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Student Perspective: The Joy of Math-National Math Olympiad, and Beyond

19 February 2010 admin 1,484 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

By Jonathan F. Li, Grade 11

msopEarly this month, St. Margaret’s Upper School students took part in the annual American Mathematics Competitions (AMC), organized by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). St. Margaret’s has participated in these exams since 2000, with the goal of inspiring an interest in math for students, which is exactly what it did for me.

The AMC exams are the first round of a series of math competitions that lead to the selection of a six-member United States Math Olympiad team which will compete in the International Math Olympiad (IMO) in July. The top national scorers qualify to participate in the next round, the American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME) in March. The AIME is a three-hour exam with only 15 questions. St. Margaret’s has produced AIME qualifiers each year since 2001 with a record number of 11 in 2007.

Out of the 10,000 AIME qualifiers, the top 400 scorers then advance to the United States of America Math Olympiad (USAMO) in April. The USAMO is a six-question, proof-based exam that spans over two days in nine hours. From the 400 students, the top 50 scorers are invited to an all-expense-paid, three-week intensive math boot camp—Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), at the University of Nebraska, in June. This boot camp determines the six-member US Math Olympiad team to compete in International Math Olympiad (IMO) in July. Last year, the US team came in sixth behind China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea.

As a lifer at St. Margaret’s, I have participated in the American Mathematics Competitions since grade 6. I became an AMC State Winner by earning a perfect score of 150 on the AMC 10 in 2007 and 2009. I further qualified for the USA Math Olympiad in 2008 and 2009. In my freshman year, I was one of the top 50 students in the nation invited to Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program, one of the most unforgettable learning experiences I have ever had.

All of this would not have been possible without the support from my teachers at St. Margaret’s. The school is Preschool through Grade 12, making acceleration in math extremely convenient. For example, in grade 5, I was allowed to start Algebra II in the Upper School, less than a two-minute walk away. Even after I exhausted the high school curriculum in grade 7, the school was flexible enough to allow me to continue my study at the University of California, Irvine.

The AMC could open many other doors for students. The logical and critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed from the AMC training make other subjects easier to learn. The different levels of competition motivated me to explore more advanced math topics in depth and reach new heights. Attending national and regional math events over the years has provided additional environments for me to develop my social and leadership skills.

Inspired by the San Diego Math Circle and supported by the Davidson Institute, I created a multiyear service learning project, Orange County Math Circle (www.ocmathcircle.org), in 2007, to help other students. At school, I am the president of the Upper School’s Mu Alpha Theta club, a national high school mathematics honor society, sponsored by St. Margaret’s math teachers Mr. Hiram Johnson and Mrs. Anne Booth. I also assisted the Middle School Math Counts team, coached by Middle School math teacher Mrs. Stephanie Windes.

I would encourage more students to take advantage of St. Margaret’s resources to discover the joy of mathematics!

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