PETALING JAYA - Questions for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia's (SPM) Additional Mathematics were so tough that they left some students in tears after sitting for the papers.
A seasoned mathematics teacher said the standards of the questions were even higher than Singapore's O-Levels.
The teacher, who preferred not to be named, said he himself spent nearly an hour to complete just two questions in Paper 1 - one of two papers of the subject.
"Most Add Maths teachers (in the country) will struggle with those questions, which are harder than Singapore's.
"It was definitely very challenging for students to finish 12 questions in two-and-a-half hours, " added the teacher who manages a popular Add Maths tutorial page Y=mx+c which has over 23,000 followers on Facebook.
While he believed that it was a good move by the government to incorporate higher order thinking skills (HOTS) questions in exams, he said it would work only if students and teachers were trained to handle them.
"Though the aim to set these hard questions was to increase SPM standards, the Examinations Syndicate should be stringent in drafting questions.
"A lot of students told me there was no point in practising past years' papers because they were not helpful at all," he said.
According to the teacher, most candidates were only able to complete up to half of the questions when they sat for the Add Maths paper last Thursday.
He lamented that designing difficult questions could cause students to lose confidence in the subject and drop it.
"It cuts off a lot of potential career paths. For example, Add Maths in A-Levels is needed to pursue medicine, pharmacy, psychology and more," he said.
SPM candidate Steven from Selangor said he was confused with the questions, which were totally different from the norm.
"My heart sank as many of the topics I could score with were questioned in a peculiar manner that I could not understand," he said.
Although it was commendable that the ministry wanted to foster HOTS among youth, Steven said including questions and testing their understanding of topics that weren't part of their syllabus was unfair.
"Many students worked extremely hard for Add Maths but many cried after sitting for the paper," he said.
Delilah, who was consistently among the top 10 students in her form, also struggled with the papers.
"Add Maths broke me," said the student, who was aiming to score straight As to apply for scholarships.
Mother-of-two Riza was "heartbroken" to see her daughter emerge from the examination hall unhappy and tearful after her Add Maths Paper 1.
Her daughter and her friends said the questions were nothing like what they had practised.
"I understand that exams must meet a certain high standard but they hould not leave students feeling unmotivated and that their efforts (prepping for the exam) were wasted, " said Riza.
Another parent named Rekha said tough exam papers and HOTS questions were welcome only if they followed a ministry-provided syllabus.
She said an exam paper should ideally be a mix of questions of various difficulty levels as well as HOTS questions.
"My daughter was in tears after her first Add Maths paper.
"She is a good student and scored an A for the subject during trials, yet she couldn't answer or comprehend the questions in both papers."
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said that including topics that were not part of the syllabus was unfair to students.
"STPM questions are not part of the SPM syllabus.
"Since the Examinations Syndicate officers do not know their job, they must be removed.
"Apologies should not be accepted as this involves our students' future," he added.
National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Harry Tan called on the syndicate to look into the grouses if "we are to maintain confidence in the SPM".
The syndicate's director of examinations Adzman Talib said the Education Ministry appreciated all feedback on the matter.
"Every exam question is based on the curriculum taught to all candidates.
"When it comes to all exams, the ministry will ensure that candidates are treated fairly in every aspect.
"This is our priority," he said, adding that parents need not worry.