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I suck at mathematics competitions

  1. May 6, 2010 #1
    I am a high school senior. I used to believe that i had some 'moderate' talent in mathematics. Yet my performance in mathematics competitions has been mediocre at best. In one contest i performed in the bottom half of all contestants. This got me quite depressed, mainly due to the fact that i had wanted to do something in mathematics. Whenever i read about really talented students it makes me feel depressed and disheartened. It just seems that all the top mathematicians were doing well on hard contests, such as the international mathematics olympiad, whereas i can't even do the 'easier' contests like the AMC or AIME that well.

    Do i have any future in mathematics...or should i just conclude that i am not talented enough and move on. Please be honest.

    p.s. Would physics be a viable option if i perform well enough at non competition maths?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2010 #2
    You don't need to be good at mathematics competitions to pursue math. Quite frankly all of those "really smart" kids are only "really smart" because they have been learning advanced math for such a long time and practicing math for such a long time.

    It's very easy to be successful in mathematics without doing amazing well at the AMC or AIME. However if you want some practice at such competitions: http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Forum/index.php has a lot of resources in the form of archived problems and solutions and textbooks.
  4. May 6, 2010 #3
    Yeah math competitions don't exactly portray your potential in math, they just show your current ability. But it's always a good idea to try to do them because every new problem you encounter will give you a new insight into math.
    I myself have done a few math competitions, although I have never particularly studied for any of them I have spent some time on challenging problems and that has helped me a lot. Anyways your performance on one competition means nothing, it could be that you had a bad day when you took that exam.
    e.g I took the AMC twice on my fist exam I did 141 but on my second I did 83(lack of sleep the night before). As you can see these things are trivial, whats important is your ability to think about problems you have never done before.
  5. May 6, 2010 #4

    Dude what are you talking about? These people you are up against have probably been studying intensively their entire life and all they do is math. Sure you have your exceptions, but overall they probably have been exposed to math much much more than you, and probably have done multiple competitions and know the kind of problems they ask at the competitions anyway.

    The other day I was talking to my math teacher at my college and she didn't know what 8 times 6 was until after like 10 seconds. In my head I knew the answer within 2-3 seconds just because I was good at multiplication in elementary school. That right there told me that I can do what she can if I apply myself. If your already good enough to even be in competitions, your probably ahead of most math majors anyway.

    Don't give up. Its easy to be discouraged. And remember, its not who can solve the most math problems the fastest that is going to be the best mathematician, its the person who can think outside the box, and be creative/imaginative.

    Also, if your thinking about going to physics because you think its easier for you than math, you might want to rethink that decision. Do what you love, not what you think you could be the best at.
  6. May 6, 2010 #5
    I hate competion(s). I prefer to do things on my own. Where can I get the questions and answers for these things[competitions]???

    -p.s. kid, do you want to be a mathematician to be better than other people?? Or do you want to be one 'cause that's where your heart is and that's what you enjoy doing??
  7. May 6, 2010 #6
    hahahahahahahhahaha this is too funny. hahahahaha. Dude are you serious??? You didn't seriously type that. hahahahahaha
  8. May 6, 2010 #7
    I agree with the guys above, most of the time the people who do well in math contests have at least a year of intense math prep. I have a friend who got a gold medal twice in the IMO (he's a freshmen at MIT now). He was studying math since grade 9. He also went to probably 7-8 math camps, where he got lessons from profs. So being at that level requires lots of hard work, much more than intelligence. Believe me people who are classified as geniuses according to IQ tests (around 140-150), will need a a fair amount of prep to get into the first 100.

    Unless you're an Einstein no way will you do exceptional in those contests with basic high school math (even honours/AP/IB).
  9. May 7, 2010 #8
    That was merely an example that was supposed to reassure the OP that you can do what you want if you really try and apply yourself. Sure getting a PhD is more than knowing how to multiply, but I believe its possible for almost anyone given the right resources/motivation. Being good at something is about exposure and practice, and I used that example because its very fitting. Me being exposed to "times tables" more often than my prof probably was when she was younger accounts for my ability to multiply simple numbers faster than her. This is relevant to the OP because hes talking about competing in competitions where speed counts, and I know in most cases, if others are out-performing him, its because they have been exposed to the problems more and that's it. So he should not be discouraged.
  10. May 7, 2010 #9
    Doing well at math competitions are something that requires lots and lots of training and practice, and the people that do really well in them are professionally coached at it. The difficulty here is to get out of the "death spiral" (I'm miserable at this -> don't practice -> get even more miserable -> practice less).
  11. May 7, 2010 #10
    It's quite true. I can do differential geometry pretty well, but I stink at basic arithmetic.
  12. May 7, 2010 #11


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    Gold Member

    "The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery....honors bothers me, honors is epaulettes...I can't stand it. It hurts me."

    - Richard Feynman
  13. May 7, 2010 #12
    Being upset about not performing well at math competitions is like shooting yourself in the foot for not knowing the details of a history book you've never heard of with content that is completely foreign to you. Sure those competitions say "you can solve these problems with basic knowledge", but what they really mean is, you better be very mathematically experienced/knowledgeable before you even formulate a thought pertaining to the problems presented in this competition.
  14. May 8, 2010 #13
    Funniest post I have ever seen xD

    dude says he can multiply better than his teacher, and is thus going places. LMAO

    and THEN he says that creative solutions make good mathematicians.

    LOLOLOLOLOL multiplication??? I couldn't multiply to save my life. I'd much rather have a test on PDE's than on repeated counting.
  15. May 8, 2010 #14
    If not for my calulator, I wouldn't be able to tell ya some of the times tables of the top of my head. I'll have to do it on paper or work it out for a while first. People associate smart and intelligence and academic worthiness with the most silly things. That's why I couldn't believe he had the guts to make such a statement. ahahahha.
  16. May 8, 2010 #15
    wondering if the OP will make an encore performance...
  17. May 9, 2010 #16
    First, competitions don't even come close to what a work of a real mathematician does: you won't be working against the clock in a problem you know that is doable.

    Second: most of the guys who perform well in Olympiads are coached. In my country, five schools have around 95% of all science competition prizes (I'm not in one of them), since they have teachers who are specialized in teaching for olympiads. They have labs and all the infrastructure to coach students very well. It's a lot harder to do all the work by yourself. Training is more valuable than intelligence/motivation in those competitions. I've met brilliant guys who performed quite bad, since they had no coaching, and I've met rather narrow-minded, unmotivated people who performed quite well for geographical/money reasons.

    Third: I've a friend who went to International Math Olympiad (IMO). He is now doing graduate school and told me that all he had learnt for olympiads was quite useless: real math is very different. In fact, he hated his last year of competitions: he felt he was wasting his time learning about insane facts of geometry or algebra.

    So don't give up. If you really like math, don't worry too much about performing bad in competitions: go ahead. Please, don't give up: I'm sure you are at a unfair disadvantage, more likely linked with geography and social issues, than with your motivation/intelligence.
  18. May 12, 2010 #17
    I'd like to see some examples of that. At every high level math competition that I've ever seen, the winners have been extensively coached, and some places regard math competitions every bit as seriously as football. People that don't seem to have received formal coaching usually have a lot of informal coaching (parents that were mathematicians for example).
  19. May 12, 2010 #18
    I've never seen any competitor which has very little training, yet amazing results.
    It's true you may have very little training and perform well in, say, school, city or state competitions. However, in order to perform well in national or international competitions, you must have some coaching or extensively train yourself. I've met many contestants in Math, Physics and Chemistry olympiads who reached the last stages of the competition, and either they were coached (the majority of them) or they had spent a lot of time studying by themselves (like me and a few other contestants). They might be somewhat unmotivated (sometimes they perform well in a subject which is not their favorite one), or even not that bright at all (they were lucky to be at the "right" school) but all of them are hard working and wiling to study. A lot.

    This happens because, at least in my country, school or state competitions usually test knowledge normally taught at classrooms. However, national olympiads go much further than that. It's not only a matter of being smart, you must be smart and learn the subjects that will be on the exam - which aren't taught in most schools.

    Of course, training isn't everything: even in those schools which offer coaching, reaching the top 1% (as in national competitions) or the top 15 (from a pool of more than 400 000 competitors) is a hard task. But the majority of students who perform well is coached. Last year, only 1 non-coached student from my country went to some international Phys, Math or Chem olympiad. She went to the iberoamerican physics olympiad (OIbF) (all students who went to IPhO were coached - OIbF is easier to get in). Do you really believe that out of more than 800 000 contestants, she was the only bright one? Do you still believe that coaching doesn't mean a lot?

    Seriously, change your mind.
  20. May 12, 2010 #19
    I've had similiar experiences, how well you do in these contest does not measure accurately your potential in mathematics, those who wins the contest win by hard work and endless practice rather than talent (please do not think that way though, makes u seem like a hater). think outside the box and challenging the limit oif rationality is what makes an mathematician.
    a math contest is a challenge in the Skills of math, it is not the same for the endveaors of the ART of math, logic > formulas. good luck buddy, as a fellow aspiring future mathematician myself i wish u luck =]
  21. May 12, 2010 #20
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