It’s incredible how pervasive myths about Albert Einstein are. In fact, very few of the quotes attributed to him are even accurate. It turns out if you just say something about the man and it gains traction, it becomes fact in some people’s minds.
And we’ve always loved the story that even though he was a genius, Einstein failed math as a schoolboy. Algebra, to be specific.
Apologies to anyone who has used their own math grades to portend their future genius, but Einstein failing any class is just flat-out wrong. He was a genius as a child, too, especially in math.
His school records were retrieved from his Swiss school by the New York Times, showing excellent grades in every subject. They state:
“The records, contained in a collection of the great theorist’s papers now being prepared for publication at Princeton, confirm that Einstein was a child prodigy, conversant in college physics before he was 11 years old, a ”brilliant” violin player who got high marks in Latin and Greek. But his inability to master French was the bane of his school days, and may have been chiefly responsible for his failing college entrance examinations.”
So, where did we get this idea? Well, it wasn’t invented out of thin air. Instead, it was the result of a misunderstanding.
The first biographers who saw Einstein’s records were likely confused by the grading system used by his school in Switzerland. At age 16, he received a 1 out of 6 in arithmetic and algebra. But what the scholars didn’t realize is that 1 was the highest, and 6 was the lowest.
Now, there’s a further explanation that makes us realize it was an honest mistake. The following year, Einstein’s grades in math were 6 on a scale of 1 to 6. However, the school reversed the grading system that year, making 6 the highest grade. – WTF Fun Fact
Source: “Einstein Revealed as Brilliant in Youth” — The New York Times