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Half Mag / Half Zine

Do you consider yourself to be a whizz when it comes to mathematics? If so, we’ve got an equation you’re going to want to try your hand at.

The problem, which initially appears pretty simple, has divided the internet as thousands of people around the world have been arguing over the correct answer.

And that’s because it turns out the way you were taught algebra in school has a big impact on the outcome of the sum.

Depending on the method you use to solve the problem, there seem to be two possible answers to the question – but which one is the right one? That’s the important question.

The argument over the equation initially began back in 2019 when a Twitter user named Em, who posts under the username @pjmdoll, shared a tweet instructing her followers to: “Solve this”.

Alongside this she shared a cartoon of a classroom with an equation written on the blackboard.

The maths problem reads: 8 ÷ 2 (2+2) = ?

The problem has recently been doing the rounds online once more, with over 13,000 people liking the tweet with 14,700 people responding with their answers.

The two most common answers people on the social media platform reached are one and 16.

After the post, Em replied to say that she gets the answer one.

She explained: “I do parenthesis, multiplication, then division so I believe it’s 1.”

Another user agreed, writing: “8÷2(2×2) = 8÷2(4) = 8÷8 = 1 = Answer is 1.

“Solved via BODMAS Rule : (B racket) O( f ) D÷ ivision M x ultiplication A+ dditional S-ubtraction.”

Good Morning Britain’s Laura Tobin also waded into the debate, proclaiming the answer to be one.

However others argued it was 16, with someone else posting: “It’s 16 omg the replies embarrassing…”

A different user that got 16 added: “In PEMDAS multiplication and division take equal priority so you do whichever is first from left to right. Same for addition and subtraction.”

So how are people getting these answers?
Well, it seems those who followed a BODMAS method of working got 16 and those using PEMDAS got one.

Bodmas sees people working out by breaking things down to follow brackets, orders, division/multiplication, addition/subtraction.

While PEMDAS does things in order of parenthesis, exponents, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction.

Eventually, some people gave up trying to work it out for themselves and turned to “the dad of all calculators” AKA Google Calculator to find out the answer.

The online tool says it’s 16. Which was good enough for a lot of people.

However we decided to seek out an expert, to find out what was really going on.

A mathematics professor from Oxford University, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that there isn’t one correct answer – as the equation has been ambiguously written, leaving it open to interpretation.

They said: “Without better brackets, there can be ambiguity. There are conventions about the order of operations to try to resolve this, sometimes called BODMAS in UK schools.

“If it still seems unclear, it’s best to include brackets to remove any possible ambiguity. Mathematicians do not generally have problems communicating with each other about things like this, but for whatever reason people seem to enjoy posing these kinds of problems on social media!”