Nearly 1 in 4 of the 6,000 college students who took a test last year on basic math skills incorrectly answered a question taught to elementary school sixth-graders, according to the Mathematical Society of Japan.
The society, which carried out the basic math test between April and July to gauge college students’ mathematical ability, said Friday that 18 percent of those who incorrectly answered the question — which involved averages — were science majors.
Science students accounted for around 40 percent of the students who took the test, which was held for the first time in 2011.
In a multiple-choice question on what could be inferred from a sentence stating that the average height of 100 students was 163.5 cm, 76 percent chose the right answer: the total height of the 100 students was 16,350 cm.
The other 24 percent selected either an answer stating that students whose height was around 163.5 cm formed the largest group among the 100, or an answer that the number of students taller or shorter than the average was the same.
The test was administered to mostly first-year students at 48 universities.
Yoichi Miyaoka, a math professor at the University of Tokyo and head of the society, said the outcome indicates that students’ mathematical abilities have declined due to the policy of promoting education without cramming and the increase of admissions based on recommendations.
The recommendation system does not require applicants to take entrance exams.
The percentage of students who answered the question on averages correctly was higher among students at public universities than their counterparts at private institutions.
Compared with private schools, national colleges are more likely to require that applicants write their own answers in math tests, rather than use a multiple-choice format.
Alarmed by declining academic levels, many universities have started taking measures such as offering extra classes and tying up with cram schools.
According to the education ministry, 274 universities, or nearly 40 percent of the total, provided supplementary study sessions to students in 2009.