Some advice about math competitions

This is a response to this, but I thought it should have its own post so you can post thoughts and ask questions.

Since this is a long post, let me put the main overall points at the top, those from my personal story that helped me:

  1. Make math something fun, such that you study it not just to do well on competitions (although it is a wonderful side-effect) but because you enjoy it.

  2. Treat a "failure" as motivation rather than responding with some sort of depression. On the same point, when someone else succeeds, use this as motivation rather than responding in a negative way.

  3. Stay calm. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

Here are some tips about how to improve:

  1. Study one level up. In the US, this means the AMC 10 and AIME for Mathcounts, and Olympiads for AIME, and so on. This is #1 because I feel, although maybe not as important as some of the others, this is the one that is least emphasized in my opinion.

  2. Do practice problems. This is essential. You must know which topics are repeated. You also get a feel for different types of problems, and common mistakes to watch out for. About timing, I personally never really time myself, although this may be because I am fast, so decide what works for you (on Mathcounts sprints I can have 1-20 done in 10-15 minutes, and on AMC 10 I can have the first 20 done and checked in 25-30 minutes).

  3. On competitions, check your work. Even if you still have problems to do, you should always check. Spending a couple minutes to check quite a few problems is usually more profitable than spending those minutes to solve one more hard problem at the end.

  4. Make a strategy. Plan out timing. Plan when (not if!) you will check, and which problems you will attempt. This should not be strict, change as you see fit during the test, but I find this really helps me.

  5. Understand what you do not understand. By this, I mean you should always try to understand any problem you cannot do, and also, make sure you see the motivation behind the method used.

  6. Don't be afraid to skip problems. This is probably the least important, but it is still important. If a #7 stumps you, skip it. Don't think, "This is #7 it must be easy," because different people have different strengths. Move on, and you may figure it out when you come back, with a fresh look.

  7. Teach it. You also learn when you teach concepts to others.

Here is my math story (not to brag, but to show how I got where I am): From first grade, I was above average in math. I enjoyed it, and my mom taught me extra at home. I started competition math with a little known and very simple (relatively) competition called Mathfax. I was very happy in 5th grade when I got a perfect score and first place in the nation, along with a sizable trophy. However, the problems weren't very hard.

In 6th grade, I did no competition preparation at all. No Mathcounts, which I see as a mistake looking back. I did take the AMC 8 and 10, getting a 20 and a 78, respectively, and I didn't really care.

7th grade is the year I really picked it up. I was 2nd place at my school in Mathcounts (which continued, usually behind Ashwin Sah), 5th at chapter, and placed 8th at state. This was a little disappointing, as I wanted to make nationals, but I realized later that I probably wasn't good enough. The biggest event math-wise of my 7th grade year was my "failure" (in my perspective) on the AMC 10. I tried hard to make it to the AIME, and yet, I got 114 on the 10A, and... 114 on the 10B as well (for those who don't know, the cutoff is 120 or so and each question is 6 points). This was very disappointing. Due to this, I was more motivated to study, and I took some AoPS classes (all competition, no topic classes), and did a lot of practice over the summer. I discovered a lot of problems that really interested me, and were very intriguing. This was also a key factor.

When the 8th grade year started, until the AMCs I spent a lot of time in class doing past AIMEs and things like that. I again made my school's Mathcounts team, and this time I got 2nd at chapter, and 1st at Countdown (CD). This was encouraging. On the AMC 8, I got 24, unfortunately never getting the perfect 25. On the AMC 10s, I got 138 and 132. Next was state, where I got 2nd (making nationals!). On the AIME, I managed to get a 10, with 2 silly mistakes. On the USAJMO, I got problems 1 and 2 for a 14, while messed up my proof for 4. At nationals, I got 6th written with a 44 (compare to the 40 I got at state), and 10th after CD, and Oregon got 4th (no trophies or plaques, just missed it :). Although I am usually quite good at CD, I messed up because I was too nervous. My 8th grade year was very successful.

Finally, this year, I got a 144 and 150 (yay!) on the AMC 10s. Sorry about this being so long and (maybe) hard to understand.

Now, you may see two big improvements, both from 7th grade to 8th. One is on the AMCs, with a AMC 10 score jump from 114 to 138, and an AIME jump from 0 to 10 (although this 0 is not entirely accurate). On Mathcounts, I went from 8th at state to 6th (written) at nationals. I credit this to mainly motivation, and as a product of that, studying. I had three motivating factors in 7th grade. First of all, I discovered AIME problems, which I found to be very, frankly, fun and also interesting. Secondly, my "failure" on the AMC 10 really motivated me, and I think this is a good lesson. Treat a "failure" as motivation rather than responding with some sort of depression. Lastly, Ashwin from my school placed 2nd at national MC, and, as I could easily compare myself with him, I could see that a high goal would not be impossible to reach.

Overall, see the top of the post for the main points (everything bolded).

Thanks for reading this long post!

Sorry I haven't been active for quite a while. Mostly this is due to school and the fact that the AMCs have started=more prep... I'll try to become more active again when I can.

Note by Daniel Chiu
7 years, 3 months ago

No vote yet
1 vote

  Easy Math Editor

This discussion board is a place to discuss our Daily Challenges and the math and science related to those challenges. Explanations are more than just a solution — they should explain the steps and thinking strategies that you used to obtain the solution. Comments should further the discussion of math and science.

When posting on Brilliant:

  • Use the emojis to react to an explanation, whether you're congratulating a job well done , or just really confused .
  • Ask specific questions about the challenge or the steps in somebody's explanation. Well-posed questions can add a lot to the discussion, but posting "I don't understand!" doesn't help anyone.
  • Try to contribute something new to the discussion, whether it is an extension, generalization or other idea related to the challenge.
  • Stay on topic — we're all here to learn more about math and science, not to hear about your favorite get-rich-quick scheme or current world events.

MarkdownAppears as
*italics* or _italics_ italics
**bold** or __bold__ bold

- bulleted
- list

  • bulleted
  • list

1. numbered
2. list

  1. numbered
  2. list
Note: you must add a full line of space before and after lists for them to show up correctly
paragraph 1

paragraph 2

paragraph 1

paragraph 2

[example link]( link
> This is a quote
This is a quote
    # I indented these lines
    # 4 spaces, and now they show
    # up as a code block.

    print "hello world"
# I indented these lines
# 4 spaces, and now they show
# up as a code block.

print "hello world"
MathAppears as
Remember to wrap math in \( ... \) or \[ ... \] to ensure proper formatting.
2 \times 3 2×3 2 \times 3
2^{34} 234 2^{34}
a_{i-1} ai1 a_{i-1}
\frac{2}{3} 23 \frac{2}{3}
\sqrt{2} 2 \sqrt{2}
\sum_{i=1}^3 i=13 \sum_{i=1}^3
\sin \theta sinθ \sin \theta
\boxed{123} 123 \boxed{123}


Sort by:

Top Newest

Hi Daniel, thanks for the advice! I'm now Grade 7, and I'm also very disappointed with my 118.5 score for the AMC 10B. Anyway, I will heed your advice! Thank you so much!


Victor Loh - 7 years, 3 months ago

Log in to reply

If you are disappointed with 118.5, then I should be feeling even worse with only 106.5! Cheer up, dude! You did well enough, and you also have another try next year! Don't give up :)

EDIT: My age is wrong don't judge

Yuxuan Seah - 7 years, 3 months ago

Log in to reply

Why don't you mail the Brilliant team to change your age. You can mail to

Satvik Golechha - 7 years, 3 months ago

Log in to reply

Hah! Dissapointed? I got a 78!! Of course, I answered all of the questions, so I didn't get any extra points for not guessing. If I had only answered the ones I knew how to solve, then I would've gotten a 96. It was my first time.

Finn Hulse - 7 years, 3 months ago

Log in to reply

Woah, a 20 on the AMC 8. How are you no pleased with that?

Raakin Kabir - 4 years, 6 months ago

Log in to reply

Thanks! I'm a 6th grader who is nervous about not even making it to state Mathcounts because of schools that could potentially beat me. I'll take your advice and try my best!

Computer Crafter - 3 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

i didn't make it to state unfortunately. I made silly mistakes and got a terrible 42. A 46 was definitely possible, but as I said, SILLY MISTAKES!

Computer Crafter - 3 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

I'm in the City of Lakes in Minnesota. I didn't move on individually, but our team got third place in chapter, entered wild, and fortunately, advanced to state. Chance to do more practice and beat those who beated me, especially this guy who rose his hand 0.1 second before me in the countdown round. I'm so bad at sprint round though that I didn't even get to first 6 in chapter. I'm so worried about state because my school focuses on literature and our team sucks and I'm the one doing all this hard work but I'm not so sure that I can solve 10 extremely challenging problems in 20 minutes.

Alice Ling - 1 year, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

Thanks Again

Chris Chen - 2 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

Last year mathcounts... four over sixte.... ohhh.. you could've beat franklyn i think

David Lee - 7 years, 1 month ago

Log in to reply

OMG Thanks Daniel. I am in 6th grade and just barely made the team... which is really disappointing. Though I will take your advice immediately and start practicing really hard!

Chris Chen - 2 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

I'm doing mathcounts

Chris Chen - 2 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

Hey Daniel when did you start doing mathcounts?

Chris Chen - 2 years, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

Thanks for the advice! I'm a newbie so it is nice to read someone's professional opinion on math. I even try to use satire essay like this for my project but I don't know how it would be looking at the end. Hope that it would be not a sad satire on a normal project!

Clayton Simpson - 1 year, 11 months ago

Log in to reply

Thanks for the advice. I am in 6th grade and I just finished my AMC8 test and was very disappointed with my score of 22 since I scored higher on practice tests. However your advice has helped motivate me to study harder

Jason Zhang - 1 year, 7 months ago

Log in to reply

Thanks for the advice! I took the AMC 8 this year and was happy to get a 23. This was my last year, though, as I'm in 8th grade. I am trying to study a lot for Mathcounts, but have reached a mental block. I feel like I know all the information to be able to solve any problem, but that I don't know how to apply them to problems well enough. I will try AIME problems to get the fun back in math :)

Shubha Gautam - 1 year, 4 months ago

Log in to reply

Wow. Never knew math clubs existed until 11th grade :/. That’s impressive

Flinn Bella - 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Log in to reply

I like your math learning mindset, It is true that enjoying doing an activity would enhance the potential performance about it, and it definitely applies to studying. So I let my son take lots of worksheets and exercises to practice via Beestar. Recently, I let him take math competitions provided by Beestar for learning the competitive feeling thus getting used to it because I want him to learn how to be calm on taking exams, so he can improve better in any other fields.

Scott Ke - 8 months ago

Log in to reply

Hello Daniel

My daughter is in 5th grade now.. She appeared for Math Kangaroo last year and this year again doing it. This year she is attempting Math Olympiad too. She is an average student. I would like to know which of the maths competitive exams really help in future in getting admissions to good colleges? What is the best way to prepare for math olympiad

Prajakta Dandawate - 1 year, 8 months ago

Log in to reply


Problem Loading...

Note Loading...

Set Loading...