Interview by Liam Warin '20
Last week, I sat down with Andrew Wu '19 to talk about his most recent USAMO endeavor and the world of competition math. Here’s what he had to say:
Warin: Give me a rundown of the competition.
Wu: The competition is called the USAMO (United States of America Mathematical Olympiad). It’s two days long, four and a half hours a day, with three questions a day. Each question is in increasing difficulty, that is to say one is less difficult than two, two less difficult than three. The same goes for the three questions on the second day. The difference between these questions and school math questions are not only in difficulty, but also in style. These questions are not computational, and are proof-style problems, where you need to backup each conjecture with math.
Warin: What’s your strategy when doing the problems?
Wu: Because the problems are so difficult, my goal is to just solve any of them if I can. My strength is in geometry, so if I see a geometry problem, that’s where I’ll be spending most of my time. Unfortunately, there were no geometry problems on the first day.
Warin: How did you qualify for this competition?
Wu: I qualified for this competition in ninth grade and in tenth grade. However, the last two years I took the Junior Olympiad, whereas this year I took the Senior Olympiad. To qualify, you take the AMC 10 or 12, and if you do well enough, you’re invited to take the AIME (American Invitational Mathematics Examination). To calculate your score, you add your AMC score (out of 150) to ten times your AIME score (out of 15). Out of the 100,000 students taking the AMC 10 or 12, about 500 qualify for either the USAJMO or the USAMO. This year’s cutoff was around 235. Last year, on the USAJMO, I scored around 59th out of 200.
Warin: How did you prepare for the competition?
Wu: After last year, I sort of quit competition math. Last year, I spent too much time studying, around three hours a night. I was losing sleep and caring too much about the competition. Competition math is a huge drain; it produces diminishing returns. After a point, you stop gaining problem-solving ability and are doing it purely for the math. Following last years 22/42, which was a good score, just not what I was hoping, I thought ‘Maybe what I’m doing here is not the best thing for my life moving forward, and there are things out there that are more interesting and important than competition math that I can choose to learn.’
Warin: What have you been doing more this year in lieu of competition math?
Wu: I’ve been playing more piano and learning competition physics. It’s pretty interesting doing other competitive stuff that’s not math. It gives me a broader picture. However, I still do some competition math, just not nearly as much as I have previously. I’ve also been helping out others with math. I’m always willing to help people out if they need it. It’s sort of my duty to give back to the community. I do student tutoring as well.