For ordinary mortals, math has always been a troubling subject. The fear of numbers is real and many a student have been terrified by mathematics in their school. Indians, though, as the stereotype goes, have always excelled at math. From the times of Aryabhata and Bhaskara to Srinivas Ramanujan and Satyendranath Bose, Indian mathematicians have made their name worldwide in the field of mathematics.
And yet, there is a premier international competition in mathematics for school students that has never seen India outperform other countries. This prestigious competition is the IMO Olympiad, or the International Mathematical Olympiad. IMO Olympiad is the oldest International Science Olympiad, starting in 1959, when it was first held in Romania. Each year, the brightest pre-college students from all over the world compete at the IMO Olympiad under the flag of their country.
The examination at the IMO Olympiad consists of six problems, each worth seven points. No calculators are allowed. Held over two days in a row, each contestant has four hours and thirty minutes to solve three problems on each day. These problems are usually easier than they sound, and the solutions can be short and quite elementary! They are selected from various areas of mathematics, such as geometry, number theory, and algebra.
For selection to the Indian team for the IMO Olympiad, there is a two-tier system. Students must first participate and rank at the top in their respective RMO or Regional Mathematical Olympiad. On the basis of this, they can then take part in the Indian National Mathematical Olympiad, or INMO. The INMO is conducted on the third Sunday of January each year, by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. The examination is built on a similar pattern to the IMO Olympiad to increase the chances of selecting the right candidates. All the students who qualify from this examination are then invited for a one-month training camp for the IMO Olympiad where they are trained to face the problems at the Olympiad. After four selection tests and two practice tests, the top six students are selected to represent India in the International Mathematical Olympiad.
Although India has won many medals at the event, they have never been ranked among the top countries. One of the reasons for this is that the students who are good at math are usually preparing for their engineering entrance exams by 11th standard for which the course is quite different. Consequently, India’s ranking at the IMO Olympiad is pretty poor.
Compare this to China which has won the IMO Olympiad a record 19 times so far. Second on the list is the erstwhile Soviet Union which won the event 14 times till its dissolution. Russia has never won the IMO Olympiad since the disintegration of the USSR. India doesn’t even rank in the top ten countries at the IMO Olympiad which include China, United States, Russia, Hungary, Soviet Union (no longer a participant since 1991), Romania, South Korea, Vietnam, Bulgaria, and Germany.
One excellent examination Indian students can take to prepare for the IMO Olympiad is examination for the SOF International Maths Olympiad (IMO). This test is conducted for Indian students from Classes 1 to 12. All the participants are ranked on the basis of marks obtained and can judge themselves comparatively against other students from their school, city, state, and even at International level. Each student receives a comprehensive Student Performance Report (SPR). This report analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the student.