Thousands Stumped by Simple Math Problem, Goes Viral

July 12, 2019 Updated: July 12, 2019

Math equations involving PEMDAS have gone viral on social media numerous times over the years. Despite being something that many Americans learn in around the seventh grade (depending on where you went to school), such equations don’t typically appear in real-life.

“This math problem has gone viral” and generated “millions of comments” on social media, says mathematician Presh Talwakar in a video.

He noted that the problem contains the PEMDAS or BODMAS principle.

“What is 6÷2(1+2) = ? This problem went viral and generated millions of comments on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and social media sites. I explain how to get the correct answer by using the modern interpretation of the order of operations. I also explain how you would get a different answer under historical usage of the division symbol,” says Talwakar.

First, people need to add what’s in the parentheses (1+2), which equals 3.

The answer then becomes  6÷2 x 3.

One then has to go from left to right, diving 6 and 2, which equals 3.

Then one gets 3 x 3, which gets to the correct answer of 9 using the PEMDAS principle.

Talwakar, who added that he gets “many, many emails” about this equation, noted that there is a “historical order of operations” that might get one to a different answer.

Using this order of operations, one could get an answer of 1.

“As you climb higher in math, virtually 100% of physicists, engineers and mathematicians will interpret the answer as 1. There is no debate over this at all. The implicit multiplication of 2 on the bracket is a SINGLE quantity that takes precedence prior to division. Most physicists/engineers/mathematicians would never even write such a potentially ambiguous expression. They would instead write 6/2(1+2) where the / is a horizontal line. Alternatively, they would write 6/(2(1+2)) leaving NO ROOM FOR AMBIGUITY. PEMDAS is NOT universally accepted. The implicit multiplication on the bracket does indeed take precedent,” wrote one person in the comments section. “You are doing a disservice to kids trying to learn mathematical protocols. PEMDAS isn’t the total protocol.”

Another One

Even though most people don’t use trigonometry or algebra on a regular basis, one needs to know basic arithmetic to navigate in the world.

While many people would say the answer is “3,” it’s actually not.

One has to first do the 8 ÷ 4 part of the equation, which is 2.

Then one has to shift over to the left equation and perform 24 ÷ 4= 6.

After that, one has to multiply 6 x 2, getting the answer of 12.

The solution harkens back to an acronym some likely learned in school: BODMAS, or brackets, open; divide; multiply; add; and subtract, in that order.

It’s also known as PEMDAS, or parentheses first, exponents (ie powers and square roots) next, multiplication and division (left-to-right), and addition and subtraction (left-to-right).

Are Americans Bad at Math?

It’s been noted that Americans aren’t great at math compared to other developed countries.

“Americans continually score either in the mid- or bottom-tier when it comes to math and science compared to their international peers,” says BigThink. “Students have a fundamental misunderstanding of what math is and what it can do. By viewing it as a language, students and teachers can begin to conceptualize it in easier and more practical ways.”

It says that Americans worry too much about “rote memorization,” and students have a difficult time learning the concepts in sequential order.

“Unlike the more difficult and comprehensive math tests given to test students’ comprehension, this test was for basic numeracy skills. The United States fell behind in 22nd place,” it says.

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