'Impossible' maths question that stumps all parents as well as kids

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Parents were left stumped after trying to answer the GCSE maths question (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)
Parents were left stumped after trying to answer the GCSE maths question (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)

Every year GCSE students claim their exams are getting harder and harder - often leading parents to grumble about how things were "back in my day". But it turns out the teenagers might be onto something, based on new research from Save My Exams, who recently challenged parents to complete a GCSE maths question.

Shockingly, 100% of them failed. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect students to pass every question in their exam papers. But the challenge goes to show just how difficult the tests can be - and how important a strong education is.

The news comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to lay out plans for all children in England to study some form of maths until the age of 18, as Downing Street says that around eight million adults in England "have the numeracy skills of primary schoolchildren."

'Impossible' maths question that stumps all parents as well as kids eidehiqdqikinv100% of parents quizzed failed the question (stock photo) (Getty Images)

The research from Save My Exams revealed that parents struggled with the tough maths question, which must be vindicating for grumpy students. Surprisingly though, the question failed to dint most adults' confidence, despite their poor results.

Of the 1,000 parents quizzed, 92% were unable to answer the question and 8% failed to get the correct answer. Yet, an average of 75% of these parents still believed they could pass their children's exams. One in two did (52%) admit they don't always understand the homework questions their children are set, though.

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The GCSE maths question that the parents failed shows a shape with all its measurements in centimetres, where the area of the shape is A cm² and respondents are asked to show that A = 2x² + 24x + 46.

'Impossible' maths question that stumps all parents as well as kidsMost parents did not know how to answer this question

Thankfully, Save My Exams' maths lead Lucy Kirkham has worked out the answer for anyone left stuck by the question. Sharing advice, Lucy said: "Seeing questions with loads of Algebra can be scary but breaking them down into smaller chunks will help you work through them more easily.

"Our maths experts at Save My Exams create colour-coded model answers which break down each question into easier steps to carefully guide users to the correct answer.


'Impossible' maths question that stumps all parents as well as kidsA mathematician shared the answer

"This question gives you the answer you're working towards, which can sometimes be off-putting as you wonder 'How am I ever going to get there?'. Don’t let it worry you, just try to start with the first step and you'll surprise yourself with how far you can get!

"Even if you don’t get all the way through, marks are awarded for different stages of your working so you can always try to pick up some marks and use our model answers to see how you’d pick up the rest."

It is not just maths that confuses parents, however, though it ranked as the worst subject. According to the research by Save My Exams, parents struggled the most with Maths (53%), followed by Science (35%), Spanish (30%), French (29%) and English Literature (27%).

The good news is there's hope, as even the most complex of subjects can be taught well, provided teachers are given the right resources to connect with their students. What's more, several Mirror readers aced the troublesome maths question on the first go.

One reader said: "I just did it in a few minutes. I'm glad I can remember how to do this. Gives me confidence I'll be able to help my kids do this sort of thing when they get to it.

"I imagine the people who are stumped just don't understand what the question is asking. Once a few rules are explained most people could do it." A second replied: "Provided people remember the hierarchy of operators and approach the problem logically it should not present any difficulties."

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Meanwhile, a former teacher said they believe it's people's attitudes towards maths that needs addressing, as many struggle to believe in their abilities.

"I well remember coping with kids who had been convinced they were 'too thick' to do maths. One incident was dealing with a very disruptive 15 year old who had a reputation as 'tough'," wrote the mathematician. "I formed a real bond with him, how? I taught him to do simple sums, and ignored the 'curriculum' to give him pages of sums. His joy at getting something right was touching, and he was never disruptive in my class."

Did you get the right answer? Let us know in the comments

Amber O'Connor

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