Daniel Elkington

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why I wish I was doing Year 12 Maths Methods

Don't read if:
-You hate maths

Tasmania Jones is a man who has frequently appeared in the Victorian Maths Methods exam since, as far as my 5 minute research reveals, 1996. I'm a big fan of him. But unfortunately, it seems that there's a very good chance that in this year's Maths Methods exam on Thursday November 7 2013, Tasmania Jones will make his last appearance. And there's a strong possibility that he will die.

Let me give some background information. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, VCAA (often pronounced "V-car") seem to like to make their maths exams interesting where possible. One of the Year 12 maths subjects, Mathematical Methods, has two final exams. The shorter, easier one was today. I had a go at it this afternoon, and managed to score 36/40 one year since I'd even looked at the subject.

The second exam is longer and is much more difficult. It partly consists of some very lengthy questions that often have strange scenarios to try to make things more interesting. And for a long time now, Tasmania Jones has been having some exciting adventures across the pages of the exam.

Take 2008 for example. Tasmania begins by digging for gold on a beach. After finding the gold, a deadly snake bites him, injecting deadly toxins into his body. Tasmania has to run back to his camp to get the antidote before he dies. Your task is to calculate the quickest route back to the camp so that he survives. You then need to calculate how many days he needs to keep taking the antidote until he is completely healed.

Sometimes, Tasmania will come across the Zambeji tribe, an evil jungle tribe, and sometimes he will come across the Quetzacotl tribe, who happen to be good. In 2011 he helped the Quetzacotl tribe get clean drinking water by building a desalination plant to purify water from the salty river. In that exam, your task was to calculate the quickest route for Tasmania to run to the desalination plant to fix it when it stopped working.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the Tasmania Jones question can be a real disappointment. The best ones are when he is in a life or death situation, but in 2010, for example, the most exciting thing that happened was when someone made a counterfeit statue of him so as to compete with his cousin Victoria Jones who happened to be selling statues she was making herself. 2006 was even worse, and was about how Tasmania Jones was calculating the value of the harvest from his wheat field.

2009 initially appeared promising. The evil Zambeji tribe have stolen a marble statue from Tasmania Jones. They then begin lowering it into a vat slowly being filled with acid to dissolve it, as shown in this complicated diagram taken from the exam paper:
What follows are a series of questions where you have to calculate how fast the acid is rising, the height of the acid at various times, and a few other similarly dull questions. Of course, we're all waiting to find out whether Tasmania will save the statue!

Finally, you get this:
and that's the end of the paper. Terrible anticlimax. Who knows whether he was successful or not!

The best Tasmania Jones question though would have to be the 2007 one. Tasmania is searching for the famous Zambeji diamond. The diamond is buried in the Death Gorge, which is filled with deadly insects. However, the insects come and go at various times, so there are various times during the day where there is a low concentration of insects in the gorge, and it is therefore safe for someone to enter it. You need to do a whole bunch of calculations to determine when Tasmania should enter the gorge, and in the last question, need to work out by how much he'll survive (if indeed he does) after running into the gorge, digging up the diamond, and running back out again. He spends about 8 hours or so in the gorge, but manages to get out with 3.75 seconds to spare!

Last year I was hoping for something closer to 2007 for my Tasmania Jones question, and something much further away from 2006. I got what I wanted. The good Quetzalotl tribe had their emerald stolen by an evil tribe, and put into a tank of poisonous liquid. However there's a tap that can be turned on to drain out the poisonous liquid, however as soon as all the liquid is drained more is poured in to fill the tank back up again. Tasmania has to use a vine to climb down into the tank and retrieve the emerald without dying. I had lots of fun doing that question in my exam.

But I wish I was instead doing Maths Methods this year. Because we may be about to get the best Tasmania Jones question ever.

Last year I got in contact with a VCAA Maths Exam marker, who is reasonably high up and in contact with some senior people at VCAA. She informed me that there was an elderly man in VCAA who invented Tasmania Jones, and became obsessed with this character he had created. He got to the point where he couldn't stop talking about Tasmania Jones, and was constantly trying to think up a new exciting situation to put Tasmania into. It was his job to write the Tasmania Jones question that would be on the exam each year.

However, he eventually got too old, and a few years ago, he retired.

But before he retired, he left behind a few more Tasmania Jones questions for VCAA to put on an exam if they chose to do so. My contact was able to tell me the year the exam writer left, and the amount of questions he'd left behind. So far VCAA have indeed used one of his questions every year since he's retired, and by my calculation, if they choose to have a Tasmania Jones question in this year's paper, it will be the last one! I would assume that they would consider it disrespectful to let someone else write a Tasmania Jones question, so this year's exam may contain Tasmania Jones' last adventure!

And what better way to finish the adventures of Tasmania Jones than with a heroic death?

That's right, I'm thinking that there's a chance that Tasmania Jones may die in this year's Methods paper!

So if you happen to be doing the exam this year, and the last question on the paper is "Will he survive?" don't assume the answer is yes.

Of course, I may be wrong on all of this and someone else at VCAA may take over the writing of the Tasmania Jones questions. I have an excited feeling about tomorrow's exam however, and really wish I was doing it. Because I'm rather busy with Uni, I'm going to have to avoid all spoilers until Friday morning, and then print out the exam, start a two hour timer, and experience the excitement of doing another Maths Methods exam...


I can take criticism, so feel free to respond. You can even do so anonymously if you want to be really cruel, but I will delete your comment if I find it too offensive. Oh, and I can't stand swearing.