Math Contests: Think Outside the Box

IHS Math Club’s contests prove to be a challenge for many students

Irvington’s Math Club holds math contests, such as the American Scholastic Mathematics Association (ASMA) and California Mathematics League (CAML), every other Tuesday in various classrooms throughout the school. As I entered one of those very classrooms, I could see swarms of students scurrying to secure a desk, whipping out their graphing calculators and scrambling to start the test. Most students rush to complete these contests for the sole reason of getting extra credit from their math teachers.

However, since I take these tests routinely, I have to admit that these contests are exceptionally difficult. As I attempted to answer the questions for the first time, I realized that the first ones are fairly easy. As a result, I started to think that I could actually do well on this test. But as I proceeded down the paper, I realized that the questions were actually very challenging and not at all like any of the problems that I encountered in my math classes. There went my self-esteem.

Many other students share this view, but they still take the tests because of the extra credit that is offered. Co-President of Math Club, junior Alex Wang says, “Students do not necessarily come for extra credit, but it’s definitely a big motivation.”

These questions require students to use their critical thinking—a rarity in math textbooks. Although the questions are difficult, most students get at least one third of them correct. Not only is extra credit is a great incentive in these math contests because they attract many students, but the tests also teach them something: to think outside the box.