Who Gets It?

Here’s the problem:

An airplane is flying at 36,000 feet directly above Lincoln, Nebraska.  A little later the plane is flying at 28,000 feet directly above Des Moines, Iowa, which is 160 miles from Lincoln.  Assuming a constant rate of descent, predict how far from Des Moines the airplane will be when it lands. [1]

Question: Which student demonstrates better understanding? Why?

Student A


Student B


Student C


Student D



[1] Problem courtesy of Phillips Exeter Academy.  Hat Tip: Alison Blank


5 Responses to “Who Gets It?”

  1. 1 David Petersen October 5, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Student A has some incorrect wording I think (subtract 720 from 160?). The work is there, but the reasoning is not obvious: where did the 4.5 come from at the beginning?

    Student B seems to get the scenario, but the method does not scale well.

    Student C seems to have done the same method as B, but with more words.

    Student D has the correct answer and the most scalable method, but lacks the explanation of the others. I would probably have done it in this same way: Interpret the words as a more traditional math problem, work through the math problem, reinterpret the answer.

  2. 2 Will Farris October 6, 2009 at 6:54 am

    It is a basic linear problem and they all “get it.” Being able to effectively communicate the complex processes of the mind in arriving at a solution is an entirely different thing. Mathematicians will appreciate D while engineers might appreciate B but english majors and other right-brainers might better appreciate C. In the end I consider A the brightest of the lot in general terms.

  3. 3 Read Full Report June 11, 2013 at 6:21 am

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  5. 5 job search des moines iowa July 11, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Your way of describing the whole thing in this piece of writing is genuinely good, all can without difficulty understand it,
    Thanks a lot.

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