Maths Olympics vs International Mathematical Olympiad

One of the most confusing things about the Maths Olympics is that it gets confused with the International Mathematical Olympiad, sometimes known as the maths olympiad. Hopefully this page will help clarify things.

First held in 1959, the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) or maths olympiad, is the premier international mathematics competition for high school students. Held every July, each country sends a team of 6 high school students. As in the Olympic Games, the contest is actually an individual one. Each student sits two days of exams (one on each day). Each exam contains 3 questions and lasts 4 1/2 hours. Medals are awarded to the top half of the contestants, with the top 1/12 gold, next 1/6 silver, and the next 1/3 bronze. Although the difficulty varies from year to year, typically completely solving 2 questions is enough for a bronze. Just as in the Olympic Games, countries informally rank themselves against each by adding up their individual scores.

The Maths Olympics is an annual team contest run by the Melbourne University Mathematics and Statistics Society (MUMS). First held in the 1970s, the Maths Olympics is a "fun" event, with a team of five people solving problems and running around a lecture theatre. The contest is open to university students, lecturers and professors and selected high school teams. With only an hour to answer 20 questions, the emphasis is on quickness of thought and teamwork. Although ability in one is correlated with ability in the other, the skills required for the Maths Olympics are quite different from that needed in the IMO. Someone with the depth of thought required for the IMO may not be fast enough to be an effective Maths Olympics competitor, while the speed of thought and coolness under pressure required for the Maths Olympics may not be necessary at the IMO.

My Involvement

I participated in the Australian Mathematical Olympiad Programme from 1988-1992, culminating in my being selected for the Australian team that went to Moscow in 1992. Having gained so much from the programme, I decided to give something back by helping to train future generations of contestants: lecturing at training camps and coaching team members in 1993 and 1994 (Sam Watkins 1993; Chaitanya Rao, Andrew Rogers, Tony Wirth 1994).

I entered a team in the Maths Olympics from 1991-1997. Our 1992 team caused a sensation by being the first high school team to win the event (beating teams of university students, lecturers and professors). In subsequent years, my team gained notoriety for going to extraordinary lengths to prepare for this event. Some of our methods are documented in my infamous Maths Olympics training guide. Perhaps the most touching tribute to our success was the name of one of the teams the year after I stopped competing (can you find the relevant entry?).

Last modified March 28, 2004