Sensible failures

May 21, 2004

G. H. Hardy once remarked that the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan "had indeed but the vaguest idea of what a function of a complex variable is". No doubt Ramanujan would have failed to get a degree in a system that required students to pass all modules (Letters, May 14).

It is easier to fail an exam in maths than in essay-based subjects. Even very competent mathematicians can fail to get their heads round some parts of the subject. But it is better for weaker students to acquire a reasonable knowledge of some parts of maths than to scrape through every module.

In mathematics, rules that permit students to fail some modules are entirely sensible. Insisting that every module is passed would, for obvious reasons, lead to lower standards.

Alan Slomson
University of Leeds

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