Chinese university entrance exam maths question leaves US teacher stumped

A video of a US secondary school maths teacher comically trying - and failing - to complete a mathematics question from a Chinese gaokao exam paper has been widely shared on social media in China.

The video was shared on June 8 by an unidentified Chinese teacher working in the United States. It shows her friend, a US secondary school maths teacher, trying to solve a question from this year's gaokao, the annual Chinese college entrance examination that has a reputation for difficulty, even by international standards.

The question was taken from section II of the natural sciences mathematics exam paper on the national level, which is generally a more challenging test given to students who select the science track.

"I heard this year's gaokao maths questions are very difficult so I searched online and tried to solve one in a cafe. But it has been a long time, so I forgot how to solve it," the Chinese teacher told online news platform Guancha Syndicate.

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At that moment, the US maths teacher was sitting next to her and playing chess with his friends, "so I asked if he could help me solve a question, but that posed a big challenge for him", she said.

In the video, the US teacher looks confused by question 12, a multiple choice question about functions. He reads it for three minutes, then starts to analyse and explain the steps to the Chinese teacher.

He first tries the method of substitution but fails and finally chooses D by exclusion.

Photo: Weibo

"I think it's this one (option D), it's matching, it's D!," the American teacher says confidently. Later in the video, the Chinese teacher explains, "He spent around seven to eight minutes on this question and finally chose D, so he should get it correct, shouldn't he?"

However, the answer turned out to be B, much to the amusement of social media users. Posts about the video have been viewed 140 million times on microblogging site Weibo, and the video has been picked up by other Chinese news media.

Weibo users shared their views below the post, with comments such as, "Question 12 is usually the hardest one"; "these multiple choices should not take more than 50 seconds"; and "he would not be able to finish the whole paper at this speed".

According to the Chinese teacher, her US friend still doesn't know his answer was wrong. "He just said the question is 'worded really weird' and he cannot clearly figure it out," she said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post