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Ottoson 7th grader rates 7th in U.S. math competition

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In a nationwide test of math skills, the team representing Massachusetts finished eighth out of 56, and Ottoson seventh-grader Jiahe Liu finished seventh out of the 224 competitors.

"It was a very fun and exciting experience," the student told YourArlington on May 28. "Doing it at home helped because it felt more comfortable at home, and I'm more used to doing problems on my desk as opposed to a table at the testing center. I very much appreciate the effort that the MATHCOUNTS put into organizing the event and making it as fun as possible."

The 2021 Raytheon Technologies MATHCOUNTS contest, held May 8-10, celebrates cybersecurity and computer science and aims to inspire tomorrow's problem-solvers. Besides Liu, the Massachusetts team included Matthew Qian, RJ Grey Junior High School, Acton; Rohith Raghavan, Sharon Middle School, Sharon; and Yuan Zhuang, Curtis Middle School, Sudbury.

Score tops coach

The Gibbs-Ottoson math team is coached by parent volunteer Jon McIntyre, a former USA Math Olympiad qualifier. Coincidentally, he attended the Sudbury middle school.

Liu's score of 37 out of 46 was deemed excellent for such a difficult test, noted McIntyre, who tried it later and scored 34.

McIntyre commented: "[H]is outscoring me is impressive when you consider I've been teaching this for 7 years, and I was one of the top 50 in the country my senior year in high school [in Virginia] in some top math contests, and the top scorer in an eastern Massachusetts math league when in middle school."

"Even if I'd done everything perfectly strategically, such as skipping time-consuming problems, my max possible score in the time given would have been 38 of 46.  That shows that the later problems were incredibly hard to do quickly, but Jiahe is remarkably fast, so he was able to get through more of them.  His recent improvement has been impressively fast as well. "

"But it can be very hard to do everything perfectly strategically, even harder than solving these problems!   I made the same strategic mistakes that I teach our students not to make.  It's obviously not because I didn't know what strategies to employ, it's just that the nervous 'panic" state can make you forget strategy."

"That's why I have to put myself in the same situation.  I avoid looking at the contest problems until I can take the tests under the same time limits, as it helps me experience the emotional and strategic challenges the students face and come up with ways to overcome them.   It's both emotional and strategic. 

"Not only do you need to remember to skip time-consuming problems in order to find a few quicker ones towards the end of the Sprint Round, but you have to overcome the fear of maybe not finding an easier one, and losing that time you invested searching for one.  It's not enough to just say 'read and mentally process each word in the problem descriptions' to avoid solving the wrong problem, you have to practice doing that while in the panic state that makes you rush through the descriptions."  

"Better students can actually get less practice at managing panic than most students, because on easier rounds they finish with time to spare, and can stay relaxed the whole way.  When they get to nationals, the experience of dealing with time stress is somewhat new to them."

"That's why we practice and discuss strategy more than we used to in our weekly practices, and why doing full practice tests, instead of just practice problems, is so important."

For more details about the state teams, click here >>

See an earlier photo of the teams here >>

April 14, 2021: For Ottoson, Gibbs math teams, focused work adds up to success

This news summary was published Friday, May 28, 2021.

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