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8 Skills to Practice Before an International Math Olympiad or Math Contest

There are over five million Canadian primary school students and these students have one of the best mathematics educations in the world. In fact, out of 195 countries, Canada ranks as the sixth-best for public education in math, reading, and science. 

If your child is studying math in Canada, they will have great opportunities to thrive and to have a bright future in STEAM fields. There are several student math competitions that run across Canada every year. Enrolling in math contests, such as the Internation Math Olympiad, is another great way for young learners to have rich STEAM experiences. International math contests give students the opportunity to show off their math skills while in competition with one another.

Doing well in math contests can hugely benefit your child’s confidence as they progress in their studies. And, there is plenty that your child can do to prepare themselves to do well in math contests! 

Want to know more? Then you’re in the right place. Read on to find out more about math competitions and eight Math Olympiad skills your child should practice before going into a math contest.

How Do Most International Math Contests Work?

There are several student math competitions that run across Canada every year. Some run at the national level, while others are at the provincial. Some students may even enter an international math competition and compete with students from around the world! 

Different contests may be set up in different ways but they will often take place at your child’s school. A school can register online to host a competition then you either enroll your child yourself or the school may take care of that for you too.

The competition usually takes place on a specific day druing the school year. This is great since your child won’t miss out on too many classes or out-of-school-hours activities nor do you have to worry about additional transportation for your child.

On the contest day, your child will take a test or series of tests then they will receive a ranking based on their score. In some competitions, children move through heats over the course of the day or over several days. 

Students who achieve the highest scores are usually provided with medals, certificates, honorable mentions, and even more. For example, students who excel in Spirit of Math’s annual Internation Math Contest receive recognitions from both Spirit of Math Schools and  Stanford University’s SMILE Global

Some competitions also give out specific awards. For example, they may award a student’s for their impressive problem solving or great use of math theories in their problem-solving.

Why Enter Your Child in an International Math Olympiad?

There are several benefits to enrolling your child in an international math competition. 

First and foremost, a math contest is an opportunity for your child to do well in competition. Success in a contest will be a massive boost to their academic self-confidence and will go on their record. The latter could come in really handy in the future when applying to schools.

But getting a medal isn’t the only positive outcome of entering math competitions.

Secondly, preparing for and writing the contest istelf are great ways to get your child to engage with math outside of the classroom. 

Your child will end up practicing a lot of the same skills and concepts that they work on in school. The extra practice in preparation for the competition will refresh their memory and further solidify the topics they have learned over the years. Your child can see their math learning in action and become better problem solvers in their day-to-day academics.

Thirdly, taking part in a math contetest also does wonders when it comes to sparking a newfound interest in subjects that your child may typically find boring or tend to disengage from.

Finally, preparing for a math contest is a great way to encourage your child to study in a goal-oriented way. Younger students often struggle to understand why they are learning and how to visualize their learning in the long-term. Preparing for a math competition gives their learning a short-term focus, which often allows young learners to more willingly apply themselves to study.

Practice Makes Perfect Before a Math Olympiad

If you do decide to enroll your child in an international math contest, then it’s important that they properly prepare for it.

This preparation will ensure that your child goes into the competition feeling confident. Plus, it means that they will be able to quickly and successfully solve any problem thrown at them.

In a math competition, timing is key to success. Children often have to work against the clock and with accuracy. Practicing in advance means that young competitors will be able to analyze a question then identify and execute the necessary steps to answer the question with precision and efficiency.

Competitors won’t be able to practice answering the specific questions that will come up on the actual contest day. However, if your child focuses on practicing question theories and core math skills then they will have no problem on the day of the contest.

Not sure what your child should practice in preparation for a Math Olympiad? No worries! Read on to find out eight Math Olympiad skills your child can practice at home or through a math contest problems center.

1. Make Sure You Cover the Basics

When you’re helping your child prepare for a math contest, it can be easy to spend lots of time focusing on complicated advanced mathematics. This is understandable — if they don’t understand complex math they might struggle to solve tough problems on the day of the contest. But don’t overlook the importance of ensuring your child has the basics in place as well. 

Math learning works a bit like building a wall. If you miss out on one brick low down, the whole wall is unstable so take the time to check over the basics. Depending on your child’s age these basics include: 

  • Ordering numbers
  • Identifying odd or even numbers
  • Understanding place value and decimals
  • Being able to skip count and spot patterns in number sequences
  • Being familiar with different math symbols

These are skills that adults may take for granted but are new concepts for younger children, particularly first-grade contestants

2. Look at Word Questions

Math contests don’t simply test your child’s ability to perform calculations. They also challenge their problem-solving ability.

This involves presenting them with pieces of information in a given context and asking them to use these to find answers. Often, these contextual problems are presented as word questions. Let’s take a look at a simple example: 

“At the start of the week, Kim’s mom gives her $30. On Monday she goes to the shops and spends $11.06, on Wednesday she spends $7.42, and on the weekend she spends $9.53 on lunch with her friend. How much money does Kim have left at the end of the week?”

To answer this question, a student has to pick out the relevant information and figure out what they need to do with it to answer the question. If they can’t figure out a logical method, then they won’t reliably get the right answer.

In the above question, the solution involves arithmetic with decimals. The student would need to add together all the money Kim spends in the week and subtract the total from the original $30.

Word questions often involve everyday contexts and concepts like times, dates, or money and numeracy skills that are usually covered during math drills. Practicing decoding questions like the one above will really help your child work through similar questions quickly and accurately on the day of a competition.

3. Arithmetic Will Come Up

As you’ve seen from the word question example above, arithmetic will definitely come up in an International Math Olympiad and any other math contests.  Arithmetic is definitely worth practicing. Depending on your child’s age they should practice different arithmetic challenges. 

For example, if your child is in fifth grade they should cover things like: 

  • Completeing input and output addition tables
  • Adding or subtracting numbers with four or more digits
  • Balancing equations
  • Identifying patterns in number sequences using arithmetic
  • Using mental math for multiplication and division
  • Completing arithmetic sentences

To prepare your child for more challenging topics, you could also look at some sixth-grade arithmetic. Only do this if you feel your child won’t find it confusing and if you have enough time to work through it with them.

You should also take the time to ensure your child is familiar with different terms a contest might use for arithmetic questions. For example, ‘sum’ and ‘total’ both refer to addition questions while ‘find the difference’ involve subtraction.

4. Don’t Forget the Geometry

Geometry is often an area that people overlook when preparing for math contests but it almost always comes up in a competition. As with the other areas to practice, make sure you tailor your child’s practice to suit their grade-level. 

For younger students, geometry involves counting sides and identifying different shapes. Older students will need to be familiar with how to find angles and figure out the area of a shape. This may involve using measuring equipment so make sure your child has the time to practice using these tools before they go into a competition.

5. Do Some Graph Work

If a graph-reading question comes up in a competition, it’s a great opportunity for your child to get some easy marks. These types of questions require students to use relatively simple math but can intimidate students who aren’t used to looking at them. 

Graph work often involves identifying several key elements of the graph. It is important to understand these elements before reading information off the graph or adding to the graph. First off, to engage with a graph correctly, a student needs to look at each axis and figure out the scale being used along it.

Once they have correctly figured out the scale, then most graph-reading questions become a lot easier. Encourage your child to take their time with graph-reading so that they don’t make simple mistakes. Using a ruler or marking their place on an axis can avoid these misteps. 

6. Combine Fractions, Ratios, and Percentages

Most math contests will include a question that requires your child to worrk with fractions. As your child gets older, they may also have to manage questions that involve percentages and ratios. 

Questions with fractions, percentages, and ratios often come up together because they all deal with portions of numbers or shapes. It’s therefore a good idea to practice fractions, ratios, and percentages together. This will make it easier for your child to switch between them easily.

For example, if your child knows that 3/4 is the same as 75% this will save them a lot of time on competition day. 

Understanding the relationship between fractions, ratios, and percentages can also provide back up if your child forgets one of the methods they practiced. For example, let’s say they get stumped by a percentage question. If they can think of this in terms of fractions instead this might help them get through their mental block.

7. Get Familiar with Number Properties and Theories

Knowing how to use number properties is key if your child is going to work quickly during a competition. Knowing these will mean that they don’t have to use long methods to find an answer. 

The types of number properties your child should be familiar with varies depending on what grade they’re in. For example, fourth-graders need to know about: 

  • The connective properties of addition and multiplication
  • How addition affects place value
  • What happens when you multiply by zero

Students in grades six to eight have to understand these theories and should also know about: 

  • Distributing numbers
  • Reflecting numbers and number equality
  • Switching numbers to scientific notation and comparing these
  • Finding prime numbers
  • Finding the greatest common factor
  • Finding the least common multiple

There are longer routes students can use in order to answer questions that ask them to do these things. However, they can find the answer quickly using an understanding of number properties. This often means there is less room for error in their working.

8. Practice Algebra

Algebra is another area of math that can feel complicated and intimidating if you aren’t used to it.

Take the time to look at algebraic theory and work through some algebraic equations with your child. This will ensure that they understand how to replace numbers with letters and find value in these questions.

If they can get their heads around the principles of algebra then they will be sure to impress the judges at any competition!

You Don’t Have to Prepare for a Math Contest on Your Own! 

Preparing your child for a math competition might feel like a daunting prospect but you don’t have to do it alone. You can register your child on a math contest practice center that is designed to prepare them for that particular contest or you can enroll them into an advanced math enrichment class. This will ensure that you find practice questions that suit your child’s ability and helps them grow their applied skills exponentially!

For more help or information on enrolling your child in a math contest, get in touch with us today. We’re here to help!