Students flummoxed by word ’trivial’ in NZQA exam

Year 13 students are worried they might fail their history exam because they didn't know what the word "trivial" meant. 

The senior students have launched a petition asking for the essay to be marked based on students' own definition of the "unfamiliar" word. It has so far received more than 1300 signatures.

Students sitting the NZQA Level 3 History causes and consequences paper on Wednesday were confronted with the word in a quote from Julius Caesar: "Events of importance are the result of trivial causes."

Students were asked to analyse the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with Caesar, with reference to the causes and consequences of a historical event. 

Taieri College student Logan Stadnyk is one of those who sat the paper and signed the petition.

He said he was "lucky" to understand the word, but at least half of his class didn't. 

Now the students were worried they could be penalised.  

Some of his peers thought trivial meant "significant", he said.

"Trivial isn't a word that you hear too frequently, especially not if you're in Year 13," he said. 

A definition of the word should have been included in the exam, he said. 

Chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers' Association, Graeme Ball, agreed. 

He called the exam a "little bit of a snafu" on the part of NZQA, and said the language used in questions should be "accessible to all".

The exam was not testing comprehension, so it was "unfair" to make that part of the assessment, he said. 

But should Year 13 students know the word "trivial"?

It was "debatable", he said. "I don't think we can make assumptions about what students should and shouldn't know at that level," he said. 

A spokeswoman for NZQA said the language used in the question "was expected to be within the range of vocabulary for a NCEA Level 3 History student," but candidates would not be penalised for misinterpreting the word 'trivial'.

Four students had contacted NZQA about the exam, she said. 

-Stuff/Josephine Franks

More on SunLive...
You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now

Further to 'Comprehension'

Posted on 18-11-2018 14:33 | By Centurion

If one came across an unfamiliar word in the course of one’s reading, then steps were taken to find its meaning .. so easy, yet apparently not encouraged in today’s education system. I find this whole article quite discombobulating. Figure that one out.


Posted on 18-11-2018 14:24 | By Centurion

Was a subject taught in Standards 5 and 6 back in the day when I could readily understand the education system. It encouraged one to read and understand what an author was saying. Is the curriculum devoid of a modern equivalent?

So, just maybe.........

Posted on 17-11-2018 20:53 | By groutby

.....we could ask English teachers if we actually do teach English..?..and if yes, then why do their charges not understand this particular word?..and if so, should the poor wee things actually write their own kwestions? is getting of concern here particularly when we are actually supposed to take this seriously...AND.. I bet their concern is considered..there is no hope for thinkers anymore...thanks technology (mainly ’social (trivial) media’) ...the next crop of Uni students are going to be really interesting!


Posted on 16-11-2018 16:12 | By Skidmarks

Well said, morepork. I’m sure I and many others wholeheartedly (woops, 4 syllables may be a bit difficult to understand. sorry) agree with you. Some of the synonyms given for trivial in Roget’s Thesaurus are minor, lightweight, trifling, petty, paltry, not to be taken seriously, insignificant, and many others. All of which could well be applied to both the students and their education. I have yet to see any comments from fellow students or teachers expressing embarrassment at their ignorance. But I guess that is the direction of modern education.


Posted on 16-11-2018 15:01 | By morepork

Students of this age not recognizing the word "trivial" sends shivers down my spine. Petitioning to have it explained is like saying: "Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river..." Let’s drag everybody down to the lowest common denominator and make the nerds and geeks, who actually spent some time reading books, be penalized for doing so. While language is a fluid thing and some words DO fall into disuse ("fardels", "quietus" and "bodkin" are three that come to mind... all from the same mediaeval passage), words like "trivial" are not in that category. If all you know is texting, then understand that it is not enough to get you through the world of industry and commerce. Learn to read, then do it. It won’t stop you texting but it will help you understand what is being requested of you by the Real World. (And reading can be fun...)


Posted on 16-11-2018 14:30 | By overit

Seriously! Not much of an education they have been getting. Seesh.


Posted on 16-11-2018 13:18 | By

Only 1300 signatures. Many of those will be from students who bombed and just want another go. The few that genuinely didn’t get it need to brush up on their vocabulary I’m afraid. They are just being precious brats.


Posted on 16-11-2018 13:09 | By

Maybe if todays youth used proper words instead of abbreviating or using txt, sorry text, language, they would understand simple words such as ’trivial’. I cannot believe that these students are moaning about such a trivial matter, or should I say insignificant, or minor matter. A lot of growing up to do.......and it seems, learning basic English.

Oh dear me

Posted on 16-11-2018 12:58 | By Dino

what can one really say - at year 13 they don’t know the meaning of the word "trivial" - there is no hope for the world :-(

Dumbed down

Posted on 16-11-2018 12:37 | By LeeW

How can they not be penalised for incorrect interpretation, when the word "trivial" is at the core of the essay question?

Now it's Worse!

Posted on 16-11-2018 10:50 | By Bill Gibson-Patmore

Oh dear! ... Now the Journos have made it worse! ... Using the 9 letter word FLUMMOXED in a headline is going to put a whole other world into a spin! ... Sunlive - you too can expect a petition now! ... To quote Caeser and Spock: "If you can’t emoticon it, don’t trivialise it with malevolent words!" ?

A reflection of the lack of basic knowledge

Posted on 16-11-2018 09:56 | By tish

in children who don’t actively read real content, the product of dumbed-down parents of a generation that now can’t cope without a spellchecker to keep them on track? Weclome to the world of BYOD. It’s an ordinary word, a common word. This is symptomatic of an idiot education system creating a meaningless curriculum and hiring teachers who don’t know literature and can’t spell themselves without assistance or write a list of primary school student spelling words without errors? No excuses.

Mark Watchman.

Posted on 16-11-2018 09:40 | By Mark Watchman

Good grief. Are we serious here. Year 13 students do not know what trivial means. Do they not teach English any more. I find this news rather trivial.


Posted on 16-11-2018 08:47 | By Taffy

OH they might not understand this meaning as well. History is full of trivial incidents!!!! Perhaps the question should have been .WTF causes? To think that a percentage? are off to uni next year well welcome to the real world.