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Myth

Einstein was a poor student.

Was Einstein a Poor Student? Did Einstein Have a Formal Education?

Einstein wasn’t a poor student. Despite minor troubles in French and the Humanities, Einstein was a prodigy in math and physics from a young age.

Einstein was generally at the top of his class in his early years and went on to earn a diploma in 1900 at Swiss Polytechnic before being awarded a Ph.D. in 1905 (the same year he wrote his miracle year papers).

While Einstein’s academic background wasn’t as spectacular as that of some other great thinkers, it was still impressive. He had a few issues with languages and the humanities (as noted above). He also had trouble getting a teaching position after his diploma and thus ending up as a patent clerk. There were also rumors of him daydreaming rather than focusing on schoolwork, which resulted in his teacher, the famous physicist Hermann Minkowski, once calling him a “lazy dog.” Outside of this, Einstein was, as one might very well expect, a brilliant yet quirky student.

Albert Einstein: Mini Biography. A quick look at Einstein’s early years.

FACT: Minkowski is perhaps best known for his work in relativity, in which he showed in 1907 that his former student Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905), could be understood geometrically as a theory of four-dimensional space–time since known as the “Minkowski spacetime.”

Did Einstein Fail Math Class in School?

Despite the rumors, Albert Einstein never failed math. He was a brilliant mathematician and excelled in school from an early age. From his move to Switzerland onwards, Einstein was at the top of his class and “far above the school requirements” in math, even coming up with his unique proof of the Pythagorean theory. Sometimes he received adequate or good grades at school instead of perfect ones, but this was typically in subjects not related to math and physics (see report card below).[1][2]

Einstein laughed. “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied, correctly. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”

Einstein’s Report Card

Below is Albert Einstein’s report card for matriculating to Swiss Polytechnic in 1896 (four years before he earned his diploma in 1900). See Einstein’s Studies at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich (1896–1900) for more proofs.

Final Grades, Aargau Kantonsschule:[3]

Certificate of qualification for
university matriculation
Albert EinsteinAarau, den 5. Sept. 1896
Deutsch 5
Französisch 3
Englisch
Italienisch 5
Geschichte 6
Geographie 4
Algebra 6
Geometrie 6
Darstellende Geometrie 6
Physik 6
Chemie 5
Naturgeschichte 5
Kunstzeichnen 4
Technisches Zeichnen 4

Marks:  6 = excellent, 5 = good, 4 = sufficient, 3 = poor, 2 = very poor, 1 = unusable

Albert Einstein – timeline (failure to success). This video is mostly right. It emphasizes Einstein’s failures, which while legitimate shouldn’t be taken to think he wasn’t smart or successful.  

FACT: Albert Einstein was a mathematics prodigy. Some stories paint him as a bad student, probably because educators at his grammar schools failed to appreciate him due to his difficulty with French and other humanities.

At What Else Did Einstein Excel?

Einstein played the violin from the age of five in 1874 until his death in 1955. He was also an avid sailor. We know this, and a great deal else, from his papers, which he left to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They were published by Princeton University later, which welcomed him when he fled from Hitler in 1933. The papers are being added to as new findings come to light and can be accessed here.[4]

Albert Einstein Documentary HD.

Did Einstein’s Early Teachers Think he was Intelligent? Did Einstein Really Begin to Speak Late in Childhood?

It is true that Albert Einstein began talking rather late, was expelled from one of his grammar schools in Munch, and told by the headmaster of another that he wouldn’t amount to much.[5]

Fortunately, his family left Germany and moved to Switzerland in 1894. His education improved as he was exposed to better teachers. He did fail in his first application to the Eidgenoessiche Polytechnische Schule in Zurich, Switzerland at age 16. However, that failure was entirely due to deficiencies in humanities; his primary academic weakness was in the French language. After spending two years studying at Kantonsschule in Aargau, he was admitted to the Polytechnic Institute at the usual age of 18.

Why do People Think Einstein was a Poor Student?

Einstein may have appeared to be a poor student from a cursory glance at some of his very early academic records or from the academic records kept from his Swiss preparatory school from when he was 16. The grading was scaled one through six. One semester he received a grade of one, which was the highest mark; the next semester he received a grade of six. You might think that he had failed but, in actuality, his school had reversed their marking policy, and six was the highest grade given that semester.[6]

What was Einstein’s Childhood Background?

His father, Hermann and his Uncle Jakob ran an innovative company, Einstein & Cie, which marketed electric meters and built a power station in Munich based on direct current.[7] He grew up in a family that treasured intelligence and learning. He also grew up with the study of both magnetism and electricity. The compass that his father gave him when he was five made a lasting impression on him, giving him a visual lesson in the magnetic field. Since he thought in pictures, images were important to him.

Was Einstein Formally Educated?

Einstein received a diploma in 1900. He was unable to get a job until the next year when he taught in Winterthur and Schaffhausen before moving to Bern. He took private students and worked in the patent office while pursuing his private research in theoretical physics and going on to be awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Zürich in 1905. That same year Einstein published his miracle year papers (his annus mirabilis).[8][9] This may not be the most impressive start for a Nobel Prize winner and one of the greatest thinkers of our time, but Einstein was by no means an academic failure before he became famous.



Conclusion

Einstein wasn’t a poor student, he was brilliant from a young age especially in math and physics. With that said, Einstein’s story is full of quirks and quarks, putting aside math and physics it is true the Einstein wasn’t always considered the smartest guy in the room… prior to 1905. Today the word Einstein is synonymous with “smart” in the modern English lexicon.


Citations

  1. Making the Grade
  2. Is it true that Albert Einstein failed in mathematics many times during his school days?
  3. ALBERT EINSTEIN’S CERTIFICATE OF QUALIFICATION FOR UNIVERSITY MATRICULATION
  4. Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
  5. 20 Things You Need to Know about Einstein
  6. Einstein Revealed as Brilliant in Youth
  7. What Is Known About Albert Einstein’s Family
  8. Albert Einstein Early Life and Education
  9. Albert Einstein


"Einstein Was a Poor Student" is tagged with: Albert Einstein, Germany, Theoretical Physics


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