Best Mathematics Achievement Standards for an Engineering Future?

By Michael Edmonds 13/10/2013

At work recently we have been discussing which achievement stands best prepare students for careers in engineering (and the physical sciences). Some of this discussion comes out of the fact we often have students applying for entry to study in engineering* programmes with what, superficially, looks like the right number of credits – however, when we dig a bit deeper the standards that they have are less than ideal for moving comfortably into engineering related study.

As a result of such discussions our mathematics team came up with the following list of achievement standards as best preparing students:


Level 2

AS91261 Apply algebra methods in solving problems External 4 credits

AS91262 Apply calculus methods in solving External 5 credits

Plus at least one of the following

AS91259 Apply trigonometric relationships in solving problems Internal 3 credits

AS91269 Apply systems of equations in solving problems Internal 2 credits

AS91257 Apply graphical methods in solving problems Internal 4 credits


Level 3

AS91578 Apply differentiation methods in solving problems External 6 credits

AS91579 Apply integration methods in solving problems External 6 credits

AS91577 Apply the algebra of complex numbers in solving problems External 5 credits

Plus at least one of the following:

AS91587 Apply systems of simultaneous equations in solving problems Internal 3 credits

AS91575 Apply trigonometric methods in solving problems Internal 4 credits

So why do students end up studying less than ideal mathematics achievement standards? Is it that many students don’t decide to pursue an engineering career early enough to plan? Or do students (and schools) favour easier mathematics achievement standards? With Minister Parata pressuring schools to raise the levels of achievement standard success, and with up to a third of students being taught mathematics by teachers not formally qualified in the subject, is it just too hard to teach these achievement standards?

Whatever the answer is, if we are to increase the number of students studying the physical sciences and engineering we need to get more students studying the right achievement standards.

*Note – At work (CPIT) we teach the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering and the Bachelor of Engineering Technology.

0 Responses to “Best Mathematics Achievement Standards for an Engineering Future?”

    • Simon, good point regarding statistics. The feedback I’ve generally had is that algebra, calculus and trigonometry are best for engineering and the physical sciences while statistics is more relevant for biological sciences and medicine.
      This makes it even more critical that students who want to cover their options to pick the right achievement standards, more than the recently used 14 credit minimum in mathematics.

  • Engineers increasingly need to deal with both complex systems and risks, and it is good for them to learn about measurement under uncertainty from an early age, otherwise they run the risk of ending up like, er hem, engineers 🙂

  • I think we all need to deal with complex systems and risks, so perhaps everyone should be learning statistics? – the problem is that I think many students aim for the minimum amount of maths they need, which may not allow for the inclusion of stats + calculus etc.
    I think maybe tertiary institutions should be specifying specific achievement standards/sets of standards for entry?

  • I would say “all” rather than “these plus at least…” to the above list. Engineering pulls concepts from all over mathematics to provide solutions to problems, and the more different ideas you have to call on, the better. Perhaps more breadth, rather than more depth? I’m not really up with the play re: NCEA etc.
    (Disclaimer: I have a BE(Mech, Hons) and a BSc(Maths), so I’m probably not the best person to comment on those with not enough maths…)