ColumnistsPaddy Murray

Sum things just don’t add up in Maths paper

Sum things just don’t add up in Maths paper

It was Inter Cert Maths Paper 2 on Monday.

Inter Cert Maths always reminds me of the exam back in 1968 or ’69.

This, I promise, is a true story.

You see, in my school, there were several classes in each year. In Inter Cert year, the geniuses and swots were in 4A, the next brightest were in 4A1, then came 4A2 followed by 4B, 4B1 and 4B2.

You can imagine the guys in 4B2 weren’t exactly brilliant at sums.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

There was another Year 4 Class.

This one was for the guys who simply had a problem with 1+1. Nowadays, they call it dyscalculia. Back then, they just said you were shit at maths.

But there was a solution.

You see, the Inter was fairly structured in those days. In fact, it was almost predictable. And one thing which didn’t change was that 40 per cent of the marks were given for Geometry.

And 40 per cent was a pass.

Mr O’Hanlon – nicknamed Birdie (ask your granddad) – was a brilliant maths teacher. And so he was assigned to get these boys, the ones who didn’t make it to 4B2, a pass.

The story goes that, up to Christmas, he tried to teach them some rudimentary maths. Sums, if we’re honest.

But it didn’t work. The information may have gone into their brains, but it didn’t stay long.

So when they returned after the Christmas break, he had a new plan. He was going to teach four geometry theorems.

No, he wasn’t going to ask them to understand the theorems, just memorise them.

And so he drilled the theorems home, warning them not to make any attempt to understand what they were, eh, learning.

The day before the exam, he gave them their instructions.

“Go into the exam hall, get the exam paper BUT DO NOT LOOK AT THE QUESTIONS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Then write your name, write down the four theorems, do not number them, and leave.”

Now, in those innocent days, if you wrote down four theorems without numbers, and two of them came up, you got the benefit of the doubt. You were deemed to have answered the two questions.

And two of them DID come up.

The boys received 40 per cent in maths in the Inter. And they all passed.

They couldn’t do long division or add three-digit numbers together. But they passed Inter Cert maths. Whatever happened to them? I don’t know.

But I suspect some of them ended up running our banks.