Difficult questions throughout Junior Cert maths paper ‘a fairer way of doing things’

Most Junior Certificate students had the first of two maths papers yesterday afternoon.

Elaine Devlin, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) junior cycle maths spokeswoman, said one unusual aspect of the first higher-level paper was the arrangement of more difficult questions throughout.

More often, she said, they would be situated at the end of the exam paper, and are very often badly answered.

“There were little bits of harder questions throughout the paper this time. It’s a fairer way of doing things,” said Ms Devlin.

She said the higher-level exam had more linear graphs, patterns, and functions than in previous years. Another notable trend was that there were more hints in the earlier parts of questions, such as providing students with an explanation of “mark-up” in a question about profit and loss.

There were many types of questions which students usually find difficult at this level, including those on ratio, sets, and patterns.

However, these would probably help distinguish the A candidates from the rest, Ms Devlin said.

There were also what she considered very nice algebra and basic function questions. These and other elements gave plenty opportunities to students who might find it difficult to pass higher level.

Ms Devlin thought the ordinary-level Paper 1 was a reasonable examination, which those on the borderline with foundation level would find challenging. At the other end of the scale, she suggested those who might have considered taking higher level should have been very pleased with it.

She pointed out one difficult element, in a question about the productivity of a set of beehives, where far too much information and numbers were given for students to deal with.

The ASTI representative’s strongest views were about the foundation level maths exam, taken by around 3,000 Junior Certificate students.

For young people who often struggle to deal with basic multiplication and division, she questioned why some tasks were included on their exam.

One required them to find the inverse tan of an angle. Another asked students to decide and explain why a set of numbers followed either a linear or quadratic pattern.

Mary Martin, Teachers’ Union of Ireland, reported that higher-level geography students found their exam easy to understand, with a good range of topics. She felt there was nothing unexpected on the paper, which should make students happy.

Her ASTI counterpart, Paul Concannon, perceived the exam as very fair, with a good range of questions from across the course, which pleased students at his own school, St Mary’s College in Galway. The topics included river erosion, climate change and over-exploitation of fish stocks. Mr Concannon said the paper had very good graphics and photographs, including an aerial photo of Macroom, Co Cork. The town featured in photographic and map form for both Junior and Leaving Certificate students.

He thought a student-friendly ordinary-level paper was nicely laid out, with a question on a map and photograph proving a good test of students’ interpretative skills. The exam featured many current issues, such as urban traffic, migration, and climate change.

Ms Martin said ordinary- level students got plenty of chances to demonstrate their skills, with two questions requiring them to draw sketches.

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