Jan
05
2010

  I Forgot How To Do Algebra

I know I've completely forgotten how to do calculus and trigonometry and all but the very simplest geometry. But I thought at least I could say I still could do algebra.

Apparently, I only remember the very simplest algebra. I'm on a homeschooling email list, and lately people have been including links to online study sites. Today there was a link to a site from a university that had math quizzes, to be used to assess one's readiness for college-level math.

Curious, I went to the site and took the Algebra quiz (on server 1), and requested 10 random questions.

I got 2 right. I couldn't even answer most of them. What is the slope of a line crossing through points (4,4) and (7,8)? I don't even remember questions like that. And they wanted the answer as a fraction, not as a degree. I didn't even know slopes could be anything other than degrees. Was that not on the SAT? I scored very highly on the math section of the SAT (I think I only missed 2 questions, or something like that). My first year at UVA, I was a grader for an algebra class there as a part-time job, and I don't remember questions like that. Has algebra gotten more complicated in the past 10 years? There were more questions I didn't have the first clue about how to solve. Something about simplify the equation for f(x) given that h is a non-zero number, which I was able to do, but then one was supposed to come up with the value for m and "m" wasn't in the equation, so I had no idea. And many more, all equally unsolvable for me.

These quizzes are good for students because after you submit your answers (or a few answers and a lot of blanks, in my case), you can see on-screen the problems worked out and explained for all the problems you missed. I couldn't be bothered reading through them all, they were long and complicated, and I don't really need to know that kind of algebra at this point in my life. It was just surprising to me that I forgot so much (although, if this is some sort of algebra that I never learned in school, than I don't feel so bad about not knowing it). I still know enough that I can solve useful things like the proper measurements for a movie screen in 16:9 format if one side is 60". That sort of thing. And I know enough of the financial equations that I can at least plug them into excel. I don't recall if we ever learned how to do those equations by hand, we used calculators in college. Calculators weren't allowed when I took the CPA exam, but contrary to popular assumptions, there really isn't much math required in accounting (it's finance that requires the complicated math, and the financial analysts and accountants by and large are completely different people, working in completely different departments in most companies, and their paths seldom cross).

I presume that if I homeschool William, I'll just have to learn the math right along with him. I'll have 16 years or so before I have to deal with high-level algebra, and maybe there will be robots to teach kids by then, who knows. I'm not going to worry about it now, and I'm certainly not going to take any more of those dumb online math tests.