Pupils 'triggered' by calorie-counting question in maths test have the right to complain, says exam board 

Pupils protested that the Maths GCSE question was distressing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder
Pupils protested that the Maths GCSE question was distressing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder

An exam board has said that students can complain if they felt “triggered” by a calorie-counting question. 

Pupils protested that a maths GCSE question about how many calories a woman had consumed for breakfast was distressing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

One student, a recovering anorexic, told how she was so upset by the question that she had to leave the exam hall in a panic. 

The question said: “There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yogurt. Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yogurt for breakfast. Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast”.

Following the concerns, Pearson, which owns the exam board EdExcel, carried out a review of the question and found it to be valid.

A spokesman for Pearson said that any student “who thinks that this question may have impacted their performance” should make contact via their school.

Poppy-Willow Kent, a student from Colchester, wrote on Twitter: “I am sorry, but can I ask what on earth you were thinking by having a question around counting calories? 

"Your exams are primarily taken by 15-20 year olds, who are also the age group most likely to suffer from eating disorder.”

A 16-year-old student from Hampshire added: “The weighing food and calorie question on the paper today triggered me so much. Hopefully it didn’t upset anyone else who suffers. 

"It just bought back so many bad memories for me that I was about to cry. Do they know about the crisis or I’m being over sensitive?”

Meanwhile, Isobel Colclough, 16, from Stoke-on-Trent, explained how the question left her in a "panic" and she had to leave the exam hall. 

"I read the question and it bought back so many memories of counting calories, it put me into a panic where I had to leave the room for about five minutes and a teaching assistant calmed me down," she said.  

"Then the teaching assistant persuaded me to go back into the room and I did manage to finish the exam but it stayed on my mind for quite a while after. For someone who has in the past been obsessed with counting calories, it definitely triggered memories of counting everything."

Miss Colclough, who used to be anorexic, said she is considering making a formal complaint about the question.  It is the latest exam question to have sparked debate this summer.

Any student “who thinks that this question may have impacted their performance” should make contact via their school, Pearson said

The exam board AQA came under fire from students for a GCSE English exam which used a passage from a book in which a character was later raped.

Pupils complained that the unseen text in their exam paper was taken from a story that later goes on to detail how a young woman becomes pregnant after being sexually exploited by her employer.

The description of the rape was not part of the excerpt in the exam paper, but students nonetheless protested that the excerpt should have come with a “trigger warning”.   AQA denied that the choice of extract was inappropriate. 

Tom Quinn, a director at the eating disorder charity Beat, said that references to counting calories “can be triggering” for anyone with or recovering from an eating disorder.  

He said it can “cause significant distress”, adding that since young people are "most at risk of these serious mental illnesses", exam boards should avoid such material in their questions.   

A spokesman for Pearson said: “In a maths exam taken last week, candidates were asked to solve a practical problem calculating the number of calories in a banana and a yogurt. We have reviewed the question and find it to be valid.

“We encourage any student who thinks that this question may have impacted their performance to get in contact with us via their school.

“We understand the summer exam series is a stressful time for students and we wish all students every success with their remaining exams.”

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