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:
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:
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):
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.
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.