Do you suffer from mathemaphobia?
Coined by researcher Mary Fides Gough in the 1950’s, this term refers to an extreme anxiety that manifests as a hatred towards mathematics.
Sufferers experience feelings of worry and panic when exposed to math problems, with some even reporting panic attacks.
Mathemaphobia locks you into a vicious cycle.
If you avoid math problems, you cannot improve your skills, which leads to further avoidance, and so on.
This is why many children who hated math at school will go out of their way to avoid exercises involving numbers as adults.
Do you know how to handle this problem?
If this sounds familiar, you may want to brace yourself before tackling one of the most popular problems that has recently been circulated around social media platforms.
Be warned: although the problem appears relatively straightforward, your first answer won’t necessarily be correct.
Here’s the equation:
6 ÷ 2 (1+2) =
If you came up with an answer of 0, 1, 3, or 6, you aren’t alone.
Social media users have been arguing – with quite considerable passion – how best to solve the problem.
However, many of them are wrong. It may surprise you to learn that the correct answer is actually 9.
So, why is the answer 9?
When you solve an equation like the one above, you need to remember an acronym: PEMDAS/BODMAS. This is an approach to equations currently taught in schools.
This acronym stands for:
PEMDAS/BODMAS explains the steps you need to take when breaking down an equation.
It is sometimes referred to as the “order of operations.” It applies to all equations, not just this example.
To solve this equation, you need to take the following steps:
First, you need to solve the problem inside the brackets. In this case, it is “1+2,” which yields “3.”
This changes the equation to “6 ÷ 2 (3).”
Next, you need to convert the “2 (3)” into “2 x 3,” because the “Exponents/Orders” part of PEMBAS/BODMAS demands that you remove the brackets, leaving behind an order.
In this case, the order is multiplication.
Next, you need to move onto the “Multiplication-Division” part of the acronym.
In the equation “6 ÷ 2 x 3,” you need to carry out both.
A key rule to remember here: If you need to carry out both types of operation when solving an equation, you need to move left to right.
Therefore, you first need to address “6 ÷ 2,” which equals 3. This yields “3 x 3,” which equals 9.
But is there another answer?
Presh Talwalkar, who created the MindYourDecisions channel on YouTube, has created a video outlining the steps above.
According to Talwalkar, modern mathematicians would argue that the answer is 9, but there is an argument to be made that the correct answer is in fact 1.
In the early 20th century, the order of operations, as expressed by the PEMBAS/BODMAS acronym, was somewhat different.
In brief, older mathematicians would not divide 6 by 2 and then multiple it by 3, as outlined in Step 3 above.
Instead, they would divide 6 by 6, because they would multiply the 2 x 3 first.
6 divided by 6 = 1, so according to this method, the correct answer to the equation would be 1.
Why are most people unable to solve the equation?
If you struggled with this problem, you’ll be relieved to learn that most other people also find it difficult.
Most of us are taught how to solve equations in school, but we rapidly forget how to apply the rules when we graduate.
After all, most of us don’t need to use the PEMBAS/BODMAS method in our everyday lives.
When it comes to math, it’s a case of “use it or lose it.”
In an era where we can use Google to solve almost any math problem, we have no incentive to brush up on our skills.
How can you improve your mathematical abilities?
Like any other skill, you need to practice math if you want to get better.
Fortunately, the internet has made it easy to find and practice problems.
For example, Math.com offers worksheets that teach basic, intermediate, or advanced skills.
If you are serious about improving your abilities, you could sign up for a course on Udemy or Lynda. Both offer affordable courses you can complete at your own pace.
Honing your skills can be immensely satisfying. What’s more, the next time you see a viral problem, you’ll be first among your friends and family to solve it.