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Olympiad type problems

  1. Feb 11, 2016 #1


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    It is no doubt that these type of problems are very different to problems one would find in a maths textbook. I find them extremely challenging even after done a Master degree in mathematics. However, the solutions make a lot of sense after reading them. I am coaching a high school student in these problems at the moment and she is getting a lot of them wrong despite being the top in her (normal) math class and started math tuition very young at 2 years of age. My question is to be successful at doing these problems, is coaching necessary? Are there kids who can do these problems without coaching and without having done them in the past (e.g without having read many solutions to these problems)?

    My feeling is no since this is like saying are there kids who can play the piano without a teacher and without reading piano instruction books. Is this analogy correct or not?
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  3. Feb 11, 2016 #2


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    I feel like many of these problems have a certain trickiness inherent, similar to spelling bee words. Very few native speakers would properly spell those words unless they had experience with either the words themselves or the mechanics of the language of origin. Math is similar in that you either need to have seen the problem before, or understand how it was put together in order to know how to get to a solution. I think that learning to spot tricks and identify methods to change or simplify problems are good tools for coaches to provide.
  4. Feb 11, 2016 #3


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    So pretty much nobody can solve these problems without prior exposure or coaching?
  5. Feb 12, 2016 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    There will always be some gifted people who can solve them right away. It requires a special kind of thinking to reveal the essential truth behind the questions. Those who are not gifted have to be very persistent, lucky or trained.
  6. Feb 13, 2016 #5
    I hate Olympiad problems. That's why I am a physics major now.

    You do need some "trick" aspect as found in Olympiad problems to succeed as a math major. Just check how many Fields Medialists were former Olympiad national team members.... But unfortunately I am very brute force when it comes to math problems....
  7. Feb 13, 2016 #6


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    So do I.
    With this I do not agree.
    Lots of them?

    I don't have personal experience with the Fields Medal and do not expect to have it either.
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