Several students and teachers have observed that Monday's State Board class XII mathematics question paper was lengthy and difficult.

“The section with 10 marks questions had a few problems that were totally unexpected. The differential calculus problem, for instance, involved several steps and I spent a lot of time on it,” said T. Saranya. Many of her friends could not finish the paper, she added.

Another student complained that most of the questions did not follow previous years' pattern. Heads of a few government schools said they were worried that the number of centums and the overall pass percentage might go down.

“If students in urban areas, who go to so-called good schools and also go for coaching find an examination difficult, imagine the plight of your average student in a rural school,” said the principal of a private school.

“As a teacher, I have struggled so much. I gave my students so many revision tests and took so much effort. Now, the future of my students could be affected,” said a mathematics teacher at a Corporation school.

Such responses from students and teachers after Monday's examination have raised questions about what really examinations seek to achieve.

According to some teachers, the current system largely trains students based on past years' question papers. N. Vijayan, correspondent and principal, Zion Matriculation Higher Secondary School, said: “This is something that CBSE students are made to do every year. No question was out of syllabus. Since the paper did not have questions from the previous years' papers, many students found it difficult,” he said.

According to a mathematics expert involved in textbook writing for the State Board stream, the problem is that teachers have started using previous years question papers rather than textbooks. “This approach to teaching mathematics has to change and hopefully, this examination will be an eye opener. The paper adhered to the blue print completely,” he said.

Vikraman Balaji, professor at Chennai Mathematical Institute, also felt that as long as questions were from within the syllabus and stimulated students' intelligence, there was no reason to complain.

“If students have to remember questions and answer them by rote, then it is not a test of mathematics at all. In fact, the State Board has to be congratulated for framing a question paper that made students think,” he said.

Adding that students should not lose out because of such an examination, Prof. Balaji suggested that the State government consider relative marking.

“In a difficult paper, 70 per cent might be a very good score. So, a comparative marking scheme taking into account the highest score will help.”

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012