A In their first years of studying mathematics at school, children all over the world usually have to learn the times table, also known as the multiplication table, which shows what you get when you multiply numbers together. Children have traditionally learned their times table by going from ‘1 times 1 is 1′ all the way up to ’12 times 12 is 144’.

B Times tables have been around for a very long time now. The oldest known tables using base 10 numbers, the base that is now used everywhere in the world, are written on bamboo strips dating from 305 BC, found in China. However, in many European cultures the times table is named after the Ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (570-495 BC). And so it is called the Table of Pythagoras in many languages, including French and Italian.

C In 1820, in his book The Philosophy of Arithmetic, the mathematician John Leslie recommended that young pupils memories the times table up to 25 x 25. Nowadays, however, educators generally believe it is important for children to memorise the table up to 9 x 9, 10 x 10 or 12 x12.

D The current aim in the UK is for school pupils to know all their times tables up to 12 x 12 by the age of nine. However, many people do not know them, even as adults. Recently, some politicians have been asked arithmetical questions of this kind. For example, in 1998, the schools minister Stephen Byers was asked the answer to 7 x 8. He got the answer wrong, saying 54 rather than 56, and everyone laughed at him.

E In 2014, a young boy asked the UK Chancellor George Osborne the exact same question. As he had passed A-level maths and was in charge of the UK’s economic policies at the time, you would expect him to know the answer. However, he simply said, ‘I’ve made it a rule in life not to answer such questions.’

F Why would a politician refuse to answer such a question? It is certainly true that some sums are much harder than others. Research has shown that learning and remembering sums involving 6,7,8 and 9 tends to be harder than remembering sums involving other numbers. And it is even harder when 6,7,8 and 9 are multiplied by each other. Studies often find that the hardest sum is 6×8, with 7×8 not far behind. However, even though 7×8 is a relatively difficult sum, it is unlikely that George Osborne did not know the answer. So there must be some other reason why he refused to answer the question.

G The answer is that Osborne was being ‘put on the spot’ and he didn’t like it. It is well known that when there is a lot of pressure to do something right, people often have difficulty doing something that they normally find easy. When you put someone on the spot and ask such a question, it causes stress. The person’s heart beats faster and their adrenalin levels go up. As a result, people will often make mistakes that they would not normally make. This is called ‘choking’. Choking often happens in sport, such as when a footballer takes a crucial penalty. In the same way, the boy’s question put Osborne under great pressure. He knew it would be a disaster for him if he got the answer to such a simple question wrong and feared that he might choke. And that is why he refused to answer the question.

Questions 14-19
The text has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

14. a 19th-century opinion of what children should learn
15. the most difficult sums
16. the effect of pressure on doing something
17. how children learn the times table
18. a politician who got a sum wrong
19. a history of the times table

Questions 20-25
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the text? For questions 20-25, write

TRUE                    if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE                  if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN       if there is no information on this

20. Pythagoras invented the times table in China.
21. Stephen Byers and George Osborne were asked the same question.
22. All children in the UK have to learn the multiplication table.
23. George Osborne did not know the answer to 7 X 8.
24. 7 X 8 is the hardest sum that children have to learn.
25. Stephen Byers got the sum wrong because he choked.