Math Olympiad In Singapore: A Useful Experience For Students?

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What is the Math Olympiad? How will it benefit my child? Can anyone take part?

Chances are, many parents will first hear of the Math Olympiad from their children’s primary or secondary schools, when their children are selected or invited to train for these competitions.

In some schools, Math Olympiad opportunities are open to all students as long as they are interested in math. Other schools may have their own selection criteria. A letter of offer from the school typically only contains information about training dates, the training vendor, and a fee estimate, so parents will have to do their own research before signing their children up. If this is brand new to you, read on so that you can make an informed decision when the opportunity arrives!

What is the Math Olympiad?

Mathematical olympiads are competitive events where participants take a math test, which may either require multiple-choice or numeric answers, or detailed workings. There are international, regional, and national math olympiads, and you can view a list of these competitions here.

Of all the available math olympiads, the oldest and most prestigious contest is the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), which was first held in 1959. In this two-day competition, contestants represent their countries to solve six problems — each problem is worth seven points for a maximum score of 42 points, and no calculators are allowed. On each day of the competition, contestants have four-and-a-half hours to solve three problems, which typically require secondary school math knowledge, namely geometry, number theory, algebra, and combinatorics. However, unlike sitting for a school math exam, tackling these questions requires creativity and the ability to solve problems quickly.

None of this is top-secret information, and in fact, interested parents and students can view IMO problems dating back to the competition’s inauguration year! Of course, even though anyone can attend Math Olympiad training — enrichment centres also offer such classes — there is a selection process to represent Singapore in the IMO. This  involves a National Team Selection Test, typically held in December each year. (Visit the IMO website for more details.)

What are some Math competitions in Singapore that students can join?

The best and easiest way to find out about math competitions is to check with your child’s school! There is also the Singapore International Mastery Contests Centre (SIMCC), which organises math contests in Singapore and Asia — visit the SIMCC website to view their contests.

One contest to look out for is the International Junior Math Olympiad (IMJO), which is open to primary and secondary students. (You can view sample contest papers here.) If, for some reason, your child’s school is unable to support your child’s interest in math competitions, you can also contact the SIMCC at [email protected] for assistance.

There is also the Singapore Mathematical Olympiad (SMO), which is more suitable for teens, although the competition has “junior,” “senior,” and “open” categories. It is organised by the Singapore Mathematical Society, which is the national body representing and advancing the interests of the math community here in Singapore. You can view sample questions and find out more about the competition’s schedules and eligibility rules on the SMO website.

How will a Math Olympiad competition benefit my child?

The pragmatic Singaporean parent might wonder if joining math competitions will help children gain an edge for Gifted Education Programme selection tests, Direct School Admission (DSA) applications, and milestone exams such as the O-Levels. If these are your primary concerns, the SIMCC has an information page that addresses these questions directly.

For a broader view, you can check out Quora, where adults with prior experience have given their perspective on the long-term usefulness of mathematical olympiads. The point to note is that the actual math knowledge gained from these competitions may not be very relevant for someone hoping to pursue a math-related degree. Instead, you can look at this more generally, and consider if the competition experience will be beneficial for your child.

First and foremost, your child must love math and be willing to put in the time and effort needed to prepare for these competitions. Second, competitions (math or otherwise) can help to build your child’s character, because children will need to be focused and disciplined during the preparation process, and they will have to manage their time well to keep up with their schoolwork and other activities. With math competitions, children will definitely get a mental workout, and they are likely to acquire problem-solving skills that will serve them well through life. They will also build resilience as they face competition stress and the potential setbacks, such as disappointing results. If your child is already honing these life skills elsewhere, you will need to consider if there is time to fit this in as well. But if not, there is really nothing to lose from giving it a go!

Need more advice? Join our discussion thread on Math Olympiad training to get help from experienced parents!