Unreasonable structure of exam questions blamed for low marks

July 27, 2009

More than 90 percent of mathematics exam papers at many universities have reportedly got below average marks. University lecturers have blamed the exam question structure.

Checkign information about exams

By July 26, 40 universities across the country had reportedly announced exam marks of examinees. Many of them have reported abnormally low marks for A-group mathematics exam papers.


Statistics showed that more than 90 percent of exam papers at many universities got less than five marks. The HCM City University of Technical Education, for example, has reported 11,100 examinees who got below average marks, or 92.58 percent of examinees. 191 exam papers reportedly got zeros.


239 zero marks have been given to examinees of the HCM City Transport University, while 94.92 percent of examinees got below average marks.


As for Da Lat University, 4,635 mathematics exam papers, or 96.95 percent of total examinees, got less than five marks. The Saigon University has reported 96.4 percent of examinees getting less than five marks.


Some non-state owned universities have reported only several tens of students getting above average marks for mathematics. Twenty of 2,822 students taking the exams to enter the HCM City University of Technique and Technology got five and higher marks, while 91 got zeros.


At Lac Hong University, only 16 examinees of 2,711 got above average marks. Meanwhile, 99.41 percent of students got below average arks, 554 exam papers got less than one mark, and 38 got zeros.


Unreasonable questions blamed


Phan Thien Danh, MA, Deputy Dean of the Mathematics Faculty under HCM City University of Education, said that the mathematics questions were not really too difficult for students, but they were too long and had unreasonable structure.


Danh said that question No 7 required students to use knowledge synthesised from 10th, 11th and 12th grade curriculums.


Prior to that, the Ministry of Education and Training stated that the exam questions would mainly require knowledge from 12th grade, but the exam questions, in fact, did not reflect this. On question 1, students had to use the knowledge of 12th grade curriculum to get one mark. In question 2, two marks required the knowledge of 10th and 11th grades. Question 3 was an exercise of 12th grade students, but students also needed to have good knowledge of 10th and 11th grades as well to do it. Question 5 was really very difficult because it required even more integrated knowledge. Questions 6 and 7 also required knowledge from 10th and 11th grades.


Danh said that with such a structure of questions, it is understandable why the mathematics exam papers’ marks were lower than those of previous years.


Agreeing with Danh, Ngo Thien, Dean of the Science Faculty under the HCM City Agriculture and Forestry University, said that though the exam questions were not unfamiliar to students, they required complicated calculation skills.


Thien also said that the mathematics questions for B-group this year were much more difficult than in previous years. In principle, the mathematics exam questions for A-group should be the most difficult. If the difficulty of the A-group mathematics questions is measured at 100 percent, B-group questions should be equal to 80 percent, and D-group questions should be 70 percent. Meanwhile, B-group questions, in reality, were equal to 90 percent of A-group questions.


Thien noted that only two of seven exam questions were considered ‘easy’. As such, an examinee with medium learning capacity would get two or three marks only. Only students with good capacity could get the remaining 6-7 marks.


Thien said that more difficult questions should have been given fewer marks than easier questions. He said that three marks for tough questions and seven for easier questions would have been reasonable.



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