Japan: 25% of College Freshmen Fail Sixth Grade Math Question

February 26th, 2012
in Background, econ_news

japan-college-studentSMALLEconintersect:  When 6,000 college students in Japan were examined on basic math skills last year, nearly 25% got the wrong answer to the following question.  And nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of those who got the wrong answer were science majors.  Before proceeding further, what was this difficult question?  Let’s reconstruct it here.

  • The average height of 100 students is 163.5 cm.  Which of the following answers is correct?

a.    The largest group of students is that group with a height near 163.4 cm.
b.    The total of the heights of all 100 students is 16,350 cm.
c.     There are an equal number of students in the group with height less than 163.5 cm and in the group taller than 163.5 cm.

Please write down your answer before continuing.

Follow up:

According to an article in The Japan Times, the question is one that would be asked on a sixth grade math proficiency exam in Japan.  The concepts that are tested by the answers are:

a.  An understanding of distributions.  This could be selected as a possible answer if the student assumes a centrally focused distribution but no information to that effect is given.  There are types of distributions where the average value is not near the most probable value, such as skewed distributions or bi-modal distributions.

b.  163.5 x 100 = 16,350

c.  The median and average are different for many groups of numbers.

But, even with no understanding of distributions, shouldn’t a college student immediately recognize that 163.5 x 100 = 16,350?  Especially science majors?

GEI has two observations:

  • Maybe the math questions for college students should be work with more basic concepts, such as what is 1 + 1?
  • GEI has had a number of articles about the failures of education in America.  Japan and the United States may have more in common than just the methodology for handling a credit bubble.

John Lounsbury


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  1. John Baker says :

    Well...for starters, 100 x 163.5....is NOT 16530; it's 16350.....


  2. Admin (Member) Email says :

    @John Baker:

    Thanks, error corrected.

    You have found one of the problems with our hire-the-handicapped program.

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