Competitive Math Brings Friends Together

Competitive Math Brings Friends Together
Posted on 01/10/2020
Top Scorers in the AMC8 Competition

Top-scoring math students at Northbrook Junior High are also besting another kind of math statistic: In a field where girls are underrepresented, four out of five students who scored the highest on the 2019 American Mathematics Competition 8 exam are girls, with two scoring in the top 5% nationally.

They are a gregarious group of friends who find the competition a fun way to enjoy the best parts of mathematics – creative problem-solving.

Madeline Noll (8th) and Olivia Zhao (8th) tied for the top NBJH score of 20 correct; Jenna Wang (8th) tied for second place with the only male high-scorer, Jeehung Yoo (8th), and Alice Smagorinsky (8th) placed third.

In general, gender differences in math performance are small according to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, but there are larger gaps in math-related careers and confidence in math skills.

“Considering that nationwide it’s probably mostly guys that took (the exam), it’s cool that it’s not that way at our school,” said Olivia Zhao, who has entered the competition each year since fifth grade.

“Not only is it fun to do all these problems and go to math club every week and see your friends and do math with them, it's gives us a lot of experience for what we might see in high school,” said Alice Smagorinsky.

The AMC8 is 25-question, 40-minute exam held nationwide for students in fifth through eighth grade.

Jeehung Yoo, the only male among this year’s top scorers, is also counted among the friends who go to math club once a week and enjoys competition math.

“I don’t really see it that way (as more girls or boys),” Jeehung said. “It’s just challenging and makes me think in different ways.”

Competition math is a whole different spectrum from math class, where learning formulas, struggling with homework and studying for test can be stressful, Olivia said.

“I enjoy doing competition math because it is a way to apply thinking you learn inside the classroom in a different way. When you can use formulas in new and interesting ways to solve a problem you haven’t necessarily seen before, it is gratifying,” said Jenna.

For those who would never define a 25-question exam of challenging math word problems “fun,” our top scorers have some thoughts.

“People who don’t like math are just the people who haven’t had a chance to explore what it really is outside of homework and outside of tests. There are so many ways that math can be engaging and fun and bring people together,” said Alice.

A total of 22 students participated in the exam from sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Top-scoring sixth-graders were: Alexander Dobrev, first place; Ethan Camp, second place; and Kristin Cho, third place.

Next up, the members of the Math Club, which includes many of the same students and more, will compete for a spot on the 10-member team that will compete in MATHCOUNTS North Suburban Math Competition in February.