Mathletes aim high on AMC

AMC school winner plaque displaying high-scoring mathletes – photo by Alexander Greer ’20

Walking into room 145 last Friday’s clubs period, you could hear a pin drop. There were no spirited debates, exotic foods, or enlightening presentations. There was only complete concentration… and the occasional scratching of pencils on paper.

     Welcome to the Math Club, in training for this year’s American Mathematics Competition (AMC), a 25-question, 75-minute test, the first in a series of examinations to qualify students to represent the country in the International Math Olympiad. Just like any sport, hard work and repetition are key: the Math Club has been meeting every clubs period since the beginning of the year to hone their computational skills. 

     Every year, the AMC produces tests administered to more than 300,000 students of varying grade levels from over 6,000 schools across the nation. The math department has offered versions of the test for more than a decade. Topics include algebra and geometry in middle school and concepts up to pre-calculus in upper school. Over the years, many students have qualified for the next level of competition, the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME). To qualify more in recent years, the math department has trained “mathletes” outside the regular class schedule. 

     “Most [students] are fairly well-prepared,” math teacher Mr. Stephen Patrylak said, “but to do well on the AMC test you need to be a little bit more prepared. It requires out-of-the-box kinds of thinking, more critical thinking. It’s more skills-based than a typical course provides. The test is designed so that it favors people who are overly-prepared.”

     So, just like any athlete, they train.

     “We take five problems and make them into a short contest … using the platform we use for Math Madness in the fall,” said Fifth Former Gary Gao, who has qualified for AIME for the past two years and is a key player in competitive math at Haverford. “We do them during the clubs period and discuss them and talk about how we would solve them. It’s important to know some of the tricks.” 

Room 145, meeting site of Math Club – photo by Alexander Greer ’20

     Problems on the AMC can range from simple number puzzles, like ordering the digits of that year’s test to form a mathematical pattern, all the way up to 3D geometry and combinatorics. 

     And interest in competitive math is increasing. Students want to build a stronger network to provide learning opportunities for those with an interest in the subject. Math Club advisor Mr. Nathan Bridge hopes the club provides students a dynamic, collaborative learning environment. “We are largely giving ourselves a space to practice,” Mr. Bridge said. “The enthusiasm is higher, it’s less diluted a space, it’s really concentrated.”

     So far, Math Club’s preparation for the AMC has succeeded — keeping students excited and motivated in their pursuit of mathematics. Third Former Colin Kelly enjoys working through AMC problems and participating in Math Club. 

Mathletes Colin Kelly ’23 and Jingyuan Chen ’23 prepare for the AMC test – photo by Alexander Greer ’20

     “A lot of these questions are really good for a career in math, but there are also a lot of questions that are just good in general,” Kelly said. “I think Haverford does a really good of preparing you for it. Math Club is just an option for kids like me who like it more, and they can take that extra step to do it.”

     Fourth Former Daniel Hou, who took the AMC both this year and last and will be taking a second level of the test in early February, noted Math Club’s effectiveness. He said that he was introduced to concepts that he would not have seen in the typical math curriculum, such as number theory and combinatorics, and found the additional exposure “helpful.” Math Club’s rigorous practice sessions provided valuable preparation, Hou said.