I passed a matric mathematics paper using a free smartphone app

Using the free version of the Symbolab app, MyBroadband scored a pass mark of 38.67% on the first matric Mathematics paper.

There are many Android and iOS apps that can solve complex mathematical problems, including Symbolab and Mathway.

These apps typically focus on algebra. While they can solve complex problems, they struggle with questions that require interpretation, like word sums.

We wanted to see if passing a matric mathematics paper using only a smartphone app was possible.

We chose the free version of the Symbolab app and used it with no assistance interpreting the questions.

The apps provide multiple possible answers to some questions. In these cases, we awarded marks if one of these recommended solutions contained the correct answer.

We also awarded full marks for correct final answers even if the steps weren’t given, unless the paper states to show the work.

As the final November 2021 paper has not been publicly released, we attempted paper one from the May/June 2021 exams, which is on the same standard.

The app achieved a score of 58 out of 150, which equates to a passing mark of 39%.

Only 58% of learners who wrote the mathematics exam in 2021 passed, which means the app performed better than many South African learners.

Where the app performed well, and where it struggled

Here is a summary of how the free version of the Symbolab app performed on each question.

Question 1 was easy for the app, except for 1.3, which required more critical thinking. The app answered questions 1.1 and 1.2 correctly for 20 marks out of 24.

The app struggled to figure out what to make of a sequence, so it did not score any of the 17 marks in question 2 or the 9 in question 3.

In question 4, the app again scored all 10 available marks by showing all the necessary steps to prove the given values and then providing all the necessary information, and a complete graph of the equation when it was entered.

Question 5 got more interesting, with more than one input. The app gave the answers for 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 from the first formula, and the answer to question 5.5 from the second, but the rest of the questions required more interpretation from the user. This won the app 8 out of the 18 possible marks.

In question 6, the app could only provide the inverse function for 6.1.1, and only scored 2 out of a possible 8 marks.

Question 7 requires the person taking the test to know which formula to use, which made it impossible for this app to solve and led to 0 marks out of 13.

The app was easily able to calculate the derivatives in question 8 but could not show the first-principles calculation for question 8.1, only getting 7 out of the 12 possible marks.

In question 9, a function is given, and the app automatically spits out the answers for 9.1, but not for 9.2 and 9.3.

Adding in the point for the tangent did allow it to also answer 9.3 correctly, bringing the score for this question to 8 out of 11.

Questions 10 and 11 required a lot of interpretation, preventing the app from scoring any of the remaining 28 marks.

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I passed a matric mathematics paper using a free smartphone app