Minister for Education Ben Carroll welcomed the report, setting a clear expectation that the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) move quickly to implement all the recommendations to give VCE students, teachers and assessors certainty in this year’s examinations.

“We support all the recommendations from this independent review, and will work to implement as many as possible before the 2024 examination period – so students and schools can have faith in the integrity of the VCE,” Carroll said in a statement.

A three-member panel was established following multiple typographical errors in the General Mathematics, Mathematical Methods, Specialist Mathematics and Chemistry examinations last year, along with students who were meant to take the Chinese Second Language Advanced (SLA) exam being instead given papers for the Chinese as a Second Language (SL) exam – a significantly easier level course.

The panel consulted with the VCAA, the Department of Education, staff from the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the NSW Education Standards Authority, and representatives from Mathematics and Chemistry faculties from multiple Victorian universities.

It also consulted with representatives from the Victorian Catholic Education Authority and Independent Schools Victoria.

Although at the time of the errors being discovered, Carroll said there was no need for students to be compensated because no one was disadvantaged by them, all students who sat the compromised exams in 2023 were awarded a correct score for the questions, to ensure the assessment process remained fair, valid and reliable.

During its investigation, the panel also uncovered examples of flawed questions in mathematics tests in both 2023 and 2022, commenting that in some cases, precision and “correctness” had been given a lower priority in the interests of accessibility for students.

The Age newspaper has reported that a team of independent mathematicians involved in the review uncovered concerns with 11 questions from the mathematical methods and specialist mathematics exams.

Following an open letter signed by 73 university mathematicians which claimed the 2022 VCE Mathematics examinations included five ‘major’ errors, they concurred, finding that five questions from the 2022 mathematics exams contained errors, which contradicted a previous Deloitte review that exonerated the testing authority.

While the panel concluded that, overall, the VCAA has comprehensive policies, processes and procedures for developing, reviewing, distributing and administering its external examinations, it said “there is a need for the VCAA to review and strengthen some of these policies, processes and procedures, including consistency in practice, to improve the VCAA’s quality assurance settings and to ensure it maintains the integrity of the external examinations system”.

This, it said, applies particularly to Mathematics.

Chaired by Dr John Bennett, the panel made six recommendations for improvement, which it hoped would be immediately implemented “to ensure that the VCE examination processes demonstrate the appropriate quality and rigour in 2024 and beyond”.

They include increasing the representation of qualified academics on the Mathematics Examination Development Panels, steps to strengthen the examination-setting process for the Mathematics examination papers, as well as the review process for Mathematics and Chemistry exams.

Other recommendations include updating training and guidance for the VCAA’s editors and desktop publishers, updating guidance for staff at examination centres and publishing examination reports in a shorter timeframe.

“Overall, I was impressed with the processes that the VCAA have in place for the setting of the VCE examinations,” Bennett also said in a statement.

“I trust the panel’s recommendations will assist the VCAA to strengthen its policies and procedures even further.”

Carroll told reporters this afternoon that while the Government will implement all of the recommendations, it maintains that it is unrealistic to always produce faultless exams.

“There could never be a foolproof guarantee,” he said.

“But this goes a long way to addressing what academics themselves and the sector have asked for and we are delivering that.”

Opposition education spokeswoman Jess Wilson said the Coalition wants a wholesale review of exam requirements and that the report had fallen short.

“There’s no actual demonstration how this is going to be fixed in the future,” she said.

“We all know how hard Year 12 students work and what the Labor Government has delivered today puts at risk future exam periods and errors right across the board.”

The VCAA develops and administers more than 160 examinations to more than 80,000 students in approximately 630 examination centres across Victoria.

VCE exams will begin on October 29.

The VCAA review’s recommendations for improvement are:

  1. Increasing the representation of suitably qualified academics on the Mathematics examination development panels.
  2. Strengthening the examination-setting process and construction of the Mathematics examination papers to ensure they are of sufficient rigour and quality. This includes simplifying the development of examinations for the 3 Mathematics study designs by requiring multiple-choice questions in all examination papers to have 4 options instead of 5, to bring them into line with the examinations in all other VCE subjects and examinations conducted by other comparable Australian jurisdictions.
  3. Strengthening the examination review processes for Mathematics and Chemistry.
  4. Updating training and guidance for the in-house editors and desktop publishers involved in the Mathematics and Chemistry examinations.
  5. Updating guidance for staff at examination centres to reduce the possibility that students could receive the incorrect examination paper.
  6. Publishing examinations material in a timelier manner and updating its policies and processes relating to the management of errors and alleged errors.

To view the executive summary of the report and more, click here.