Mathematics and physics final exams are getting easier

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Students take final exams in mathematics
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Questions in the final exams in mathematics and physics have become a lot easier in the past thirty years. This is the conclusion of two researchers after studying 1500 questions in the VWO exam, writes Trouw.

Over the past 30 years, average grades on maths exams have risen by half a point and by a whole point on physics. However, VWO students did not become smarter, the exams became easier. They also cover less dust than before, the researchers write.

For example, the questions contain fewer thinking steps, or those steps are largely pre-chewed. More lenient is also assessed, although the effect is minimal according to the researchers.

The examined exams in the period 2015 to 2021 contained 40 to 50 percent less exam material than those in the period from 1990 to 1995. More difficult questions and assignments were also deleted. “Think, for example, of three-dimensional space geometry,” says one of the researchers.

Collect knowledge later

For the study, Loek Zonnenberg (mathematics teacher and former partner of the consultancy firm McKinsey) and Paul Rutten (partner McKinsey) compared 1500 questions that have been submitted during the central exams since the 1990s. In doing so, they examined the difference between two periods: the period from 1990 to 1995, and the period from 2015 to 2021.

The researchers looked at mathematics and physics because these subjects are often important for further education. “Without a good basis, students have to catch up on that knowledge later in life and they will also do worse in international competition,” Zonneberg told Trouw.

It is difficult for the researchers to explain why the exams are becoming easier. “Such a change happens insidiously, you don’t see it happening in front of you if you compare one year with the next. But if you put thirty years in a row, the shift is suddenly obvious and significant,” says Rutten.

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