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## Are English kids really this dumb?

I "suffer" from dyscalculia. This is not something I ever tried to hide from anybody. I put "suffer" in quotes because while some of life's more interesting mysteries remain just a little out of my reach, this isn't really something that afflicts me in my day to day life.

What is dyscalculia? Well, Wiki will probably give you a description using more words than is necessary, so I will say it more simply - a primary failure to "understand" numbers. You've heard of dyslexia, right? Reading difficulty? Well, it's the same thing, only with digits.

Or, to put it another way - explain to me what "two" is. You can give me a metric tonne of examples, couples in love, wheels on an axle, and so forth. These are, sadly, simply examples of "two". I can picture snoggy-couples, I can picture an axle. I can't picture "two".
Now, bring in another "two" and using some magic called addition, we can stick them together. But we don't end up with two-two, we end up with something entirely different. Something called "four". How do we get "four" from two twos? I know that 2+2=4 because I've spent a decade goofing off in maths class, and another 30 years not particularly regretting it. I can tell you that the five times table is 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and so on. The eight times table is 8, 16, 24, 32, blah blah. And maybe more relevant to geeks, the order 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096...... I know this stuff because I have done it over and over. Like ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, nana...

But what is much harder to explain is the result of four hundred and thirty three divided by twenty seven. If you worked that out in your head, whoo you. I use a calculator because I just don't get long division. At all.

For this reason, it was interesting when a posting on The Register's comments forum mentioned about how appallingly bad the current Maths GCSE is. I thought I might go and have a look.

For non-Brits, our "school leaving" (or not, if you stay on for sixth form) examination is the "GCSE". Mathematics in my day was split into three levels - basically: smartass, average, dunce. Well, they used better names, but that's what it equated to. These days, there is an "advanced" tier and a "foundation" tier.

The examination that I am describing is the "Foundation tier" of Mathematics (Unit 1) which can be your end-of-education school leaving exam.
Keep this in mind.

You can download this paper, and a variety of others, from: http://www.wjec.co.uk/index.php?subject=90&level=7&list=paper.
This paper, and the questions within, are © WJEC CBAC Ltd; given these scans are of my completed version, I am assuming "fair use" applies.

The examination was checked over by my mother.

## Page 1

The allocated time is an hour and a quarter. I took sixty five minutes, though if I had a better pen, I could have shaved off some time.
Note that a calculator is required.

## Page 2

This is rubbish. Oh, I'm sure the calculations described are lovely and correct, but I can only imagine this is designed to get kids that aren't so bright to pee themselves because this stuff looks really complicated. Strangely, it doesn't feature anywhere in this paper. At all.

## Page 3

Yeah. Here's a number. What is it is words?
Then a question with a sting - they don't want to know the correct answer, they want it to the nearest thousand. This is as much basic maths as seeing if you are capable of reading the question.

## Page 4

The comment that I have written is: This is GCSE? Seriously?!?!
I have nothing to add, except that I wanted to write "<facepalm!> below question 2(b).

## Page 5

I got the calculation for Company B wrong. Bugger.
I mean, I can tell just looking at it that the amounts are 25%, 30%, and 20%. But, you know, gotta show your working. So I did, and somewhere along the way got it into my head that working out 3/10ths was just dividing 10 by 3. Duh! Duh! Duh! [but see page 11]

Got the right answer though. ☺

## Page 6

This is just a bunch of faffing around to take time and check that you know that "123" falls in between "100 to 124". They use fancy words like "class" and "frequency", for a very basic concept. I can imagine when this was taught at school, the kids went out and looked towards a busy road and counted blue cars and red cars or something like that...

## Page 7

This took longer to write than to calculate. I used a calculator because I could, but 5(b) I probably could have worked out in my head. Yeah, even me. 480? 48 months at £10 so if only 24 months would be twice that...

## Page 8

A slightly tricky one, what with Yousef (what's with the names in this exam?) giving the weight of his dog in grams. Other than that, it's just a question of putting them in order, heaviest first. This is a bit like page 6 expressed slightly differently.
I added "Tiny Alice" (our cat) and "about 4.5kg" to the bottom.

## Page 9

It took longer to read this than to work out the answer. It's a dead simple +/- from a centre point.
I programmed a joystick once that returned a value for its home position, and knowing if the value was more or less (and how much) would indicate the movement of the joystick. [Yay! I'm fit to participate in the Year Of Code! Way-hey!]

## Page 10

A lot of complicated looking stuff, but what it is basically asking you is "what is the range"? You subtract the smallest number from the largest. That's it.
That was a rather crappy answer, so I put it down to Adam just simply being a better cricket player.

Mom, who listens to way too much cricket on Radio 4 LW, wants to clarify this as: Adam is a much better batter, as in, he could suck as a fielder.

## Page 11

Another spectacularly easy one, but: You must show all your working.
So I did.
This is what used to annoy the hell out of me in maths tests. A lot of the time, I could get an answer, but be unable to explain how I got the answer. Like for the question on page 5, I know three tenths is 30%. I can't tell you how I know it. I just do.

## Page 12

Why is this a 10th? Such simple numbers to work with. Why can't it be the company reduces its complaints by 14% per year?
Notice it ends at year #3. If you perform the calculation onwards, you'll see that you arrive at a number that is not whole. How do you count a 'part' of a complaint? But, wait, this is a foundation maths GCSE - we'll stop before this gets, you know, complicated.

## Page 13

A number multiplied by five, and a floor plan that is absurdly simple to break into two and calculate. Of course, the more obtuse could calculate the entire 13×10 space, then work out the 8×4 missing chunk, and subtract that. 130-32=98. So there are two ways to do this. I wonder if you get less points for doing it that way, even though it is equally valid?

## Page 14

Mom and I disagree with the answer to the first question. Given that no specific bounds are mentioned, chart C could indicate the popularity between younger people and middle aged. Mom says it is chart A, laid out as young (low), middle aged (peak), old (low).
Mom is usually correct so... I will call this one I got wrong.

## Page 15

The reason for the error that I crossed out is explained in the comment that I added. I have not needed a protractor in nearly quarter of a century, so I made my own angle using the graphic on page 4. When I was roughing out the trace, I realised I had the piece of paper the wrong way up. Had I been using a real protractor, this would have been a doddle.
However, give me a point for working out how to get 135° from a chart that only goes up to 80°!

## Page 16

Denise has a poorly specified question sheet. Pick holes in her project, 'cos it is fun to make girls cry... Or something.

## Page 17

I will confess, I spent about 5 minutes staring at this. As the comment says - Am I missing something?

I mean, I could understand if Asif (a good solid Anglo-Saxon name, that!) drove 270 miles and used 28 litres, if the exam wanted to know how far he could drive if his car takes 35 litres on a fill; or how much petrol is required to drive a hundred miles.
But no.
The only thing I could determine from this question is that the least possible is nothing at all, and the most is... what he did.

Surely I'm missing something?

## Page 18

The final question (yup, this is it folks) is compound interest. This is a piece of cake if you know what compound interest is - that the interest amount is added in and the next round of interest is calculated on the total.
And, for those of you who'd like to do this in their heads, it is pretty simple to work out 2%. Move the decimal point one place to the left to get ten percent (ie 6000 becomes 600.0) and then move it another place to the left to get one percent (so now 60.00). Multiply that by two (to be 120.00). Add this in, year #1 is 6120.00 and we didn't even need a calculator.

and finally:

## Page 20

I always want to write "This page is NOT blank if you write 'Blank page' on it!" on 'blank' pages.
I guess it was too challenging to think up a 17th question?

Now, I don't claim to be any good at maths, but apart from the screw-up on page 5, possiblyprobably page 14, and simply not getting page 17, I think I've done okay. Feel free to point out my many actual errors in the comments below! (^_^)

One thing that my mother and I both agree on is that this exam is horrendous for a GCSE level examination. Foundation tier or not, this should not be your school leaving exam.

No. You should not be allowed to 'graduate' from Primary School until you can pass this.

I'm sorry, I just can't get over page 4.

Are English kids really this dumb?

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