given two marks regardless of their answer. However, some parents and students in top schools remain unsatisfied.

"I do not think it is fair because those who got it correct, actually it will still be the same with the others. They don't deserve it and maybe we do," said one student. "A lot of people might have spent a lot of time on that question and not have time to check on the other questions but then everyone gets two marks. 89 is an A and 91 is an A*, so there is quite a lot of difference."

Another student in the Gifted Education Programme insisted, "Well, if you get the second answer (not 25) the first time you attempt the question, you will naturally try using another method to find the answer. Say you get 25 on the second time, which is the correct answer, and 25 is the only answer you get that is inside the options, you will put your answer as 25. Therefore, I think that the SEAB should not award 2 free marks to everybody. It's unfair! Plus, the question was so easy."

Other students were happy with the compensation. "I'm very very happy that they are giving us two marks."

The Exam Board stated that it had carried out at least 5 rounds of checks by experienced examiners. It also assured parents and students all exams would be thoroughly checked to be error-free in the future.