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18 February 2015


Excellence in Math needs no sorcery. 

To many, mathematics is a quixotic conquest that entails countless formula brain imprinting, repetitive number crunching or blood sacrifice. Or some simply give up and say, "hindi na lang ako kukuha ng course na may math sa college.” (I will not take up any course that has math when I go to college)

The Philippines is gearing up for another conquest for the gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad with the conclusion of the 17th Philippine Mathematical Olympiad, topped by IMO veterans Adrian Reginald Sy of St. Jude Catholic School, Farrel Eldrian Wu of MGC New Life Christian Academy and Kyle Patrick Dulay of the Philippine Science High School-Main Campus. These students prove that excellence in mathematics is an attainable objective.  

Truth is, excellence in mathematics is a goal that can be achieved and our math wizards are here to share their tips to conquer the dreaded subject:

1. Work Hard

Dr. Marian Roque

Dr. Marian Roque 
Chairperson
Institute of Mathematics, College of Science
University of the Philippines

To excel in math, or any subject, one has to work very hard. The number of hours you spend studying and answering problems does matter. Math is not easy and it takes time to absorb new concepts. So just persevere and never give up, and if necessary, consult.

2. Work on your weaknesses

Kenneth Co 

Kenneth Co
Bronze Medalist, International Mathematical Olympiad, 2012
Now studying at Johns Hopkins University 

Being a complete mathlete is essential to excel. There are times when multiple topics and techniques are needed to solve the most challenging and interesting problems. 

3. Practice Math 

Dr. Jumela Sarmiento

Dr. Jumela Sarmiento
Former President
Mathematical Society of the Philippines

Excelling in mathematics, just like excelling a sport or music, involves regular training. To develop mathematical skill, students must struggle in problem solving on their own and not just watch teachers or instructors solve problems.

4. Work on examples

Joseph Ray Clarence Damasco

Joseph Ray Clarence Damasco
Assistant Coach
2014 Philippine Team to the IMO 

Just practice! An academic once said, in math, you never really understand things and you just get used to them, and while that may be true sometimes, practice does help one understand why a technique works, when a theorem cannot be applied, and what "shortcuts" are really valid. Studying worked examples, taking on additional examples, and constructing new examples makes one discover different relationships between mathematical objects.

5. Never give up until you crack a math problem

Dr. Jose Ernie Lope

Dr. Jose Ernie Lope
2006 Outstanding Young Scientist
Mathematics Division

Many problems will eventually yield to your persistence. The exhilaration and confidence that come with this experience are definitely worth all your time and effort.

6. Imagine yourself explaining the problem

Dr. Evangeline Bautista

Dr. Evangeline Bautista
Dean
School of Science and Engineering, Ateneo de Manila University 

The best way, for me, to study math is to pretend to be a teacher explaining the concept to a group of students.  If you can imagine yourself delivering the lesson in such a way that you yourself will be able to clearly understand what you are saying, then, you know that you have mastered what you are studying.

7. Always ask why

Ezra Templonuevo

Ezra Templonuevo
Bronze medalist, International World Youth Math Intercity Competition, 2007

There are a lot of formulas and shortcuts in math. I think it is important to understand why they work rather than simply memorizing them. It gives deeper understanding and makes recalling them easier as well.

8. Get an old fashioned notebook

Henry Morco

Henry Morco 
Bronze Medalist, International Mathematical Olympiad, 2011
Now studying at the National University of Singapore

I used a notebook to collect the formulae and theorems I found important. Apart from serving to organize all the concepts I was familiar with, the notebook was vital to my pre-contest/exam habit of quickly refreshing everything I needed to know. The fact that I had a place to compile my "discoveries" also encouraged me to explore and derive results on my own, which was also a tremendous source of practice. Ultimately the notebook saw use for the greater part of my contest career, and in that sense it's a kind of memoir. Right now, the first few entries look unbelievably silly, which I suppose shows a form of progress from when I started out. This isn't the end for the notebook, though: I'm currently adapting the material therein into blog form, in the hopes that it helps current students make and compile their own "discoveries".

9. Always write your solutions down, clearly

Carmela Lao

Carmela Lao
Silver Medalist, International Mathematical Olympiad, 2010
Now studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Even though a proof may seem crystal clear in your head, there might be a lot of details and loopholes lurking around that you might not catch if the proof just stays in your thoughts. Always write down a complete and clear solution to make sure that you do have the problem right. Pro-tip: in writing, aim not just to convince yourself, but other people too.

10. Enjoy doing math!

Farrell Eldrian Wu

Farrell Eldrian Wu
Bronze Medalist, International Mathematical Olympiad, 2014
Now studying at MGC New Life Christian Academy 

People usually are inclined to do things that they enjoy doing, and to be excellent in those. So if you enjoy math, you will like to do it more and more, and as you do more, you will become better, which in turn will compel you to continue doing it. This creates a virtuous circle, which will result in excellence. Remember to enjoy the math itself, not the contest winnings or recognitions. While some people enjoy winning contests and getting recognized, they will get discouraged if they don't get these. However, if you enjoy the math itself, your motivation is not the recognition, so you will continue doing it whatever happens.