A trivial matter

Year 13 students are complaining about the use of the word ‘trivial’ in a history exam (in a quote by someone called Caesar) because they didn’t know what the word meant. And the chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association agrees that it is ‘unfair to test comprehension’ in an exam.

I’m not sure if this acceptance that lack of knowledge of the meaning of words is an alarming indictment of our school education, or it is a sign of changing times.

Stuff: Students launch petition after being flummoxed by word ‘trivial’ in NZQA exam

Year 13 students are worried they might fail their history exam because they didn’t know what the word “trivial” meant.

The senior students have launched a petition asking for the essay to be marked based on students’ own definition of the “unfamiliar” word. It has so far received more than 1300 signatures.

As of now there are 2159 signatures. The  petition:

The year 13 History Causes and Consequences essay has made the decision of including an unfamiliar word (trivial) which caused much confusion among the students who were sitting the exams on the 14th of November 2018.

The word which many students were not particularly familiar with meant that student’s had to write the essay based on their own understanding of the word. Many of which were different to what the word actually means; meaning that the true potential of many students are going to be covered.

This petition is made for the government to recognize the true potential of the students and mark the essay based on the student’s own content and understanding of the event. Please do not feel threatened for this is only a petition to recognize the hard work and efforts put in by many across the country.


Students sitting the NZQA Level 3 History causes and consequences paper on Wednesday were confronted with the word in a quote from Julius Caesar: “Events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

Students were asked to analyse the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with Caesar, with reference to the causes and consequences of a historical event.

Taieri College student Logan Stadnyk is one of those who sat the paper and signed the petition.

He said he was “lucky” to understand the word, but at least half of his class didn’t.

Now the students were worried they could be penalised.

Some of his peers thought trivial meant “significant”, he said.

“Trivial isn’t a word that you hear too frequently, especially not if you’re in Year 13,” he said.

I’m not sure how those who write exam questions can ensure all words used are frequently heard by 18 year olds.

Chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association, Graeme Ball, agreed.

He called the exam a “little bit of a snafu” on the part of NZQA, and said the language used in questions should be “accessible to all”.

The exam was not testing comprehension, so it was “unfair” to make that part of the assessment, he said.

I learned that being able to comprehend exam questions was quite important, but that was quite a while ago.

Should students be able to take a dictionary into exams? Do they have dictionaries these days?

But should Year 13 students know the word “trivial”?

It was “debatable”, he said. “I don’t think we can make assumptions about what students should and shouldn’t know at that level,” he said.

A spokeswoman for NZQA said the language used in the question “was expected to be within the range of vocabulary for a NCEA Level 3 History student”…

I would have thought so.

…but candidates would not be penalised for misinterpreting the word ‘trivial’.

How the hell does that work. Can students who state they don’t understand a word answer a question however they like? Or do exam markers guess if meaning is not understood and allow for that in marks? I guess that is kind of normal.

But not understanding a word like ‘trivial’ doesn’t seem like a trivial matter.

Should exam questions be dumbed down to avoid any student not understanding words used? Or should meanings of any tricky words be included in exam papers?

Or should vocabulary be taught in schools?


Asset referendum question an ass

The question we will be asked in the asset sale referendum:

“Do you support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?”

No, I don’t. I doubt that anyone would support selling Solid Energy in it’s current state. Government have indicated it won’t be sold at this stage.

I do support the right of Government to have sold Mighty River Power shares, they campaigned on it, they were elected, and they got support to get their legislation through Parliament.

But I would honestly say No to the referendum question.

And then the Opposition would claim that supports their “no asset sales” campaign. Which would be false.

This illustrates the absurdity of our Citizen Initiated referenda system.

A single question has to be designed to attract petition signatures, and then cover all possibilities in a referendum question eighteen months later.

Time has passed by the original premise of the question.

And a single question is unable to address more complex possibilities and preferences.

The infamous smacking referendum question was just as flawed. It was designed to get a particular negative response, regardless of the actual arguments for and against.

Questions have become simplistic political tools, campaign tools. They do not accurately capture complexities of public opinion, they are not designed to do that. They can’t do that anyway, so they are used to try and score political points.

The asset sale question is an ass, as is the system of citizen democracy that has been taken over by political campaigners.

This petition is a waste of time and taxpayer money. It is simply a means of parties extending their campaigning between elections. And we pay for it.