Things to Keep in Mind When Preparing for Math Olympiad

Anyone who has taken part in MATHCOUNTS, The American Mathematics Competitions, Math Prize for Girls, or any other math competition can say with confidence that it can be just as exciting as any extreme activity. Top competitors in many of these competitions walk away with financial awards or scholarships, and competitors also learn valuable life lessons.

According to Mark Spindler, associate math program manager at CTY Online Programs, “there seem to be a lot of unpleasant moments in math competitions: maybe you answered incorrectly or didn’t manage your time properly, or felt like you let your teammates down.” However, you’ll discover that the key is to like mathematics and persevere even when things don’t go according to plan. These tournaments foster ambition and determination, just like in any sport.

Math competitions also teach young people how to solve problems creatively, deal with stress and work as a team – abilities that will aid them in all of their future endeavors. What’s even better? They’re a terrific method to connect with other young math enthusiasts.

Preparing for a Math Competition

Find answers to lots of math problems

Since there isn’t a set curriculum for math contests (it’s more about the argumentation and critical thinking abilities you build over time). Practice a lot is the greatest approach to improve and understand the kind of questions that are asked at Math olympiads.

If you have difficulty with some of the tasks, you can find math answers at and see the logic behind a solution. Undoubtedly, following the examples of existing solutions can benefit you a lot.

Read as much as possible

The two volumes in the “Art of Problem Solving” book series: “Art of Problem Solving Volume 1: The Basics” and “Art of Problem Solving Volume 2: and Beyond”, are the greatest books you can get if you’re ready to spend on books. You’ll also need to purchase the solution guides. Depending on how comfortable you are with a math contest already, start with the first volume and work your way up to the next.

Depending on how experienced you are with a math contest already, start with the first volume and work your way up to the next.  If you feel quite competent with MATHCOUNTS (if that is something you have done), you might start at Volume 2 as that is primarily what Volume 1 covers.

The “Three-Year MATHCOUNTS Marathon” by Karen Ge is another book that could be extremely helpful. Although this is intended for the MATHCOUNTS competition, the book’s problems are far more challenging than those seen throughout middle school. The book’s topics are all quite applicable to varsity (and JV) tournaments and have a strong connection to the AMC.

“A Gentle Introduction to the American Invitational Mathematics Exam” by Scott A. Annin is another outstanding resource, however it is a little further down the road from the AMC because it concentrates mostly on AIME questions rather than the AMC.

Enroll in an online course

If you’re really interested in this, the Art of Problem Solving offers several online courses that are dedicated exclusively to the AMC and AIME series.

For example, the Special AMC Seminar series takes place over one weekend and provides you with a thorough sprint training. The AoPS website also features several useful, free videos.​​

Look at the cheat sheets

Many students enjoy discovering “cheat sheets,” which are simply papers that gather formulae for you to memorize. Since you don’t need to employ any formulae to perform well on the AMC, there is no need for you to feel pressured to memorize or know anything about this.

However, looking at lists of formulae and attempting to deduce their origins and intended uses helps you understand the range of possible topics in math competitions and learn how they all fit together.

Consult a knowledgeable person
writing on a white board

Do you know anyone who has gone to the math contest you are attending? Maybe one of your instructors is familiar with the curriculum? Speak with them. Ask everyone what you need to know about the olympiad. They will be able to provide you with information that is not available online

If you don’t know someone who has taken math olympiads before, you can ask your questions on the web. You may join a plethora of virtual forums on Reddit. Quora is also the place to go if you want a wide range of opinions on a topic.

Author’s BIO

Sylvester Greer is a private Math tutor and writer. He works with young people, helping them prepare for Math competitions. His students often take first places in local and international Math olympiads, so he has some valuable insights to share with the readers of his blog.

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