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Math 55 Is 'The Most Difficult Class' At Harvard University

Math 55 Is 'The Most Difficult Class' At Harvard University

The class has become the subject of rumours and horror stories

As an Ivy League school and one of the best universities in the United States, it's no secret that intelligence comes in handy at Harvard - perhaps no more so than in the class 'Math 55'.

Far beyond your average university maths class, the difficulty level of Math 55 has become the stuff of legend, prompting rumours among students, Reddit threads and TikTok videos.

It's been said to cover 'four years' worth of maths in two semesters', according to a biography of Math 55 graduate Richard Stallman, with rumours that 50 percent of the class drop out before making it to the end.

Hear more about the class from Harvard student Mahad, who shares tips for students on TikTok:

In 2006, an article written for The Harvard Crimson described the class as a 'nine-month mathematical boot camp' and cited a post on the Mathematics Department website which dubbed it at the time 'probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country'.

Students have been said to be subject to homework that takes up more time than a full-time job, and the class gained such a reputation that some students reportedly sign up just to see what all the fuss is about, so much so that the first day is 'standing room only' with those who think it can't possibly be that bad.

Scott D. Kominers, who took the class, told The Harvard Crimson: "The first day each year, all the math kids who understand what’s going on are scared, and all the non-math kids who don’t laugh, because they think the class is so hard it’s overkill.”

One year, he recalled, there were 51 students on the first day which slowly dropped off until there were 21 students left.

But can it really be as bad as the rumours make out? A post on Harvard's website seeks to 'demystify Math 55' by addressing the rumours, starting with one which claims students have to be geniuses to be able to handle it.

Math 55 teacher Professor Denis Auroux, contradicted this, saying: "Our slogan is, if you’re reasonably good at math, you love it, and you have lots of time to devote to it, then Math 55 is completely fine for you.” This claim is backed up in Mahad's TikTok video, where a student expressed belief the course is manageable with time and dedication.

The course does condense four years of math into two semesters, but this is said to give the class a firm background for the rest of their maths education. When it comes to homework, Auroux said his students tend to complete the assignments in about 15 hours each week, though students can devote 20 to 30 hours in total by reviewing lectures, taking in the material and solving problems.

The teacher believes the drop out rate is closer to 10-15 percent on average, rather than 50 percent, with students both coming and going depending on how challenging they find their courses.

So while Math 55 probably isn't for those who would rather ask Google to solve their problems than spend the time keying the numbers into a calculator, it might not be quite as scary as the rumours suggest. I suppose unless we take the class, we'll never really know for sure...

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Featured Image Credit: Gajus/Wangkun Jia/Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: US News, Education, Viral