Paly students anticipating USAMO results

Christina Chen, Author

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Three students from Palo Alto High School are awaiting results after participating in the United States of America Math Olympiad earlier this week at Henry M. Gunn High School.

“It’s pretty much the biggest math competition, not just in the U.S. but in other parts of the world,” said junior Grace Lin, one of the students who qualified for the USAMO.

Lin, along with senior Jeffrey Yan and junior Travis Chen, qualified for the USAMO after scoring amongst the top 250 in the American Mathematics Competition 10 or 12 and American Invitational Mathematics Examination. All of these competitions are held by the Mathematical Association of America.

The exam consists of six mathematical proofs that are taken over the duration of two days, according to Lin. This year it took place on May 1 and May 2.

“They’re a lot more open-ended than just calculations and stuff,” Lin said. “They’re very difficult. But they’re very interesting.”

Chen stated that because of the difficulty of the questions, he will not be disappointed with whatever his results turn out to be.

“I just want to do my best and potentially get a question or two,” Chen said. “But the questions are pretty hard in USAMO so I won’t be too disappointed if I can’t solve all of them.”

If the three students place among the top 30 scorers on the USAMO, they may then be invited to participate in the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program, a problem solving camp partly designed to select and train members of the U.S. team for the International Math Olympiad.

Lin, who qualified for the U.S.A. Junior Math Olympiad freshman year, expresses excitement about the prospect of going to MOP.

“It would be pretty awesome to make it to MOP,” Lin said. “I’ve thought about that for years. But I guess I don’t really know where I stand in that spectrum.”

But for Yan, who went to MOP his freshman year after winning the USAJMO and refused his MOP invitation last year in order to participate in the International Physics Olympiad, the priorities are different.

“I don’t really have a goal for the USAMO other than to enjoy thinking about the excellent and very hard math problems,” Yan said. “Seniors can’t make MOP unless they went last year and did really well, but I didn’t even go last year due to a conflict with being on the U.S. International Physics Olympiad team.”

But still, Yan thinks that the possibility of going to MOP is the “best part by far” about the USAMO.

“MOP is amazing because you meet really cool people who are really good at math,” Yan said. “It’s an opportunity you can’t get anywhere else.”

For all three students, their love of contest math started before they entered high school.

“I was in fifth grade and I was bored,” Lin said. “And my brother had always been involved in these thing, and I was like ‘Why not?'”

Chen joined his math club in middle school and has been participating in contest math ever since.

“In middle school, I enjoyed contest math more than my regular classes,” Chen said. “I think it allows you to take concepts you learn in class to a higher level by encouraging you to use those concepts in more nuances and interesting ways.”
Yan also discovered his love for math through contest math, but he is now moving on.

“My interest in math started near the end of eighth grade when I tried a math competition on a whim,” Yan said. “Contest math seems more like a game to me now, and I’m more interested in actually learning more serious math.”