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Is the high jump hard? A Level Maths


The answer is yes if you are trying to break an Olympic record. Even if you can do it, it’s hard! On the other hand, if the bar is 2 cm off the ground it is easy, as long as you are able-bodied. Somewhere in between we all have a personal best height, different for each of us. Very often, with some effort, perseverance and training we can improve our personal best, and there is a lot of satisfaction in doing so.


Similarly in mathematics, if you are trying to prove, say, Fermat’s last theorem, it is hard; even if you can do it, it’s hard (Andrew Wiles, who proved it in the 1990s, took over ten years of dedicated effort to do so!). On the other hand, at the level of two plus two equals four, most of us find it easy. Somewhere in between we all get to a point where we find it hard; we all have a personal best where we start to struggle, different for each of us. However, as with the high jump, with effort, perseverance and training (education) we can often improve our capability. There is a lot of satisfaction in being able to understand something today that we didn’t understand yesterday.


Most real-world applications of mathematics don’t require the level of knowledge and understanding needed to solve Fermat’s last theorem. We can all raise our personal best mathematical “bar” to the point where we ca