Greenhead College students left a maths exam in tears fearing their chances of going to university have been wrecked by an exceptionally tough exam many found impossible to complete.

Although the college says Wednesday’s AS exam is the hardest one they’ve seen in recent times they have urged students not to panic as they will be raising the issue with the exam board in the hope it will then lower the number of questions needed to be answered correctly for each grade.

And they have stressed that the students can resit this exam next summer.

The Examiner has today been in contact with the Oxford Cambridge and RSA (OCR) exam board which set the exam and they have pledged that if the exam was too challenging then “we would like to reassure students and teachers that this will be put right.”

Video thumbnail, Explaining examining – creating an exam paper (OCR)
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Greenhead College Head of Maths David Craven has already contacted all the students to say the college will be hoping OCR will lower the grades threshold.

This would mean they would need to get less answers correct to get the different grades but at the moment no-one knows what percentage of answers students need to get right to get A, B, C, D or E grades.

Mr Craven said: “It was upsettingly hard. The level of difficulty of the questions was well above what you would expect on the first paper of an AS level. It was the hardest paper I have seen going back to 2004.”

Here's a question from last year's paper — can you crack it? Show your work in the comments below!

A question from the 2015 AS level core 1 maths paper - it's worth just two points, out of a possible 75! This question was set by AQA, not OCR
A question from the 2015 AS level core 1 maths paper - it's worth just two points, out of a possible 75! This question was set by AQA, not OCR

He said the students had been taught the principles to answer them, but the questions had then been set at an exceptionally challenging level.

Mr Craven said all the students had exam papers stretching back to 2004 – but this one was far harder than any of those.

“It is the level of difficulty that is the issue,” he said. “The level of difficulty should be balanced but the overall level of the questions was too demanding. We hope the exam board will make amends. This a national problem and is one paper out of three at AS level.”

He said it won’t damage the chances of students aiming for an A* grade. They will take six exams and would need to average an 80% pass rate with 90% on the last two pure maths papers. That means the results of the other four exams can dip below 80% as long as the average is 80%.

Greenhead College
Greenhead College

And in an email to students who took the exam Mr Craven said: “A significant number of students have been to see members of the maths staff to express their concerns regarding the level of difficulty of the C1 paper. We now have a copy of the paper and agree that it is extremely challenging, certainly more difficult than any of the recent papers.

“I will be contacting the exam board once the exams are over to express our concerns with any papers which we feel are unfair and this will include C1.”

He added: “Although it is a difficult thing to do you must try to put C1 behind you and prepare for your remaining exams in all subjects. We are optimistic the exam board will set the grade boundaries lower than recent years which gives you a better chance of securing the grade you deserve. These things happen. We will do all we can to help, but don’t panic – focus your efforts on your remaining modules. Don’t let this difficult paper dent your confidence!”

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An OCR spokesman said: “An effective exam includes a range of questions from the most straightforward and accessible to more challenging, higher-level so a student should not necessarily worry if they encounter questions that seem particularly hard.

“While we are confident there was nothing wrong with this paper, if it turns out that some questions were too challenging then we would like to reassure students and teachers that this will be put right, either when the mark scheme is finalised or during awarding – the process in which examiners set grade boundaries.”

An online petition has been set up by students wanting to protest about the exam.