Are you smarter than an Indian 10th grader?

Are you smarter than an Indian 10th grader? Two Million Minutes has created the Third World Challenge, a shortened and simplified version of the test 10th graders in India must pass to gain admittance to 11th grade.

The test is here. The English questions are very easy for a native speaker. I had more trouble with the history, which had two questions about the date of UN declarations. Don’t know, don’t care. I didn’t try the other subjects, so others will have to report.

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  1. Andromeda says:

    I looked at the math — the most notable thing to me is how much trig is involved. As with the SATs, this doesn’t mean you have to have taken a whole course in trig, just that you have to be conversant with a few basic facts (30-60-90 right triangles, definitions of major trig functions), but it does expect a bit more trig than the SATs. This is notable because people typically don’t get to trig until 11th or 12th grade over here (and are unlikely to encounter enough of the basic facts before then).

    The second-most notable thing to me is the extent to which you need to have internalized the content. They’re not *tricky* problems — they’re straightforward applications of knowledge — but they are *applications*; it’s not enough to plug and play with a definition. Many of these problems have multi-step solutions and probably can’t be solved without drawing a good diagram (which requires recognizing what you’re dealing with).

    I don’t think it’s a particularly hard test once you’ve mastered the material, but nor does it hand out any answers for free, and I think relatively few US 10th graders will have mastered enough material to do well on this because of when in our curriculum they are likely to have encountered it.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The physics section was really basic. Not really any calculation or problem solving, just definitions.

    I glanced over the math section and it didn’t seem to go beyond what was covered in Algebra and geometry… I didn’t actually take it, though, since I’m not yet caffinated and I didn’t feel like working out problems with pencil and paper! =)

  3. I agree – the physics was easy. I did OK on the history (funny, since I was an undergraduate history major.

    Likewise, the chemistry seemed to be easy – although I haven’t seen my score, yet. I know I didn’t get a few right – hadn’t a clue.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    This reminds me of something my husband and I were discussing this weekend while we watched “Spellbound” (yes, we’re several years behind the curve)

    Both of the Indian families said that one of the reasons they came to America was because there are better oppurtunities for education.

    The teachers commented on the work ethic of Indian students….

    Now, seeing this test, it seems like something a motivated US tenth grader could pass… (One who paid attention in class, worked hard, etc. There’s nothing on there that requires BRILLIANCE, just solid knowledge of the disciplines covered. )

    And then I think back to my own time teaching… the kids who cared, who tried to master the material, who showed up for class with a good or at least neutral attitude, tended to do pretty well.

    The kids who needed everything to be fun, or imediately useful, or easy, did not.

    So, worst-of-the-worst schools aside, could the big difference between and Indian 10th grader and an American simply be one of work ethic?

  5. What percentage of Indians are in 10th grade, and how many of those make it to 11th grade?

    I am appalled by US education, but I think American readers need to be careful and not see everything through American eyes. Most Americans go through 10th and 11th grade, so when Americans hear a question like “Are you smarter than an Indian 10th grader?” they think it means “Are you smarter than the average Indian 15-year-old?” The two questions aren’t necessarily equivalent if many (most?) Indian 15-year-olds aren’t in school.

    According to the CIA World Factbook, only 61% of Indians age 15 and over can read and write. That implies less than 61% were ever in the 10th grade.

    Not that I think of America as a model for literacy. I think the CIA figure of 99% for the US is too high:

    I get frustrated by the Asian(-American) superstudent stereotype. There is some basis for it, but the Indians who come to the US may not be representative of Indians as a whole. I keep hearing about Asian superschools, but teachers in Korean and Japanese classrooms have horror stories that will be never be told in the American press. I grew up in Hawaii and attended an Asian-majority school whose students were not ambitious. As of last year,

    “Hawaii remains ranked near the bottom nationally in reading and writing.”

    even though Asian ambition is supposed to enable students to master English as a second language in spite of incompetent American schools.

    America has a lot to learn from foreign education systems, but we can’t let ourselves fall into the “grass is always greener” trap.

  6. Sigivald says:

    Interesting, I think, the way “smart” an “educated” are so commonly conflated.

    (Also, the test itself?

    It’s terrible.

    The questions are vague, about ridiculously specific and irrelevant things*, and sometimes even simply wrong due to very poor wording.

    *That might be a good test for “did you pay close attention to specific things mentioned in our specific classes?”, but a lousy test for “what’s your general understanding of physics or chemistry?” – because I assure you that probably the majority of people with physics graduate degrees couldn’t tell you what the average size of an adult human’s pupil is.

    Because that’s not actually Physics.)

  7. Sigivald,

    I too was going to comment about “smart” and “educated,” but I thought that’d be nitpicky, particularly given my already critical tone. Besides, “smarter” makes for a catchier question, even though the question is really about education, not intelligence.

    Questions like the one about human pupils make me wonder how memorization-driven the Indian school system is. I’m not going to restate the tired old “Americans are creative so our school system still rules!” argument because I don’t believe it, but I do wonder how successful “mnemocentric” schooling is after reading stories like these:

    “57% of [South Korean] Teenagers Don’t Know When Korean War Broke Out”

  8. as with all tests … grains of salt

    thought the math was well constructed while geography was weak (in fact, I do believe that Q14 of geography has the wrong answer)

  9. GoogleMaster says:

    FYI, the test presents a subset from a pool of questions. I ran it twice and got some different questions the second time.

  10. True, the size of the average pupil isn’t physics. However, the ability to estimate metric sizes is an indication of one’s ability to improvise in an unfamiliar situation, and that would be important in physics.

    I used my own eye diameter, and approximated the size – correctly, it seems.

  11. It takes several stages in the kid’s education before being considered smart in school. Access to quality basic education is the most basic of all. What a pity for school children in the third world countries like ours, education has to compete with politicians’ priorities when budget are discussed and approved.

    Although there is a renewed interest to focus more now on Math, Science and English language, students in most public schools in my country still has to show positive results. The question of priorities would take center stage.

    Our politicians are only good at talking…no concrete actions. Our school children are better off without them.

  12. The math test is a fairly tough test for 10th graders, or for that matter for non-math major college grads. Could there be a tracking system such that only the kids headed towards math/science/engineering specialties take it? I scored 790/800 on the math part of the SAT, and I only got 11 of 15 questions right. The SAT was a very long time ago, but I’m an electrical engineer and I do use math regularly – just not all of the types of questions in the test.

    As for the questions:

    5 were trigonometry questions that – on an honors track – I didn’t learn until the 11th grade, and didn’t actually get good at until I needed it for college calculus.

    4 involved factoring polynomials. In theory, that was covered repeatedly starting with 8th grade algebra, but I don’t think I had enough practice to get many of those questions until college.

    3 were geometry questions involving area or volume, which were covered by the 10th grade if not earlier.

    3 were algebra questions that were covered well in 8th grade.

    Finally, there is one area of work that involves the very heavy use of trig functions and factoring polynomials: analog electronics design. Are the Indian schools aiming that directly at a particular career field?

  13. In contrast, the physics test was very easy, but it does have weirdly non-physics questions. Rather than the size of the pupil (which does have a tenuous connection to physics through the “telescope equation”), I had one on the size of the human eyeball (3.0 cm?), and one asking which of several diseases was a disease of the eye (cataracts, duh, but it’s not physics).

  14. markm asked, “Could there be a tracking system such that only the kids headed towards math/science/engineering specialties take it?”

    I’d love to hear an answer from someone with in-depth knowledge of the Indian education system. My guess is that these questions are for a small minority of students with strong English skills on a math track.

    Looking at

    I found:

    – “In 2002/2003, an estimated 82% of children in the age group of 6-14 were enrolled in school” – what is the figure for 14-year-olds? And what is the percentage that gets into higher secondary education (the 11th and 12th grades)?

    – “Government high schools are usually taught in the regional language” – implying the English skill of the average student may not be high enough to take tests in English; are the test questions translated?

    Is anyone here in the know?

  15. The range of reactions to my Third World Challenge has been remarkably wide, but this group of comments are among the most thoughtful I’ve seen so far.

    Deirdre Mundy captures exactly what I have seen in India and China and what I believe is the key difference in education between the three countries:

    “So, worst-of-the-worst schools aside, could the big difference between an Indian 10th grader and an American simply be one of work ethic?”

    Indian and Chinese students work harder at academics because that is what their cultures and families value. They are not smarter than Americans, just more focused on intellectual achievement. The same is true in Finland and Singapore which routinely beat Americans on the TIMMS and PISA tests.

    What is worrisome for America about Indian and Chinese academic achievement is the sheer size of their populations – India 1.1 billion, China 1.3 Billion. Finland has about 5 million people.

    Looking at student bodies – India has 212 million K-12 students, China has 194 million and the US has 53 million. Even with high dropout rates, they have a larger population which over time will have a higher average education and greater cognitive skill, by dint of their cultures and the rigor and pace of their curricula.

    I believe this has important implications not only for the rate of economic growth of each country, but also where the new industries of the 21st century are likely to flourish.

    But as Deidre observes all America needs is motivation. Sputnik provided that in the late 1950’s and the push in education and R&D investment powered our economy for 40 years.

    With my film Two Million Minutes and the Third World Challenge, I’m trying to provide motivation for Americans to “stay in the game” in the 21st century. I would hate to see other industries collapse like the US auto industry before we realize we face an economic challenge.

    One industry to watch over the next 10 years is Pharmaceuticals – India and China have quietly been building enormous R&D capacity in biotech and drug discovery and already have globally competitive generic drug manufacturers. The FDA is opening 3 offices in China. Watch as these countries climb the value curve to new drug discovery, clinical testing and delivery.

    Thank you all for taking the Third World Challenge and for your thoughtful comments.

    Bob Compton
    Executive Producer
    Two Million Minutes