Well Thank Christ for That

by Kieran Healy on February 25, 2006

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Via Pharyngula. I have to say that having “None of the Above” as the second option out of four on Q7 caused me some concern.

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Mostly Muppet Dot Com
02.26.06 at 12:57 am
Uninummeracy § Unqualified Offerings
02.27.06 at 12:38 am



alex 02.25.06 at 11:47 pm

I got 10 out of 10, too! I should be depressed that I’m so happy about it.


joel turnipseed 02.26.06 at 12:22 am

Uh, should any reader of Crooked Timber get less than 9 or 10 (allowing for carelessness or a second glass of wine or beer) correct?

Of course, it should also be said: this is about as hard as I remember the GRE general exam math portion to be, on which I stunned myself by scoring an 800.


peter ramus 02.26.06 at 12:56 am

That was hardly a test of eighth grade math. I recall eighth grade math as an extremely pencil-depleting subject with lots and lots of least common bother and inverting this or that or the other and long, long, division.

I got 10/10 on this in less that two minutes without even looking away from the screen. That can’t be eighth grade math, unless it’s eighth grade math … for dummies! You can’t do eighth grade math in your head! And you can’t even finish the test, because your pencil broke and Sister won’t give you another one because didn’t she tell you before to bring a spare, young man, and no you cannot be grinding away at the sharpener and disturbing all the rest.


The Continental Op 02.26.06 at 1:21 am

The fact that I got 10/10 on this quiz is proof positive that it cannot be testing math at anything higher than the 4th grade level!


lalala 02.26.06 at 1:40 am

As the comments above suggest, this test seems too easy. But there’s some low-level algebra there, and thinking back, in my junior high you had to be on the very top track to do any kind of algebra by eighth grade. Like, my dad had to throw a fit in the guidance counselor’s office to get me into the special algebra class, because even most of the good students got put in track 1, which was not as advanced as algebra.


bmm6o 02.26.06 at 1:58 am

I didn’t submit the form, but isn’t -7 both an integer and a prime number?


joel turnipseed 02.26.06 at 2:02 am

Actually, I remember 8th grade math very well: Algebra 1. Our teacher, Mr. Milroy, told us the first day of class that we had a choice: write out “I get an ‘A’ in Algebra 1” one million times or pass our tests and quizzes. An excellent introduction to Algebra, as several of us quickly determined…


joel turnipseed 02.26.06 at 2:05 am

bmm6o–definition of prime is that it is a positive number divisible only by itself and one.


null and void 02.26.06 at 2:34 am

“definition of prime is that it is a positive number divisible only by itself and one.”

Which of course begs the pestering question, is one prime? Sorry, there’s a smart-#ss under every rock.


Martin James 02.26.06 at 2:47 am

Well, I’ll go the contrarian route and say if the test were timed (10 minutes) and that the scores would cause a moderate level of anxiety ( say, you lose your job if don’t get at least 9 correct answers) then no more 5% of the total US population would get all correct and that if there were partial points deducted for wrong answers the modal score would be close to 0.

Questions 2 and 6 both seem definitional and likely to trip up a significant share of people that are otherwise algebra competent.

The ^ symbol for exponentiation and the definition of squared would take another batch, the use of symbols for unknowns and the use of fractions would be enough to make the mode 0.

I think you would need to count none of the above on Q7 as correct.

Here is a question for you testing geeks out there. Which question do you think would be the most highly correlated with doing well or poorly on the test. In othe words which question would be done right by almost everyone that scores well yet ansered wrong by almost everyone that scored poorly?

I would go with question 3.


joel turnipseed 02.26.06 at 3:20 am

Martin James — let’s stipulate your 5%. That leaves 15 million Americans who would pass. Since there are only about 1 million professors in America, I’d say there’s a good chance that the readership of CT will still do pretty well. As I used to say to my employees when they thought they did a little better than they had or that they’d deserved more than they did: “So, you’re a genius? Great, there are 3 million of you in America. Go back to work.”


Jimmy Doyle 02.26.06 at 4:18 am

Question 6 refers to the “set of numbers’ {2, 2, 3, 4, 5}. On any standard conception of set, this is equivalent to {2, 3, 4, 5}. But none of the answers are true of 2 on such a conception. The “correct” answer requires us to view {2, 2, 3, 4, 5} as not equivalent to {2, 3, 4, 5}. But that means we can’t really be talking about a set of numbers (as opposed to, eg, a set of inscriptions).

Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much if you didn’t pass “eigth grade math.” The people who set it don’t understand basic mathematical concepts.


Andrew Edwards 02.26.06 at 4:29 am

Which question do you think would be the most highly correlated with doing well or poorly on the test.

#3 is a good suggestion, since if you can set up the formula for that, you can apply the same analytical tools to most of the other questions.

However, there are two definitional questions on there whose scores would probably be much less closely correlated with #3. If you added #2 to your model to capture the skill “remembering definitions”, I bet that you could get an extremely good prediction of overall test score.


Andrew Edwards 02.26.06 at 4:31 am

The people who set it don’t understand basic mathematical concepts.

Ummm… set theory may be a shade higher level than grade 8 math. I for one don’t recall properly covering that until undergrad.


Andrew Edwards 02.26.06 at 4:34 am

Hunh. So after my comments above I decided to go look at some other Grade 8 math problems.

These ones are MUCH tougher, and also much tougher than I remember Grade 8 math being:



Jimmy Doyle 02.26.06 at 4:55 am

Andrew Edwards: the basic concepts of set theory can’t be “a shade higher level than grade 8 math.” They use the expression “set of numbers” right there in the question. Oughtn’t the people who set the test know the meanings of the mathematical expressions they use?


bad Jim 02.26.06 at 5:17 am

Um, Doyle, so the Fibonacci sequence wouldn’t be considered a set?

Even partially or linearly ordered sets may contain equal elements. I can’t recall offhand a general name used for a set in which they’re prohibited.


belle le triste 02.26.06 at 5:52 am

j.doyle is wrong — or at least he’s demanding a precision of word usage which is not general to ordaniry maths teaching practice: a set of data doesn’t automatically collapse repeat elements into a single representative, and it’s perfectly reasonable, certainly not unmathematical, to refer to data that’s in number form as “numbers”


a 02.26.06 at 6:48 am

Here is what is considered a hard question my son had to do in France. He’s 13, so at the 8th grade level.

Consider triangle ABC with AC = 2.8 cm, AB = 4.5 cm, and BC = 5.3 cm. Let H be the foot of the altitude drawn from A. What is the length of AH? (Calculators allowed, but trigonometry not needed.)


etat 02.26.06 at 7:02 am

What lalala said. 8th Grade algebra was by invitation only, and I had to promise that I’d keep up before they gave me permission to attend. But there was no mention of statistics, and I never came across ‘mode’ in that or subsequent courses. Had to Google that one in order to get it right…


Doormat 02.26.06 at 7:33 am

bmm60, Well, kind-of technically, yes, -7 is a prime number. See the opening section of Wiki article. In a general ring, the definition of “prime” does give -7 as prime.

However, I would say that -7 isn’t prime in this context. Obviously, if aimed at the general population, a prime is always positive. I also disagree with Jimmy Doyle for the same reason: yes, “set” has a specific (though potentially debatable) meaning in mathematical logic, but it also has a much wider meaning in English, which is how it’s being used here. If you think that question is wrong for its use of “set”, then many of the mathematical papers I spend my days reading are wrong as well. I certainly don’t know any mathematicians who would complain (or, more to the point, statitians). Also, people are quite right that the notion of “set” you allude to would not be known by most (if any) 4th grader.


Doormat 02.26.06 at 7:37 am

But that means we can’t really be talking about a set of numbers (as opposed to, eg, a set of inscriptions).

Ah, but this is really philosophy! And I can be sure that 4th graders wouldn’t get this point…

Look, to suggest that the question is wrong requires a willfull misreading of the question. The notions of “mean”, “mode” and so forth blatently apply to data where repetition is allowed. The notion of “mode” is formally undefined for a set of integers in the sense you mean “set”.


Martin James 02.26.06 at 7:47 am

Although I was educated in a public school in a- middle- of- nowhere USA State, I was one of the first-graders taught the new math as described below.

What I remember most was the thrill of drawing the beautiful braces for opening and closing sets.

I also remember ever year re-learning associative, commutative and transitive.

The new mathematical pedagogy

New Math emphasized mathematical structure through abstract concepts like set theory and number bases other than 10, rather than strictly being concerned with mathematical concepts traditionally taught to grade schoolers. Beginning in the early 1960s the new educational doctrine was installed, not only in the USA, but all over the western hemisphere.

Much of the publicity centered on the focus of this program on set theory (influenced ultimately by the Nicolas Bourbaki group and their work), functions, and diagram drawings. It was stressed that these subjects should be introduced early. Some of this focus was seen as exaggerated, even dogmatic. For example, in some cases first-graders were taught axiomatic set theory. The idea behind this was that if the axiomatic foundations of mathematics were introduced to children, they could “easily” cope with the theorems of the mathematical system later.


Cpt. Iglo 02.26.06 at 8:03 am

Stommeling Jones got thirteen out of ten, as can be seen here.


abb1 02.26.06 at 8:28 am

Never heard of this “mode” thing. Only guessed it by elimination.


Tad Brennan 02.26.06 at 8:44 am

I have never seen it built into the definition of a prime that it must be positive, and I don’t think you need to jury-rig the definition like this. Why not just stick with the standard def, sc. a number divisible only by itself and one, and then point out that -7 is divisible by itself, one, and *negative* one?

On modes: data points are implicitly ordered pairs. The values we were given (i.e. “2,2,3,4,5”) are the second members of a set of ordered pairs which in full reads “(susy, 2), (tommy, 2), (billy, 3), (cindy, 4), (casey, 5)”, e.g. if this was data on the number of siblings of various students. Read that way, the two ‘2’s are indeed distinct members, since they belong to distinct ordered pairs.

Sure, that’s not spelled out. But if we’re talking means and modes and all, we’re almost certainly talking data-points.

Still, I grant that if the context were asking you to think about *sets*, rather than about data points, one could legitimately test for whether the student understands the point Mr. Doyle makes.


Daniel 02.26.06 at 8:55 am

I’m with Jimmy on this one; that question would be a lot more comprehensible simply by dropping the words “set of”.


bmm6o 02.26.06 at 10:13 am

tad #27

Thanks for backing me up. I was posting after several beers, so didn’t want to take too strong a stance. I don’t remember dealing with negative primes by 8th grade, but they are legitimate. The undergrad definition of “prime” (or rather, “irreducible”) refers to division by “units”, which in the integers are {-1, 1}.

re: set vs. data point:

The statement was imprecise, sure. But if you look at that question and say something like “sets of cardinality not equal to 1 don’t have modes”, is this test going to tell you something you didn’t already know?


tortoise 02.26.06 at 10:22 am

brennan: The problem with that is that 7 is also divisible by -1: (-7)*(-1)=7.


Walt Pohl 02.26.06 at 10:37 am

Tad: By your definition, there are no primes. For example, -1 divides 2: (-2)(-1) = 2.


Walt Pohl 02.26.06 at 10:39 am

tortoise and I just discovered the same feature of CT markup. What I meant was that minus one times minus two equals two.


Tad Brennan 02.26.06 at 10:45 am

you just can’t catch a break around here. I come up with a truly epochal mathematical discovery–a proof that there are no prime numbers–and people start dissing me.

Okay, yeah, now I see the need for a restriction to positive numbers, and I see why it isn’t ad hoc.


pdf23ds 02.26.06 at 11:15 am

Both Mathworld and Wikipedia say that prime numbers are defined to be positive.


bmm6o 02.26.06 at 12:57 pm

I stand corrected re: primes being positive. I guess it’s required for unique factorization. That -1 divides all numbers doesn’t bother me.


Tim Worstall 02.26.06 at 1:17 pm

At least # 10 explains to me why I only got 9 right.

But then as John Q and D2 showed at some length I’m not very good at maths anyway.


Keith 02.26.06 at 1:30 pm

7/10, which is still passing and not too shabby for an art School Grad whose last math class was an astronomy class for Architects, eight years ago.

I’ve found that algebra doesn’t give me nearly the trouble it used to in high school. I suppose my reasoning skills are more developed, or something.


AA 02.26.06 at 2:38 pm

“Both Mathworld and Wikipedia say that prime numbers are defined to be positive.”

They’re both wrong, as far as modern usage is concerned, though Mathworld may just be copying the Wiki.

The definitions used in high school tend to get watered down to simplify the statement of unique factorization. The notion of prime depends on context: 2 is not prime in the real field, nor is it prime when considered as a complex integers. But -7 is prime in Z, which is presumably where it is living for the purposes of this question.

Testing people on points of terminology where the terminology is itself nonstandard is ill advised.


Isaac 02.26.06 at 2:38 pm

Depending on your definition of “whole number,” “-7” is a whole number as well as an integer. Wikipedia says that whole number is defined both as the positive integers, and as all integers. As a math major, it troubles me to have gotten one wrong. But I can argue that it was a question with two correct answers.

Prime numbers have to be positive because prime factorizations are unique.


Walt Pohl 02.26.06 at 3:48 pm

Tad: Now you’ve done it. You’re in the cross-hairs of Big Prime, of the prime-industrial complex.

Isaac: I would say that the more common definition of prime used by mathematicians leads to prime factorizations being “unique up to units”. (A “unit” is an integer that’s invertible, i.e. 1 or -1.) So -7 is prime since it has a unique factorization up to units.

I don’t think that’s what they teach in high school, though. My recollection is that only positive numbers were considered prime.


Max 02.26.06 at 4:10 pm

Um, isn’t “none of the above” the correct answer there?

The prompt in no way refers to percentages. Percentage is a different concept from decimal number. If I asked you what .3 minus .1 was, you’d be wrong to say “20%” Yet I think the test presumes “45%” is somehow the same as “.45”


John Quiggin 02.26.06 at 4:56 pm

There’s a lot more probability and stats in the Oz (and apparently US) elementary curriculum than there used to be, and a fair bit less geometry and fractions. This is a *Good Thing*, IMHO.

It’s far more useful to understand the difference between mean, median and mode than it is to be able to add 3/4 and 2/3 (the latter is really useful only as subsequently used in algebra).


Shelby 02.26.06 at 5:28 pm

John Quiggin:

I don’t know, I had to add 3/4 and 2/3 yesterday when baking a loaf of bread.


John Quiggin 02.26.06 at 5:43 pm

For most practical purposes, Shelby, converting to decimals and adding in decimals is better than adding fractions. Once you found you needed 17/12, how did you measure it?


foo 02.26.06 at 5:56 pm

S/he whipped out the 1/12th-of-a-cup spoon, of course.

Where do you cook?


dr ngo 02.26.06 at 6:15 pm

#13 Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much if you didn’t pass “eigth grade math.” The people who set it don’t understand basic mathematical concepts.

Maybe they understood spelling, however.

(Sorry. That was a very very cheap shot. “Cheep shot”?)

#39: Thank you for that answer, O Math Major! It’s the only question I missed, with the same reasoning, and as a mere 9/10 I was feeling intimidated by all of the perfect scores around here. …


Thompsaj 02.26.06 at 7:10 pm

I got a perfect score and felt awesome until the same site told me that my “outrageous name” is “Harry Box” and that I’m an “alcoholic”


Isaac 02.26.06 at 7:33 pm

Walt: Yeah, okay. But I just remember in middle school doing all those prime factorizations and being told it was unique. Of course in ring theory you do get negative prime elements, so this is just a stupid dispute about the definitions (a really stupid and simplistic middle school defintion? or something more complicated, but which gives you three correct answers). I guess that was a question with 3 right answers, depending on your definitions…


y81 02.26.06 at 7:55 pm

If there are several different definitions of a term (such as “prime”), and some of them yield several correct answers, and some yield one correct answer, then obviously you should use the definition that yields one correct answer. This is elementary test-taking. It is also useful in real life: when voting, or choosing a job, or buying a house, or marrying, it isn’t possible to choose either “none of the above” or “several of the above.”


'As you know' Bob 02.26.06 at 8:00 pm

I was irritated beyond words by the question about -7.
Yes, it’s clearly an interger, and that’s the answer that your eighth-grade algebra student is supposed to give – – but — as the comments above confirm — it can also (arguably) be called a whole number, AND a prime number. Three plausibly correct answers.

I really, really hate quizzes that punish the student for knowing more than they are ‘supposed’ to know. Brings back bad memories.

The point that most of the CT readers do OK with eighth-grade algebra harkens back to Richard Cohen in the Washington Post last week, announcing to the world – with pride! – that we should listen to his opinions because he can’t figure percentages. There are several million Americans better qualified for Cohen’s job.


John Emerson 02.27.06 at 6:33 am

I don’t have much use for math in my personal or work life, but one thing which I often use is proportions of the a:b=c:x type. Being able to estimate numerical products closely enough not to get factor-of-ten errors is also a good skill, and requires some actual training even though it’s a rough commonsense skill.

But the quadratic equation never comes up any more, and I never have to figure out how long it takes to fill a tank when the intake pipe is 2″ in diameter and the drain is 3/4″ in diameter. (Yeah, I learned nonmetric math back in the stone age).


Michael Kremer 02.27.06 at 7:49 am

Unlike, it seems, most other posters here, I actually have a child in eighth grade, though at her school things are accelerated and she did Algebra last year and is doing Geometry now. So this test was actually somewhere in between what my 6th grader is doing and what my older kids did in 7th grade.

But based on what I know of the typical curriculum (from other kids, what the questions are like on standardized tests, the fact that at my oldest daughter’s high school most kids take Algebra 1 in 9th grade, etc) this quiz does represent reasonably well American eighth grade math.

The remark made about the GREs was really interesting. When I took the GREs back in 1980 the level was much higher. Joel, when did you take the GREs?

I recall getting something like a 720/800 on the math GRE and scoring in the 97th percentile. (I was a math major, which was actually a disadvantage, as I hadn’t looked at the statistics and cookbook math needed for the GRE since high school — but the level was definitely 12th grade/freshman calculus at least). I have noticed while doing graduate admissions that the math GRE has become fairly useless, since a perfect score is something like the 92nd percentile, and my 720 would probably now be in the 70th percentile or something like that. My conclusion is that the math portion of the GRE has gotten a lot easier.


Tad Brennan 02.27.06 at 9:44 am


Not sure about that. I, like you, took my GRE’s in the mid-80s, and I, like you, have been struck when doing grad admissions by the increasing discrepancy between the absolute and percentile score in the math GRE. (I.e., the fact that a very high absolute score is now a relatively unimpressive percentile score).

Could be they have watered the test down. But it could also be that the GRE is taken by a much larger number of people now, including a very large contingent of foreign applicants to engineering, math, science, etc. It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot of mathematical talent that would like a US graduate education. So it may be that the test has stayed just as hard, but there are a lot more people scoring 800’s on it.

This would also explain why the same inflation has not occurred in the Verbal portion, i.e. that it is still providing anglophones with the Mandarin advantage.

In philosophy admissions, I take the math GRE very seriously, but it’s far from the only criterion. I feel sorry for people doing graduate admissions to a math program, though, since that’s exactly where you would hope the Math GRE would provide valuable information, and it really cannot. Presumably there is some sort of informal super-GRE that people who care about math refer to, when trying to select among the hundreds of people who maxed out on their math GRE.


Steve LaBonne 02.27.06 at 10:03 am

Wow, if that’s really considered 8th grade math we’re in even deeper trouble than I thought. Thank goodness my daughter’s current 8th grade Algebra 1 class is teaching a bit more than that!


joel turnipseed 02.27.06 at 10:18 am

tad, michael –

I took the GREs in early 90s. It should be noted, however, that I was an undergraduate teaching assistant in formal logic for 2 1/2 years–so I expected to do well in math and logic sections. What I didn’t expect, and what threw me for a loop, was that I’d get such a low verbal score (670 or something, based on at least two questions I now remember getting wrong on that damned electronic version, which doesn’t let you change your answers) && that, when the 800s came in for math and logic they’d be, as you said, so low percentile-wise (though I remember the logic being a stronger score than the math).

Also–there is a math-specific GRE that’s much more difficult.


joel turnipseed 02.27.06 at 10:37 am

OK, I am on drugs. Was curious about Michael’s assertion that “720/800” was 97th percentile and a perfect score would be 92nd percentile. So… I looked things up on my old GRE records.

How I embellish myself in my memory… a 670 is in fact what I got on verbal & this is 93rd percentile; 770 on quant turned out to be 93rd percentile, too; while my 720 analytical was just 91st percentile. 800’s come down, in order, as 99, 98, and 99 percentile. So: still a pretty damned good score, even if logic is somewhat easier.

Guess that penchant for fudge-making (and my dim grades) is why I’m now a writer and not a philosopher…


Tad Brennan 02.27.06 at 10:45 am

That’s right, joel–no professional philosopher would *ever* inflate their own credentials to make themselves look smarter–even in informal recollection. Unflnching honesty and humility about our intellectual limitations–that’s what sets us academic philosophers apart.


joel turnipseed 02.27.06 at 10:59 am


Or, at least, makes the manques so attractive to (roll drums): editors! Of course, it can also be a hindrance to writing. I was watching the Derrida biography last night (was he embarrassed by that thing? what’s with the hair fetish?) & noticed that he said he could not tell stories, because he was always aware of the ways in which they are insufficient accounts: too true.

OK, enough of this damned humility thing… gonna have to go get me some Mailer Juice & get back to the day’s writing.


Andrew Edwards 02.27.06 at 11:02 am

For what it’s worth, I worte the GMAT a couple years ago and they’ve set it up as an adaptive test, so that as you kick the crap out of the easy math questions (or verbal questions), the questions get harder, but if you fail at the easy ones, they get easier.

This means that there is still a lot of gradation at the top of the scale. I also think that it’s kinda cool.

That said, my business school has done some regression to determine what impact GMAT scores have on grades. This research has been informally communicated to me. Turns out that the best performers are not people with high scores per se, but people whose verbal and quant scores do not deviate much from each other.

So, all else equal, you’d rather have a person with 85th percentile scores in both math and verbal than a person with 99th percentile math and 75th percentile verbal.


KB 02.27.06 at 11:09 am

I got a 10/10 on 8th grade math and I got a above average, but nothing special score on the GRE.

Have you ever noticed that those who get 750-800 are the only people who talk about the quantitative section of the GRE past, say, when they’ve been accepted to a graduate school?


TJ2 02.27.06 at 1:49 pm

This has always puzzled me, but what is the level of learning that graduate tests presume to test(other than a math-specific GRE)? I’ve only taken the GMAT (in the early ’80s) and I (hazily) recall being a bit surprised that the quantitative portion seemed to top-out about 10th or 11th grade level; i.e., geometry and some Algebra 3-4 stuff, but minimal, if any, college-level calculus or statistics. I had always been a good, but not “advanced,” math student, but nonetheless scored at the 99th percentile on the GMAT about 5 years after college with what today apparently would be minimal “preparation” (i.e, a half-day “prep class” for about $50 through UC Extension). I recall that the Harvard Biz School eliminsted the GMAT from their admissions process around 1990 or so, which struck me as a wise move, though don’t know if it caught on elsewhere.


lalala 02.27.06 at 4:22 pm

The thing I remember about the quantitative section of the GRE is how out of whack the scores and percentiles are – because engineers and mathematicians are taking the same test as the lit scholars and so on, you have to get a very very high score to do very well on the percentile measure. I think I got in the very low 700s, which was 81st percentile, where a somewhat lower score on the SAT had put me in a higher percentile.


Steven Crane 02.27.06 at 5:19 pm

Hunh. So after my comments above I decided to go look at some other Grade 8 math problems.

These ones are MUCH tougher, and also much tougher than I remember Grade 8 math being:

I should say so! Question 1 requires you to consider the time-value of money!

“The Adams family was going to buy a car for $5800. The car dealer offered the Adams family two options for buying the car. They could pay the full amount in cash, or they could pay $1000.00 down and $230.00 a month for 24 months on the installment plan. How much more would they pay for the car on the installment plan?”

If there’s high inflation, all of a sudden the installment plan looks like it could be a sweet deal!


bmm6o 02.27.06 at 11:27 pm

I was going to join tad and joel’s math-GRE-score-revealing party until kb came and took the fun out of it. :-(.

The subject-specific GRE tests that I am familiar with (math, physics) are ass-kickers, mostly because of their breadth.

kb scored 300 on his/her math GRE’s!


joel turnipseed 02.27.06 at 11:53 pm


Alas, contrary to kb’s suspicions, I revealed my scores only because a) they were not brilliant but didn’t suck and b) it was empirically interesting (statistically and as an very obvious instance of the moral failure of self-aggrandizement). I only took the GREs, in fact, as a last ditch effort to salvage some attempt at academic career after doing very poorly early in college (several incompletes turned F, C’s and D’s in Calculus sort of thing) & when my just-below 3.0 average (though much, much higher within my philosophy major) and high GRE scores didn’t cut it for early acceptance to grad schools at the end of my junior year I… dropped out. My two other passions, writing and software, both happened to be fields in which one could succeed regardless of academic credentials and I (rather foolishly, in retrospect–though I don’t wholly regret it) decided it was high time to start working rather than studying if I was going to make something of myself. Having since started and sold both a book and a software company (and, as visiting writer, taught at universities), I can’t say I’ve done too badly–though I hardly hold this as badge of honor–or, at least, if a badge of honor (I confess!), one badly tarnished by more than one act of foolhardy fuck-u-ism and unwarranted bravado.


Harald Korneliussen 02.28.06 at 5:28 am

abb1 wrote: “Never heard of this “mode” thing. Only guessed it by elimination.”

Same here, actually, but I can defend myself by saying I learned mathemathics in norwegian (I may know the norwegian word for what mode is, but I can’t think of it right now).

As to the ambiguous questions that have been pointed out (is -7 prime? whole? etc), I solved all of them correctly by thinking about how the test makers would be thinking. Really, that’s what you have to do, especially on tests with trick questions or tests with poorly defined questions (like IQ tests). It seems to me s.c mental tests mostly measure your ability to figure out what’s expected of you, which may or may not correlate with your ability to actually do those things.

For tests where I don’t know the test makers personally, I assume they are complete jerks. I then resolve to not give them the satisfaction of me failing, and cooly and arrogantly see through their attempts to show off their own cleverness.

It works.


Tad Brennan 02.28.06 at 1:57 pm


where did I reveal or offer to reveal my GRE scores? So far as I know, they are still a closely-guarded secret. I’m looking up-thread, and I just don’t find it.

Oh–I did say that I *took* them in the mid-80’s. But I’m pretty sure that my *score* was higher than the mid-80’s. I mean, I think I broke into at least the low triple-digits.

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