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 Akash Pai, a TIPster involved in it. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us about yourself.
I am ten years old and in fifth grade. I live in Tampa, Florida, with my parents, older brother, and twin sister. I go the Center for Gifted Studies at Ridgecrest Elementary School. My favorite subject is math (of course!). My hobbies are playing basketball, table tennis, and Minecraft.
Tell us about your math competitions.
Most of the math competitions I do are timed, you have to do a certain number of problems in the given time. There are individual as well as team competitions. In some of them, points are taken off for wrong answers, in others they are not, so it’s important to know the rules.
Most of the problems are word problems, so you need good reading and comprehension skills along with math. There is a lot of mental math and puzzles, and some questions are tricky, but they can also have shortcuts to solve them. The more you practice, the better you get.
What is your favorite part about these competitions?
My favorite part is some of the extra activities that many of my competitions have—like pi-offs, cube-offs, scavenger hunts, and solving puzzles. I also really enjoy the team competitions because I get to work (and win) as a team!
What advice do you have for other TIPsters who want to get involved in competitive math?
My advice for TIPsters that want to get involved in competitive math:
- When you are in a competition, don’t second guess your answers. You should check your work of course, but be confident in yourself and go with your gut feeling.
- Don’t be a “number grabber,” i.e., don’t look at just the numbers in the word problem. Take the time to comprehend and underline key words before you start working on the solution.
- Every competition is different, so make sure you understand the rules well.
- And of course practice, practice, and practice!
This interview is part of an issue exploring advanced mathematics. Why do you think math is important to study?
Math is important to study because you will find math everywhere you go—whether it’s grocery shopping or traveling or anything else you do. Without math, the world would be very disorganized and there would not be much progress. Almost everything in the world is based on science, and science relies so much on math. So without math we would not be able to learn or discover new things.