In less than one week, 44 of Palo Alto High School’s top-lane math students will sit down to a three-hour test known as the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, more commonly referred to as the AIME.
The students qualified for the competition either by placing in the top five percent of students nationwide on the American Math Competition or by reaching a certain cutoff score on the same test, according to the AIME website.
The AIME differs from other contests in that it has a distinct format, according to math teacher Suzanne Antink.
“It’s the very best multiple choice test because there are a thousand answers for each problem,” Antink said. “There are only 15 problems. … All the answers are all positive [and] they’re all integers, so you know you’re limited.”
The problems on the AIME deviate from a standard problem that one might encounter in a math classroom, which, according to senior AIME qualifier Robert Lee, is a challenge for some students.
“Math contests such as the AIME utilize a different sort of math and critical thinking that often isn’t taught in high school math classes,” Lee said. “A lot of students, such as myself, that haven’t done the extra studying have trouble on the tests.”
In order to prepare for the types of questions the AIME offers, some students choose to come to an after-school math class taught by Antink.
“Some of them show up at APS [Advanced Problem Solving] and … I have them work for about an hour and a half on, say, the odd problems of an old AIME and then we walk through why they are what they are and then the next meeting they’ll do the events,” Antink said. “When they get really stuck … they just sit and talk about them until they’ve got them cracked.”
For those who do well on the AIME, there are several further competitions in store. Antink believes that Paly has a good chance to be represented at the higher level contests.
“I think we might get four or five, maybe more, students out of the 44 who will go on to what’s called the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad,” Antink said. “If they do very well on that then they have an opportunity to … make it onto the International Mathematics Olympiad team for the United States and compete somewhere around the world. We’ve had people make it all the way up to the top. So we have a couple contenders who I think this year might be able to make it that high.”
While Antink anticipates that a handful of Paly students will move on, Lee offers that he has low expectations for the event.
“I often have trouble with the AMC so I expect to be stumped quickly,” Lee said. “I have zero expectations going into the contest so if I get just one question right, I’ll be pretty ecstatic.”
Overall, Antink hopes that Paly student’s scores will continue to improve in future years.
“We’re doing better and better every time,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”