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UiA researchers give advice on new mathematics exams

Two researchers from the University of Agder will advise the Norwegian Directorate of Education and Training on the use of aids during mathematics exams in secondary schools.

Picture of a study aid in mathematics
Experts from UiA are part of the Udir commission to advise on the use of digital aids in mathematics exams in secondary schools.

Assistant Professor Linda Gurvin Opheim and Assistant Professor Stig Eriksen at UiA’s Department of Mathematical Sciences spend one day a week discussing, planning and testing new maths exam questions.

The researchers were appointed in November last year to work 20 per cent for a commission under the Directorate of Education (Udir) until June this year. During this time they will develop exam questions, test them on students and submit a recommendation to Udir on the use of aids in exams.

Udir har oppnemnd Universitetslektor Linda Gurvin Opheim til eksamensutvalet som skal vurdere bruken av hjelpemiddel under matematikkeksamen.

Udir has appointed Assistant Professor Linda Gurvin Opheim to the exams commission which will evaluate the use of aids during the maths exam.

The exam questions must be in line with the new curricula introduced in the autumn of 2020.

“The goal is to prepare types of exams that suit the students. We are very concrete to make it clear what problems the students can solve with or without the use of aids, depending on the different competence aims in the curriculum”, Opheim says.

The use of aids during exams

The commission was established after Udir received massive criticism from teachers and school leaders when the directorate implemented a new form of assessment in 2020. The exam was set to be fully digital, and all aids were allowed on all questions.

The scheme generated a lot of debate, and Udir chose to reintroduce the old form of assessment until the spring of 2023. In the old assessment form students solve one part of the exam with aids and the other without.

“The commission will have to decide what kind of problems the students should solve with and without the use of aids”, Opheim says.

Stig Eriksen er universitetslektor ved UiAs Institutt for matematiske fag. Norsk matematikkråd har utnemnd han til å sitje i eksamensutvalet.

Stig Eriksen is an assistant professor at UiA’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. The Norwegian Mathematical Council has appointed him to sit on the exams commission.

There are different views about this in the working group. Opheim is currently in favour of making it possible to complete the exam with all aids available. But she also sees that creating good questions for such an examination can be quite challenging.

But she does not think the question of aids is the main issue in current discussions around mathematics.

“The discussion about the use of aids is a symptom of a bigger debate about mathematics in schools, and that debate is about the approach to learning and teaching”, Opheim says.

Debate around teaching methods

Opheim is still not sure what advice the working group will give when it comes to the use of aids, but she is certain that everyone is trying to find solutions that are in the best interests of the students.

“Teaching used to be all about cramming and repeating the same arithmetic tasks over and over again. Today, more and more people are in favour of a more experimental approach to mathematics teaching and mathematics learning”, she says.

There is agreement about this approach in the mathematics community at UiA. The community here is responsible for both the priority research centre MERGA and the Centre for Excellence in Education MatRIC.

Research from these centres shows that an experimental approach to mathematics leads to increased learning.

Emphasis on mathematical exploration

MatRIC has been in operation for eight years. During that time, four PhD students have submitted and defended their theses. Six others are working on their research. One of them is Opheim. She will defend her doctoral thesis in the next few days.

“The way we emphasise exploration and discussion here at MatRIC is in accordance with the ideas of in-depth learning, process and critical approach. These are also the principles that form the basis of the subject renewal and the new national curricula”, Opheim says.

The new curricula were gradually introduced from 2020. Emphasis was placed on the smart use of technology, process thinking, and mathematical discussion and reasoning.

“Finding the correct answer is all well and good, but it is more important to understand the process and the mathematical reasoning behind the answer”, Opheim says.

She wrote about this in an op-ed. It was eagerly read - also by Udir. The op-ed was published in Aftenposten where she wrote: ‘Mathematics in schools is no longer about the correct answer, but about how we get there. The time for correct setup and meticulous calculation is past. Now it is about creativity and reasoning.’

“We all want the students to have the chance to show that they understand mathematics during the exam. I think it is possible to give exam questions where students with both high and low mathematics skills get a fair chance to show what they know. That is the challenge we will work to solve by June”, Opheim says.

The exams commission is made up of teachers’ organisations, the national team for mathematics in schools, the Norwegian Mathematical Council and Udir:



Appointed by

Marianne Utle

Stovner upper secondary

The Union Education of Norway

Rune Haukeland

Hersleb upper secondary

Norsk lektorlag

Mona Forsbakk

Polarsirkelen upper secondary

The Norwegian Union of School Employees

Kari-Anne Bjørnø Rummelhoff

Gressvik lower secondary

The National Team

Stig Eriksen

Universitetet i Agder

The Norwegian Mathematical Council

Linda Gurvin Opheim

Universitetet i Agder


Ingeborg Sletta

Rauma upper secondary and NTNU