Sometimes, a little competition can bring out the best in you. But academics don’t always include the same kind of challenge that athletics do—until you find yourself at a math competition, anyway.
To learn more about the world of competitive math, we spoke to two TIPsters involved in it. Here’s what they had to say.
Tell us about yourself.
Krishnav: My name is Krishnav Manga. I am twelve years old and attend eighth grade at Lausanne Collegiate School. I live in Germantown, Tennessee. My favorite subjects are math and science. I love to play drums and basketball, and am a first-degree black belt in karate.
Greta: I am an eighth grader at Trinity Classical School in Houston, Texas. Our school is pretty new, and our math and science programs are developing. So, when we do competitions like MathCounts and Science Bowl, we don’t place very high, but we still do them and are getting better.
My favorite subject is lunch because that is the time when we can circulate and sign petitions (and sometimes we actually get what we want, like getting to wear Astros apparel instead of our regular uniforms for a day!).
My hobbies are playing volleyball, cooking, listening to music, doing calligraphy, reading, and watching movies. I like volleyball because it is a team sport, and even if you have one amazing player, the whole team still has to be able to work together to be good. I like cooking because I like food. I like calligraphy because it is fun to be able to create something that is visually appealing.
Tell us about your math competitions.
Krishnav: When I was in elementary school, I used to participate in Perennial Math Competitions. Now, as a middle schooler, I participate in AMC 8 and MathCounts competitions every year. They are nationwide competitions that get progressively more difficult. They range from twenty- to forty-minute series of tests. No calculators are allowed for AMC 8. Concepts ranging from algebra to quadratics are tested.
Greta: I have done MathCounts since sixth grade and am taking the AMC 8 for the first time this year.
In our MathCounts chapter competition, there are about 80 tables in a huge room. Each school can have 4 kids on the team, and 6 individual competitors. First is the sprint round, which has 30 questions you do in 40 minutes (no calculator). Then comes the target round, which has 8 questions given in 4 pairs, where you have 6 minutes for each pair (you may use a calculator). After that, there is a team round, where the team does 10 questions in 20 minutes (calculator allowed).
The top scorers at the competition then do a countdown round, which is 2 kids at a time going against each other, where a question is read, and the kids try to buzz in and answer first. The highest scorers advance to state, and the top scorers at state go to nationals (free trip to DC!).
The AMC 8 is 40 minutes, and you do 25 multiple-choice questions (no calculator).
The kinds of math questions on these competitions include, but are not limited to: number theory, algebra, counting, geometry, statistics, logic, and probability. The questions tend to start out pretty easy but get WAY hard towards the end.
What is your favorite part about these competitions?
Krishnav: I love the preparation, the challenge, and how the challenge pushes me to my limits.
Greta: It is fun to be around lots of kids who are really good at math and to feel completely incompetent in comparison. Because I live in Houston, the chapter I compete in includes really good schools that are exceptionally competitive. National champions have come from my chapter!
My favorite part is watching the countdown round at the end, because the kids are so ridiculously fast—and they get it right! The question reader would read two words of the problem and the kids would be like *ding* “5.297” and get it.
What advice do you have for other TIPsters who want to get involved in competitive math?
Krishnav: Be relentless in learning new concepts and mastering the concepts you have already learnt.
Greta: My advice is: if you don’t know how to do a problem, skip it and move on; be able to do operations quickly; and don’t run out of time. Don’t leave anything blank at the end, because you MIGHT get it right.
Also, bring a TI-84PlusCE calculator. You just might need to do a quadratic formula, and you don’t want to be typing in each step one at a time on your TI-30Xa.
This interview is part of an issue exploring advanced mathematics. Why do you think math is important to study?
Krishnav: Math is important to study because I believe the world revolves around math. Math helps our brain to think logically and analytically and the world makes more sense to me.
From music to sports to transacting in real life, math is the foundation. Math influences and impacts everything around us. I love watching basketball, and one of my favorite things to do is analyze the game and players’ stats. Statistics play a huge role in determining the value of players. Also, percentages and averages are used to rank players and assess them.
When I shuffle on my music player, the probability of my favorite song coming on next is based on math. Nature uses math too—e.g., bees use hexagons to build their honeycombs. Pinecones, sea shells, etc., all use the Fibonacci sequence.
Greta: Math is important because lots of science is based on math, and engineering is based on science and math. And the way we live is moved forward by the things that scientists and engineers discover and create, like cars, phones, and electricity. Thus:
If there were no math, then there would be no science or engineering.
If there were no science or engineering, then there would be no developments to improve our lifestyles.
If there were no developments to improve our lifestyles, then our lives would revolve around obtaining food to survive.
If our lives revolved around obtaining food to survive, then we would be doomed.
Therefore, if there were no math, then we would be doomed!