May 15, 2015

Over the course of two days, nine Andover students spent nine hours working on six mathematical problems as part of the USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) and USA Junior Mathematical Olympiad (USAJMO).

Amy Chou ’16 and JongHo Park ’16 participated in the USAMO, for which around 270 students in the nation qualify each year. Michael Ren ’18, Tyler Shen ’17, Elizabeth Tso ’18, Andrew Wang ’18, Albert Yue ’17, Siye (Annie) Zhu ’17 and Valerie Zhang ’17 competed in the USAJMO, which is taken by around 230 students.

“It feels nice to be among really motivated people who are interested in math and who would prepare for these competitions too. It’s a common goal, it’s a shared interest. There’s a really nice feeling about seeing people at math competitions who you would know from going to other math competitions with,” said Chou.

During the nine-hour USAMO competition, students attempt to solve six essay or proof-style mathematical questions.

“Usually, on an Andover test, you show your solution, but for this one, you really need rigorous formal proof writing. It’s contest math, which is a lot different from school math too. You don’t know what topics are going to be on the test before you take it. And these problems are original problems. There has never ever been a problem [like it] before,” said Chou.

The USAJMO is similar to the USAMO but for younger students. The USAJMO problem set involves a combination of the essay-style problems of the USAMO and problems that require students to generalize an answer to an open ended question.

“For the Olympiad… I did do some practice ones because my math coaches always told me the best way to prepare for something is to do problems that are harder,” said Tso.

Tso decided to participate in math competitions all through middle school, having discovered her passion for math at an early age.

“Math is something which, if given enough time, given enough preparation and dedication and hard work, that you can really excel in. Not enough girls do this, so I thought that I could try and represent my gender and do something in the math world, because I love it,” said Tso.

In order to qualify for the USAMO, competitors must be among the top 270 scoring participants in the AMC 12, another math competition for students in 12th grade or below. For the USAJMO, competitors must place among the top 230 scoring participants in the AMC 10, a math competition similar to the AMC 12 but for students in tenth grade or lower. The top percentile of students in the AMC 12 and the AMC 10 are invited to take the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME). The combined scores of the AMC and the AIME are used to determine the students who are invited to compete in the USAMO and the USAJMO.

Ren, who was one of only two ninth graders in the nation to obtain a 14 out of 15 on the AIME exam, “I’ve always enjoyed doing math and problem solving, but doing competitions… allows for me to meet other people who share my interest in math… I like math because of how creative you have to be to solve challenging problems. Often times you have to think outside of the box or combine techniques from different areas to finish a solution.”

“The USAMO is more challenging, a little bit more challenging than the USAJMO. It’s just in recognition that the tenth graders or the ninth and tenth graders have less experience and have less exposure than the 11th and 12th graders so they want to make sure that they give a challenging enough problem set but also reflect the differences,” said Khiem DoBa, Instructor in Math.

The top-scoring participants in the USAMO are invited to take part in the Mathematical Olympiad Summer program. From this program, six participants are chosen to represent the USA in the International Math Olympiads. In the past, Andover has had an average of six students competing in the USAMO and USAJMO every year.

“We’ve had students who did very well in the USAMO and made the USA team and competed in the International Mathematical Olympiad. We’ll do that again, hopefully. We have a young team, but a very young and talented team so I’m very hopeful that we’ll do well in the next few years,” said DoBa.