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A Year in… Maths Challenges

a picture of three students with awards

In the academic year 2021/2022 the cycle started in October with a Senior Maths Challenge, followed by the Senior Kangaroo and the British Mathematical Olympiad for the most successful students, who are certainly not faint of heart – the BMO lasts 3.5 hours!

As a one-off, on 25 January 2022, we had 153 Shells and Rems celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT), by tackling 25 questions in a special online version of the challenge. Fitting all boys into the two computer rooms was an interesting mathematical problem in itself requiring a slight adjustment to the laws of Physics. The results, however, were well worth it, considering that Josh from Shells (now in Rems), and Thom and Felix from Rems (now in UMs), all got a perfect score, and many others were a mark or two behind.

‘I found the challenge, and more specifically the latter questions, quite difficult at times,’ said Josh. ‘I specifically remember one question about fruit that I couldn’t fathom; then the answer just clicked – I had been solving it incorrectly the whole time! Another question that I enjoyed was a Sudoku-style question. This was familiar, and thus, slightly comforting in a tricky challenge, because I had seen similar questions before, and I often enjoy doing these puzzles when I come across one. There were also many other questions that I enjoyed solving and their difficulty further contributed to the joy I had when I was solving them. I would really want to do something like this again!’ (Josh got his wish, albeit in a rather unusual way, with the Junior Olympiad in June.)

We then held the Intermediate Maths Challenge in February. Big School was host to 126 Middle School boys and two Lower School contenders. With congratulations to around 60 boys qualifying for the following Kangaroo round, special mention goes to Boyi from the Rems (now in UMs), Lewis, Niklas, and Alastair from the UMs (now in Fourths); and to Simon who was in the Fifths, who not only qualified for the Intermediate Mathematical Olympiads in their respective categories, but were also placed among the highest-scoring participants. Each boy earned a Merit certificate, with Boyi in the top 100 students: he was awarded a Distinction certificate and a Bronze medal. 

To top off a fantastic year in mathematical challenges, Thom won a Bronze medal, Boyi a Silver, and Aidan hit it out of the park with a Gold in the Junior Maths Olympiad, which makes him one of the top 40 scorers overall! He said: ‘The JMO is challenging and is an excellent way for us to think critically and logically. It helped me improve my problem-solving skills and broadened my knowledge. I also feel that understanding the essentials is important, but the most significant part is to think outside the box. I am very happy to have achieved a Gold medal in the JMO.’

What impressed me most in my first year of easing into organising Maths challenges at KES was the enthusiasm. There were so many boys happy to give up their lunch break to take part in the Intermediate Kangaroos that we had to change the venue from a classroom to Big School, but the numbers kept increasing. When I asked the boys for comments on the Maths challenges they participated in for this report, not really knowing what to expect, every single reply conveyed a sense of joy in tackling very challenging Mathematics and eagerness for more. Hence, it seems appropriate to finish with two quotes about the winning strategy when it comes to being successful in Mathematics, which the boys have illustrated so well. Many congratulations to all!

“Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.”  W. S. Anglin

 “Good mathematics is not about how many answers you know… It’s how you behave when you don’t know.” Anon

 Dr Strabic

Picture: Thom, Boyi and Aidan with their medals and book prizes for the Junior Maths Olympiad.

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