Math Olympiad Celebrates Problem-Solving
Students from first to 10th grade put their skills to the test in the international competition.
One hundred-fifty regional students from first to 10th grade signed up for the Olympiad testing, joining students in 50 countries who were also taking the exam that day, said Julia Brodsky, the regional leader of the Olympiad in Montgomery County.
“Over 6,000 kids are taking it right now… in the United States,” she said.
The event began with an outdoor photo shoot of the participants. Afterwards, students went to test rooms assigned by grade. First-, second-, third- and fourth-graders each received their own testing rooms, while students from sixth to 10th grade took their test together.
“I’m a big believer in mathematical literacy, as someone who uses it every day in his work,” said Tom Hanna, a physicist who proctored the second-grade test takers. “And I’m keen to encourage it in students.”
Everyone had 75 minutes to complete the entirely multiple-choice test. Participants from grades six through 10 had 30 questions, while students in the lower grades had 24 questions.
“They’re problem-solving questions,” Brodsky said. “They’re not just arithmetic. They encourage [participants] to think outside the box.”
One question on the third and fourth-grade tests, for example, asked the test-takers to figure out the least number of boxes a farmer would need to store 66 eggs when he has boxes that hold six eggs each and twelve eggs each.
“They’re not just routine problems,” said Jim Hall, who proctored the sixth- through 10th-graders. “They require you to think them out.”
Soyoung Hong, a fifth-grader at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, said she prepared for the Olympiad by studying with her mother and looking at Olympiad tests from 2000 to 2010.
“At first they were harder—like [in] 2002—then they get easier, then they get harder again,” she said.
Alex Heyes, 10, said his mother also helped him prepare for the test. Alex’s mother, Gail, said the Olympiad gave Alex the chance to challenge himself.
“Never be afraid to take a chance, right?” she said.
Hall said doing well in the Olympiad also allowed students the chance to gain recognition for their math ability. All students who took the test received a T-shirt, a certificate and a puzzle. Top scorers can receive medals, trips to an international summer camp and college grants.
“It’s kind of like the mathematical equivalent of a sports tournament,” Hall said. “So doing well can get them a lot of attention.”
One of the benefits of doing well: “It’s good college application stuff,” said sixth-grader Kusal De Alwis.
Although the questions on the test varied by grade, they do not vary by country.
“Everybody’s taking the same test, in their own language,” Brodsky said.
The Math Kangaroo Olympiad originated in Australia and soon expanded to France, where it gained wide popularity. It has since spread across the globe.
“We’re getting more and more people both inside and outside the country,” Brodsky said. When the test was first administered at Fallsmead two years ago, just 50 students enrolled.
The Olympiad's Fallsmead center was organized by the Art of Inquiry Math Circle, an organization founded by Brodsky that teaches children how to think critically and solve atypical math problems.