Lazy student or smart student? An uninspiring teacher or fear of failure?
One or all of these may have been, and perhaps still are, factors in decisions by Leaving Certificate students to stay in the comfort zone of ordinary level maths.
Whatever the reason, it has done students and Ireland Inc no favours.
For years, international studies have shown that Irish 15-year-olds rank only average in maths.
But why should they stretch themselves when the reality is that, by and large, students didn't, and still don't, need higher level maths for entry to college, the holy grail for most school-leavers?
Some students may not be bothered putting in the extra effort. But far from being lazy, many make smart, strategic decisions to put their energies into subjects that may more easily yield the points that very definitely make a difference between getting on to a desired CAO course, or not.
Forget college, proficiency in maths is important for everyone: increasingly in the modern world, in their everyday lives people need to be able to interpret and analyse numerical and statistical data. But it is also a fact that employers of all types, and the high-tech US multinationals in particular - not to forget the growing band of high-tech indigenous Irish companies - are demanding certain minimum maths skills
Simply put, students cannot get away as easily any more in saying ,"I am no good at maths" or, "I don't need maths."
There has been a three-pronged approach to boosting interest. Project Maths was rolled out with the promise of a more engaging approach to teaching and learning; controversy about its value has died down, but its critics remain.
There was a shocking discovery a few years ago that 48pc of maths teachers were not qualified in the subject. An upskilling programme designed for that cohort, known as "out of field" teachers, recently produced its first fruits with 288 teachers achieving a top-up diploma in maths teaching.
Colleges play their part with a four-year pilot scheme to incentivise students directly with 25 bonus points for those who passed the 'honours' paper - with a particular focus on rewarding those who would otherwise sit tight at ordinary level in the knowledge that they had an A in the bag.
It has worked - double the numbers are now taking higher level than did in 2011.
Overwhelmingly, they are rewarded with the bonus - a maths lifejacket lifting them on to a rising tide that virtually guarantees they will reach the shore of a Level 8 course.
They may be first to land safely, but for every one of them, another three arrive on the same college shore and the same Level 8 offer.