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Misinterpretations of the word "trivial" in the NCEA level 3 history exam on Wednesday have prompted some senior Otago secondary school pupils to sign a nationwide petition.

It comes in response to concerns from year 13 pupils that they might fail the exam because the question had the word "trivial" in it and they did not know what it meant.

The exam asked pupils to write an essay on the following question: "Julius Caesar once said, ‘Events of importance are the result of trivial causes’. With reference to the causes and consequences of a historical event you have studied this year, analyse the extent to which you agree or disagree with Caesar."

An Otago secondary school principal, who declined to be named, was "horrified" but not surprised pupils did not know the meaning of trivial.

"To be honest, we are finding kids’ vocabularies are much more limited than they’ve ever been before."I think it is caused by a lack of conversation between family members.

"I think digital technology is one of the causes of it.

"People are living an online life that is limiting because they only pursue those things in which they have an interest.

"Whereas, when the family used to sit down and watch the news, there would be food for discussion and debate."

She said families were so busy these days, they did not take time to have conversations with their children.

A New Zealand Qualifications Authority spokeswoman said the question was produced by an exam development team, comprised of experienced NCEA level 3 history teachers.

She said the language used in the question was expected to be within the range of vocabulary for an NCEA level 3 history pupil.

"When there are any unfamiliar words in any material for an exam, a glossary is provided.

"If candidates have addressed the quote and integrated their ideas with it, then they will be given credit for the strength of their argument and analysis and will not be penalised for misinterpreting the word trivial."

She said NZQA had  been contacted  by four pupils about the exam question.

Monday’s NCEA level 1 English pilot digital exam was disrupted by a technical issue when pupils could not connect to the exam software for up to 10 minutes, but she said no pupils were disadvantaged.

The exam finish time was extended to make up for the lost time.

The exam involved 38 schools and 3631 pupils.

She said NZQA had analysed the situation with its provider and was confident it had been resolved.


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How embarrassing for Otago. Any pupils putting their names to this trivial petition should be forcibly re-located to another part of the country more suited to their trivial IQs.

Embarrassing for the question setter. It is a variant translation from the Latin "of little things".

And why weren't students allowed to look up 'trivial'? It is History, not Eng.

Perhaps the time has come where "education" should be redefined as a list of PC excuses kids can use for not knowing anything, where every player receives an equal prize, and a new system that actually teaches kids stuff like the old education system of the past used to!

Not knowing anything.

In this case, not knowing a word meaning. Knowing the History of Caesar and the Republic is the issue.

At year 13, it should be a “given” that a candidate capable of sitting a history exam will understand a word such as the one in question. That some do not, is not reason enough to “dumb down” the education system!!

I see this nonsense reported in papers in several countries, making NZ look like idiots... I bet all these sadly lacking final year students know what "mobile phone" means.

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