Here’s A “Math” Question For You…

A math question has recently stumped even the parents of the primary school children for whom it was assigned. See if you can answer this one:

Math question

The first line reads: Below, these are aliens.

The second line: Below, these are not aliens.

The third line: Below, which is an alien? Please circle.

Xinhua’s description of this question is pretty great:

The question gives four drawings of “extraterrestrials” in its first row and four images of earthbound beings in its second row. Students are asked to identify which of the five figures in the third row are aliens. All creatures depicted are imaginary, and none from the first two rows are repeated in the third row.

This was a question for second-graders. Netizens have accused the question-maker of being from outer space.

Zhang Xinwei, an expert in mathematics for primary school students said the question promotes innovation but that it is too removed from daily life. A question should be designed based on students’ lives and practice, Zhang said.

If you know the right answer, let us know in the comments. I certainly have no fucking clue.

(H/T Alicia)

UPDATE, 3:20 pm: The problem has been solved in the comments section.

For the record, teachers went 5 for 11:

Xinhua asked 11 math teachers to tackle the problem, five of whom answered “correctly.” Three said that the problem must be a joke, and the majority agreed that there is no way to “solve” it.

Look at the snark in Xinhua’s article, with quotation marks around “correctly.” Who knew they had it in them!

    25 Responses to “Here’s A “Math” Question For You…”

    1. Kaiser

      The fourth one from the left is an extraterrestrial. The rule seems to be that extraterrestrials have one triangle and three circles on stalks protruding. Only the fourth one from the left shares those characteristics.

    2. lol

      it’s the one on the right. all the aliens have 3 things sticking out, and the non aliens have 2 things sticking out

      • Chackie Jan

        But that one has a beak. Doesn’t have a triangle. The one next to it has three leg-thingies and a triangle.

    3. Amanda R.

      Reminds me of this “English” question my goddaughter brought home over the summer:

      Q: ______ me no ______.

      A) Doesn’t; doesn’t
      B) Do; do
      C) Don’t; don’t
      D) Don’t; don’ts

      She asked her teacher which one was the right answer and she said she had no idea. I mean, we know they are all wrong, but what “right” answer was the book looking for?

      • Some Guy

        The answer is D. This exact phrase seems to be made-in-China English, but “but me no buts” is a set phrase (albeit a rather old-fashioned one), and the phrase in the question follows the same format.

        According to Wiktionary the “X me no Xs” format is is “a literary device common in literature from the 16th to the 18th centuries, in which the speaker is asking that something not be provided to him, often as a pun incorporating the use of a particular word both as a verb and as a noun.”

    4. Kaiser

      While this kind of question seems at first blush nutty and irrelevant, a case could be made that it’s pedagogically defensible. Logic (“all of set A has characteristics X and Y…”), classification/taxonomy, pattern-recognition—these are basic cognitive functions, no? When zoologists and paleontologists classify different species some of these skills come into play. Interesting little experiment: My 3rd-grader daughter got it right without much trouble, my 1st-grader son got it wrong and just guessed wildly. So maybe 2nd grade is an appropriate place for this question after all.

        • Alicia

          Right, I guess so, but to me, answering this question is more about having “analytical” skills as opposed to really thinking creatively and differently.

          Anyway, did anyone also notice that this question is worth 5 points? Does it mean relative to other questions this is worth more (or I just assume it’s 1 point per question)? I’m just curious because sometimes I find points allocation are a bit arbitrary …

          • Chackie Jan

            Five points out of a hundred. It doesn’t show how many questions there are so we can’t say whether this one is over or undervalued.

      • Chackie Jan

        I think it’s good to throw kids off from time to time. I’d rather see kids solving a bit of this kind of stuff than mindlessly jot down numbers or memorizing lines.

    5. maxiewawa

      The answer above implies that all if the first line “aliens” share some characteristic that isn’t present in the second “non-alien” line, an implication that is not explicitly stated.

      One might assume that there are NO other “aliens” other than those specified in the first line, with this assumption in place, you might also give the answer that none of the characters in the third line are aliens.

      Suffice it to say, the Chinese education system is a pile of crap.

    6. Tiu Fu Fong

      The “correct” answer seems to involve a syllogistic fallacy.

      The answer follows the logic:
      - All these example aliens have a triangle and three tentacles with circles
      - All these example non-aliens not have a triangle and three tentacles with circles
      - Therefore, anything with a triangle and three tentacles with circles is an alien

      That’s like arguing:
      - All cats have four legs
      - No human has four legs
      - This dog has four legs, therefore it must be a cat

      “Correct” answers that defy logic? I guess it prepares the kids for life under the Party.

    7. ThinkBlue

      I always over-think these kinds of questions. I mean, if I can find some abstract way of defining the first 4 different to the second 4 then am I still right? Or am I wrong because I didn’t find the answer the question maker thought of?


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