South finds community and collaboration in math competition


Illustration by Evelyn Oh

Connor Fondrevay-Bedell, asst. news editor

South students will once again test their math skills next week in the American Mathematics Competition (AMC), competing against students across the country, Phillip Gartner, Math Department instructional supervisor said. 

Students will return to in-person testing on Nov. 16 for the AMC test versions 10 and 12 after competing online last year, Gartner explained. The test has two versions to take depending on grade level, with sophomores and freshmen taking AMC 10, and juniors and seniors taking AMC 12, Gartner said. 

The questions are meant to test problem-solving abilities, rather than specific content, Gartner said. Students that perform well in their math class or are on the math team can be invited to compete by a teacher, or any student can choose to sign up for the test independently on the AMC website. Additionally, the test was moved up to November from February to avoid weather issues in northern states. South has competed in the event for over 40 years, and this year is no exception to that streak. 

“A school like GBS is the kind of school that would be involved in something like [AMC] for a long time, [and] we have,” Gartner said. “We’ve never missed a year. Last year, we had to adjust and we ended up hosting [the competition] via Zoom for the first time, so that was an interesting experience.”

2021 South alumni Izzy Huang is one of the students who helped maintain that streak. To prepare for the competition, Huang explained that he took practice tests until he consistently received a score above the point needed to advance, and was proud of his effort when he received a sufficient score. 

“I acknowledged that intrinsic motivation works better than extrinsic motivation,” Huang said. “Doing it for myself always works out better than doing it for someone else. I was happy.”

South received instructions on how to run the AMC in August from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the organization running the AMC, Gartner explained. The main choice to make this year was whether it would be in-person or online, and Gartner decided early on to return to the in-person format due to its benefits. 

“When I weighed the positives of being in-person, [it] was a pretty easy decision to go back to paper,” Gartner said. “We do have a little bit of a change in [the answer sheets]. Instead of paper answer sheets, there are going to be ways that students can input their answers electronically. So it’s the best of both worlds.”

In the wake of Covid-19, the MAA has instituted new policies that help students and schools conveniently receive their scores, Gartner said. They now allow test answers to be submitted electronically, eliminating the risk of answer sheets being lost in the mail or misplaced. It also allows students to get their results back sooner electronically so that schools won’t have to pay to mail in their scores, Gartner said. 

Returning to in-person competition carries additional benefits, senior Jessica Schmidt said. She said seeing and interacting with other students reminds them of a sense of community that was absent during e-learning. Having the chance to work with other students through studying and discussing math problems was also lost during online competition.

“You didn’t get that [experiance] of being in the room with all the other kids who are taking the test and having that group feel and support,” Schmidt said. “[Taking the test] in my dining room [was a] bit weird.”

Beyond the possibility of advancing to the next level of competition, the AMC also offers a sense of validation in regards to her math skills, Schmidt said. Working through the test is challenging Schmidt explained, but that is part of the fun. She said solving complex problems and talking with other students contributes to the experience, and shifts the environment from competitive to collaborative. 

“It’s not that you have to be number one in the school to qualify for the next test,” Schmidt said. “You just have to get a certain score, it’s about how well you can do so there’s no harm in wanting everyone else to do well.”