The Math Contest season is rapidly approaching, and one of the first major math competitions of the year, the AMC10s and AMC12s, will soon be upon us. As a result, many of us will likely be scrabbling to practice to ensure that we receive the score that we hope for in these final 3 weeks before the test finally comes. However, some questions that many mathletes have are, “How on Earth am I supposed to practice for this?” or more likely, “How can I be sure that the practice I am using is effective?”
But don’t worry! If you’re here because you have these questions, or just need some advice on how to prepare, this post will provide you with some helpful tips on AMC preparation! As a 3-time AIME Qualifier and a USAJMO Qualifier (the levels of math competition after the AMC10/12), I can assure you that these tips are extremely useful!
- The Key to Performing Well on the AMC10/12 is through Using Practice Tests.
As the name of the tip suggests, one needs to actually DO the AMCs from previous years for practice in order to perform well on the actual test. Aops.com has the entire collection of AMC10s and AMC12s, both problems AND solutions, in their “AOPS Wiki,” which you should definitely make use of.
While reading competitive math books or reading about random mathematical theorems of Wikipedia may have an impact on your abilities to solve problems, it is practice tests that will help you the greatest as the time to the AMC10/12 testing date grows smaller and smaller. It allows you to simulate the time pressure you will face during the actual examination, as well as let you practice various testing strategies. Furthermore, doing practice problems from old tests allows you to get a feel for the types of problems that the AMC series is likely to present you with. The more practice tests you take, the more familiar you will be with the styles of the questions and how to approach them, especially considering that many AMC questions tend to repeat the same ideas over the years!
Although studying competition math using other methods may increase your overall mathematical skill, it will not allow you to truly gain experience in “how to take the test,” such as on how to allocate certain amounts of time to different problems or understand the sorts of questions you will encounter.
- Review, Review, Review!
One common pitfall that many talented mathletes fall into is to just continuously do problems or old tests without looking at the solutions for the problems that they miss. Although reviewing problems can be annoying and even frustrating at times, especially if you are unable to understand the solution presented, it is crucial that you know how to solve the problems you miss. Otherwise, if you only solve the problems that you know how to do, then how will you ever get better?
Furthermore, it is normally beneficial to at least glance over the solutions for problems that you were able to answer correctly, as well. While there may seem no point in looking over how to solve problems you already know how to do, there is definitely at least some benefit to doing so. Oftentimes, there are multiple solutions to a problem. Going over the different ways that others solved the same problem can be extremely helpful, as it shows you how others approached it. Not only this, but you may also find a solution that is much more efficient than the method you used. Learning about the techniques that others use to more quickly solve problems is sure to increase your own solving speed as well.
Reviewing your mistakes (and even the problems that you were able to answer correctly!) is crucial to scoring better on the AMC10/12, as it allows you to understand how to avoid making the same mistake the next time you see a problem of the same type, and how to more efficiently solve various problems.
- Use MORE Scratch Paper
Now, this tip may seem obvious to some of you. Of course you should use scratch paper! Otherwise, how are you going to solve the problems? However, as someone who suffered from this mistake himself (and failed to meet his expectations because of it), I strongly urge you all to avoid doing calculations in the margins of the testing paper and on scratch paper which already has too many calculations.
We’ve all had that moment where we misread the numbers on our handwriting- where the 7 we wrote down suddenly becomes a 1, or our 5 is read as a 9. However, if your work for a problem is done in a place where there is plenty of room and not random calculations done all over the place, it is much easier to avoid these types of errors, as you will be able to avoid having to write in tiny font to fit your work on the paper.
To continue, using more scratch paper also allows you to more easily check your work. No one wants to have to look all over a sheet of paper for their work for problem 5, which also contains his or her work for 20 other problems. Using a singular sheet of scratch paper for 4 or fewer problems (depending on the difficulty) will allow you to much more easily check your work.
And that’s all of the tips for today! I hope that you found all of these tips helpful- I know that they helped me when I first found out about them! Now, if you’re hoping for more help regarding the upcoming AMC10/12, don’t worry! With the contest date soon approaching, you’ll surely see many more posts about it very soon!
I wish you all the best of luck in your preparation! 🙂