The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has defended a maths exam which has been criticised for being too hard and leaving students in tears.
Principals around Wellington want to lodge a formal letter of protest over the MCAT (maths common assessment test), which was for Year 11 students last week.
Wellington Maths Association president, Bruce Welsh, says parts of the exam were just too hard and were more like NCEA level 2 questions.
While he didn't single out any one question, he says some equations were set in a wordy context and that made it hard to know how to approach the question.
He says NCEA level 1 is the first external exam students take and making it this hard risks knocking their confidence and putting them off maths altogether.
Mr Welsh is meeting with NZQA to discuss the exam on Tuesday afternoon.
Hutt Valley High School principal Ross Sinclair said the examination, which was the students' first high-stakes external assessment, was set at a level that was far too difficult - by one account two curriculum levels too high.
"It has caused strong mathematics students to doubt themselves, has undermined students' confidence in both the examination process and their [good] teachers, has reduced students to tears in the exam room and made several have doubts about whether they have a mathematical future," Mr Sinclair wrote in the school newsletter.
NZQA says the paper was developed by a team of maths experts and also reviewed by several current secondary school teachers.
"This is part of the rigorous quality assurance process that backs all NCEA assessment to ensure that all students are assessed fairly and that the NCEA qualifications they earn are credible."
It says the parts of the paper which some students "found more challenging than they expected" required them to use maths concepts and methods rather than a "straightforward skills question".
It says these kinds of questions are in line with the NCEA standard, and the MCAT papers have been using more of them in the past few years.
The marking schedule could also be adjusted so no student was unfairly penalised if a question was found to be more difficult than expected.