On Feb. 8, members of the Taipei American School math team, as well as other interested students, took the American Mathematics Competition exam. The AMC is an international math competition used to qualify for the American Invitational Math Examination. In the U.S., doing well on the AIME can eventually earn a spot on the American delegation to the International Mathematical Olympiad.
The AMC has two different levels for high school students, the AMC 10 and the AMC 12. All students in grade 11 and above have to take AMC 12, while sophomores and freshmen can choose which one they want to take. For both levels of the AMC, each test has 25 problems. Each correct answer is worth six points, and each incorrect one incurs a deduction of 1.5 pts, but omissions do not affect the score.
According to AMC 12 test-taker Kelsey Wang (‘20), the math on the exam is very different from the math seen in math classes. She says, “It’s less straightforward. Maybe a better way to put it would be that it requires more imagination.” The AMC 12 only covers up to precalculus, and the AMC 10 only covers up to geometry, but to perform well, serious competitors must learn theorems, techniques, and branches of math not taught at school.
Shin-Yi Chu (‘19) feels that the type of math seen on the AMC is sometimes overlooked at TAS in favor of the curriculum’s advanced courses, such as linear algebra and multivariable calculus. “I don’t mind the emphasis since those courses are very applicable in other areas,” he says. “The competition is more for brain food, and it contains math less often used in real life unless you are doing something strange or very advanced.”
The math on the test may have few practical applications, but they present an exciting opportunity to students eager for a challenge. “Though the first problems are pretty simple, they become increasingly difficult, so that most people can answer at least some of the questions, but very few can correctly answer all of them,” says math team president Julia Lin (‘18). “Solving a hard problem on the AMC gives the participants a sense of accomplishment, or at least allows them to commiserate with others when you solve the problem only after the exam is over.”
The day after an AMC test, the math team typically organizes a meeting to allow students to talk about the test and to collaborate on solving the problems they missed. For two-time AMC 12 participant Karen Wang (‘20), interacting with the problems after the test has its pros and cons. “I want to know as soon as possible like what I got wrong and what I got right, but there’s always the fear of someone telling you you got a certain problem wrong when you thought you got it,” she says. “But I’d still rather know.”
At TAS, the AMC doubles as the International Association of Southeast Asian Schools math competition, which was reinstated this year after a two-year halt. The cumulative scores of the top five participants of the AMC 12 are added together for a varsity score, while the AMC 10 is used to calculate a junior varsity score.
Commenting on the relative obscurity of IASAS Math, Shin-Yi says, “More people are indeed joining it, but it’s not a public spectacle, which inherently makes the math community more sequestered. People don’t cheer for math competitors the same way they would sports teams and musicians and artists.”
But to Karen, the reinstatement of IASAS Math is unimportant. “Only a certain group of people will know about it and with or without the IASAS, they have different reasons to take the AMC,” she says. “IASAS is just another title, and instead of competing with students all over the world in qualifying for AIME, you have five other schools to compete with.”