Laurie Taylor

September 21, 2001

"Evidence that mathematicians gain many more firsts than other undergraduates may have more to do with the non-discursive nature of their subject than higher intelligence" - THES September 14.

Welcome to this emergency meeting of the Mathematics Examiners Board. Our task today is to consider the number of firsts we are awarding and devise ways of moving closer to the norms for other subjects. I suggest we begin by scrutinising this year's firsts to see if there are any lessons for next year's marking. Let's begin with Allcock. One of yours, Doctor Lagrange.

Twenty-four questions overall. Twenty-four answers. Twenty-four big ticks. A clear first.

And he included a page showing his workings? And all the symbols are nice and clear.

Two pages of workings. But there is a slightly misshapen triple integer sign.

Something that we might take into account next year. On to Bates. Yes, Doctor Galois. Anything at all upper-second here?

Not really. Twenty-four ticks out of twenty-four. He does, though, miss an "l" out of "elliptical triangles".

Really. That does suggest a slightly slapdash attitude that might not be consistent in future with a clear first.

Professor Abel, I'm sorry to interrupt, but these do seem somewhat marginal matters. Isn't there a more objective way of distinguishing between candidates?

Thank you, Doctor Cauchy. I was, in fact, intending to propose that we complement this type of inquiry with a short compulsory essay for all finalists. Such a discursive element would allow examiners to exercise the qualitative judgement currently available in other disciplines.

Something like "critically examine the philosophical presuppositions underlying the process of trisecting an arbitrary angle".

I was thinking more on the lines of "What I did during my last holiday". That should sort the wheat from the chaff.

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