Education department confirms error in matric science paper

The department of basic education has confirmed there was a mistake on the matric's science exam paper written earlier this week. Stock photo.
The department of basic education has confirmed there was a mistake on the matric's science exam paper written earlier this week. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/arrowsmith2

For the second year in a row, grade 12 pupils have had to answer a matric exam paper that had an error. 

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the department of basic education, confirmed that there was an “omission” of a figure in one of the questions carrying three marks in total in the physical science paper 2 that was written on Monday. 

A total of 213,412 candidates entered for the paper.

He said the “omission” occurred in the formula of an organic compound where the subscript 3 was missing in one of the options in the question.  

“The questions that are directly affected by this omission are Question 2.2.1 (2 marks) and Question 2.3.3 (1 mark).”  

The problematic question in the chemistry paper, which was seen by TimesLIVE, indicated to candidates that the letters A to H in a table represents eight organic compounds. Pupils were then asked to write down the IUPAC name of compound E and also “the general formula of the homologous series to which compound E belongs”. 

A pupil, who bagged a distinction in chemistry in the preliminary exams that were written in September, said: “This paper [November paper] was absolutely horrible because the early questions had mistakes and questions 5 - 9 were extremely challenging.” 

The matric pupil from Johannesburg said while he usually did not find question two difficult because it consisted of “easier” work, he got “completely thrown off” when he reached the question with the mistake. 

“I didn’t realise that it was a mistake and therefore I sat there for about 10 minutes trying to figure out what the answer could be because the question simply didn’t make sense. This is very frustrating because I definitely could’ve used those 10 minutes to spend more time on the more challenging questions.”  

The teenager said it was very difficult to answer the tricky questions in the paper “because I was already rattled from the mistake in question 2”. 

He said he had studied very hard for the exams and was very disappointed after the paper “because I don’t believe that I’m going to get a distinction again. The department should definitely compensate all learners who wrote the paper.”  

The error should not have crept into the paper if the process of moderation was thorough. The examiners and moderators should be blamed for the error 
Irene Muller, senior lecturer at NWU

A physical science teacher from KwaZulu-Natal said his pupils also complained about the error, which caused a lot of anxiety.  

He said another question — question 7 — was “way beyond the scope of a question on acids and bases. Out of 18 marks, only 2 marks were for theory and 16 marks on calculations. At least 50% of marks for this question should be attained by the learners from theory and level 2 calculations.” 

Irene Muller, a senior lecturer in the school of maths, science and technology education at North West University, said the question paper and answers had to be checked through a moderation process. 

“The error should not have crept into the paper if the process of moderation was thorough. The examiners and moderators should be blamed for the error.” 

She said learners would have been unsure whether it was a mistake or not and it can cause anxiety. 

Asked whether learners should be compensated for the error, Muller said a decision either to not mark the particular question or to compensate all learners with three marks “will be in the best interests of learners”.

“Quality control regarding exam papers is becoming a concern,” she added. 

Prof Vimolan Mudaly from the school of education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the error did not involve a significant number of marks “so it should not affect the performance of learners in the paper”. 

However, he said he had a serious problem with how the error crept into the paper as there was a team involved in setting and moderating it. 

“If it was simply typographical, then who checks and ensures that the paper was captured correctly? The examiners and moderators must accept responsibility,” he said. 

Children have to learn that there will be hurdles and they have to sometimes move to the next question if they encounter a problem, Mudaly added. “This needs to be taught at schools. Mistakes can happen, although it’s an unacceptable practice.”

Mhlanga said they will investigate the cause of the “omission” and conduct a full analysis of the impact of it on candidates’ performance. 

He said a meeting of the examining panel and internal moderators and chief markers from the nine provincial education departments and a moderation team from Umalusi will take place from Monday to Wednesday next week. 

“At this meeting, the omission and its full impact on learners will be discussed. This omission in the national exam paper is highly unfortunate and regrettable. The department will ensure that no candidate is disadvantaged because of this omission.” 

Umalusi spokesperson Biki Lepota said they were notified by the department of the error in the paper after the learners wrote it. 

“It is regrettable that despite the careful attention of the examiners and moderators, the error went undetected. Umalusi wishes to reassure learners that the post-exam writing quality assurance processes will be deployed to ensure that no candidate is disadvantaged by the error.” 

In the September preparatory exams set by the Gauteng education department for its learners, three multiple-choice questions carrying six marks in the physical sciences paper 1 were found to have serious mistakes. As a result of the exam bloopers, teachers were asked to award pupils full marks for all three questions irrespective of the option they chose. 

Last year, a question carrying seven marks in maths paper 2 was found to be “faulty” and all candidates’ papers were marked out of a total of 143 marks instead of 150. 



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