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Harvard math entrance exam from 1869 that doesn't allow the use of calculator has everyone baffled

The arithmetic problems might seem quite doable for math enthusiasts these days, but the lack of a calculator makes it more complex.

Harvard math entrance exam from 1869 that doesn't allow the use of calculator has everyone baffled
Cover Image Source: X | @Anthony_Bonato

Enhancement of learning and education is one of the advantages technology has brought to this world. Calculators and computers have shifted the dynamics of solving complex arithmetic problems and saving a lot of time for students in particular. But imagine living in the times when you were not allowed to use a calculator during a math exam. That was the case for many students until the 1970s when calculators started slowly entering the classrooms, as per a Science News article from 1975. Educators gradually recognized the significance of letting students use calculators during exams and with time, it became an inevitable part of the students' stationery.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

Recently, a Canadian mathematician gave us a glimpse of what math tests were like in the 1800s and it went viral on social media. Anthony Bonato—who goes by @Anthony_Bonato on X—a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, Ontario, Canada, shared a picture of the Harvard math entrance exam. Being the math enthusiast that he is, Bonato often shares math-related memes and pictures that are both hilarious and thought-provoking. "How would you fare in this Harvard math entrance exam? The exam was given in 1869, so no calculators were allowed!" the professor pointed out.


The exam questions involved problems that might require some long and precise calculations. It could be a cakewalk for the current generation of students who can level out the time-consuming calculations to the electronic devices while focusing on the methods of solving the problems. But students of the 1860s probably had a tough time dealing with it. With nearly 74K views in just a few days, this vintage exam didn't fail to astonish the internet. While some were optimistic about clearing this exam effortlessly, others realized how blessed they were to have access to calculators.




"If you had a month or two to prepare for this specific type of exam, I don't think it would've been prohibitively difficult. By the way, this is my first time hearing about 'vulgar fractions,'" commented @eterevsky. "I’m one of those people who don’t even understand the questions. But the text is great as a performance challenge," wrote @ddl_squared. "There are some who think that we should still teach these obsolete skills, and overlook that we can now teach much deeper material," pointed out @LawrPaulson. "The questions are very well written and thus easy to answer. Nowadays, you have to be a professor in linguistics to understand what some questions mean," mentioned @hmdhdi22.


While talking about the complexity of mathematics in the past, one cannot forget the legendary math genius Shakuntala Devi. Dubbed the "human computer," Devi could perform lengthy calculations at a great speed that was utterly unusual for humans. Shakuntala Devi accomplished the fastest human computation time of 28 seconds in 1980 at Imperial College London. When she was asked to multiply 7686369774870 and 2465099745779, she said the 26-digit answer in just 28 seconds. This amazing feat even got her the Guinness World Record. Having been purely self-taught, this mathematical genius amazed the world with her lightning-fast methods with no help from calculators.

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