So, last night BOSTES published the long-awaited “Reference Sheet” that HSC 2016 students will receive in the final exams for Mathematics, Extension 1 and Extension 2. 

The response in the teaching community that I’ve seen has been mixed. There has mostly been very positive feedback, but I’ve spoken with many who are (wisely) a little more skeptical. Is it a good idea? Is it “dumbing down” the course?
As one of the teachers who gave feedback early on in the development of this sheet, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Is it appropriate? Is it even helpful? Like the standard integrals sheet it replaces (which, as an interesting piece of trivia, is actually a page out of the old book of log tables), I think that most strong students will not really use this sheet and it will not change the way they think about or learn mathematics. It was certainly never my experience as a student that I relied on the standard integrals sheet, because I had used those results so often that I inadvertently memorised them. 

But this sheet is not designed for students who would have been in that camp (and most maths teachers, it should be noted, would be in this category – that’s part of why we’re maths teachers). This sheet is designed to help out the student who struggles a little more and can’t access a number of questions in the final exam because he can’t quite remember how the cosine rule ends. Or which sign belongs where in difference of cubes. This sheet is going to help them and give them a tiny bit of assistance – just like we all would use in the real world if we were trying to do something and couldn’t remember the formula. We’d look it up on Google! This is an attempt to make assessment less contrived in that way. Of course it isn’t perfect – every solution is a compromise with strengths and weaknesses. But I personally welcome the change. 

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