French Taupe: 3/2 & 5/2

French elite Grandes Écoles (Engineering College), established since Napoleon with the first Military College (1794) École Polytechnique (nickname X because the College logo shows two crossed swords like X), entry only through very competitive ‘Concours’ Entrance Exams – to gauge its difficulty, Évariste Galois failed in two consecutive years.

Before taking Concours, there are two years of Prépas, or Classe Préparatoire (Preparatory class) housed in a Lycée (High school) to prepare the top Math / Science post-Baccalaureat students. These two undergraduate years are so torturous that French call these students Taupes (Moles) – they don’t see sunlight because most of the time they are studying 24×7, minus sleeping and meal time.

Most students take 2 years to prepare (Year 1: Mathématiques Supérieures, Year 2: Mathématiques Spéciales) for the Concours in order to enter X. These students are nicknamed 3/2 (Trois-Demi), so called playfully by the integration of X:

\displaystyle\int_{1}^{2} xdx= \frac{1}{2}x^{2}\Bigr|_{1}^{2}=\frac{3}{2}

If by the end of second year some students fail the Concours, they can repeat the second year, then these repeat students are called 5/2 (Cinq-Demi) – integrating X from Year 2 to Year 3:

\displaystyle\int_{2}^{3} x dx=\frac{1}{2}x^{2}\Bigr\vert_{2}^{3}=\frac{5}{2}

Évariste Galois was 5/2 yet he still failed X, not because of his intelligence but the incompetent X Examiner at whom the angry Galois threw the chalk duster. (Well done !)

Another famous 5/2 is René Thom (Fields medal 1958) who discovered ‘Chaos Theory’.

There are few rare cases of 7/2 (Sept-Demi):
\displaystyle\int_{3}^{4} x dx=\frac{1}{2}x^{2}\Bigr\vert_{3}^{4}=\frac{7}{2}
for those who insist on attempting 3 times to enter X or other elite Grandes Écoles. Equally good – if not better – is École Normale Supérieure (ENS) where Galois finally entered after having failed X twice. The tragic Galois was expelled by ENS for his involvement in the Revolution.

Note: Only 200 years later that ENS officially apologized in recent year, during the Évariste Galois Anniversary ceremony, for wrongfully expelled the greatest Math genius of France and mankind.

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One of the top Classe Préparatoire “Lycée Pierre de Fermat” named after the 17th century great Mathematician of the “Last Theorem of Fermat”, in his hometown Toulouse, Southern France.

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One thought on “French Taupe: 3/2 & 5/2

  1. Pingback: Our Daily Story #3: The Math Genius Who Failed Math Exams Twice | Math Online Tom Circle

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