Public Eye (South Africa)

Matriculan­ts perplexed by error in Physical Sciences question paper

- Londiwe Xulu

Grade 12 pupils writing their final National Senior Certificat­e Physical Sciences examinatio­n paper 2 were left baffled after they found one of the questions was impossible to answer.

It turns out that the paper’s examiner had bungled a question worth three marks dealing with organic chemistry where pupils had to identify and name compounds.

A physical science teacher from a high school in Howick said his pupils explained that it was impossible for them to answer the question given the mistake. “An example I usually make in class on this topic is that compounds are from different families and that leaners can identify them by their uniforms. So, there was a mistake in one of the molecules, making it difficult for learners to identify which IUPAC (Internatio­nal Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) compound they belong to. This also made it difficult to give the general formula,” the teacher said.

The teacher reassured worried pupils that the error would not result in their losing marks, although many of them lost valuable time trying to figure out the question.

He said, generally, this was one of the easiest questions that allowed pupils to score marks. “Some pupils ended up spending more time on this question than they should have. The error would also have frustrated the physics pupils and some of them may have even lost their confidence due to the error, given that they couldn’t answer what was supposed to be an easy question.

“Others may be quick to pick up the mistake but it may also cause harm to those who would feel like they are failing to get answers to simple questions,” said the teacher.

Snenhlanhl­a Ngcobo, who was one of the 213 412 candidates writing the physics paper, said she started her exam confidentl­y, but ended up panicking when she encountere­d the question with the error.

She said most candidates at her school were frustrated and upset that the department had made such an error in the question paper.

One candidate took to Tiktok calling for other pupils to sign a petition to rewrite the paper, but a number of candidates were against the rewrite.

Last year, a mathematic­s paper 2 question carrying seven marks also had an error and the Department of Basic Education decided that the paper be marked out of a total of 143 marks instead of 150.

Pupils were hoping the department will do the same for the physical sciences paper 2 this year.

Spokespers­on for the Department of Basic Education, Elijah Mhlanga, confirmed that question 2.2 had an omission of one figure. Mhlanga 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 Q 2.2.1 (2 marks) and Q 2.3.3 (1 mark).

“The department will investigat­e the cause of the omission and will also conduct a full analysis of the impact of this omission on candidate performanc­e.

“The national meeting of the examining panel, the internal moderators and chief markers from the nine provincial education department­s, together with the Umalusi moderation team focusing on physical science paper 2, will take place from the Monday to Wednesday.

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

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