The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for a Math Olympiad


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to compete on the international level in maths olympiad?  

Participating in the International Math Olympiad can allow you to prove your math skills and compete with other countries.Doing well in these math contests will help you improve your math and increase your confidence as you progress further in your studies.

Want to know more? You are in the right place. Read further to know the details about the Math Olympiad and best practices before going to the olympiad.  

Top Math Olympiads & Competitions in the World 

Below we have provided a list of some Math Olympiads and competitions worldwide to help you find more math competition opportunities.

Regional Mathematics Competitions

United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO)

National Mathematics Competitions

National Counting Bees is an annual fast-paced math competition with multiple levels of difficulty. It was created by Scott Flansburg, also known as the ”Human Calculator”. The program’s mission is to help students with numeric abilities and arithmetic skills.

Format of Modern International Mathematics Olympiad 

The International Math Olympiad is held over two consecutive days. Each day, students are provided with three questions to work on for 4.5 hours. The questions are of high school level and do not include calculus.


Each problem is given a score on a scale of 0-7. Only complete and correct solutions are given full credit. A mathematical proof is intended with each solution. As there are six questions, the perfect score is 42.


Medals and honorable mentions are given out. Occasionally, other awards and prizes are given to contestants as well. 

  • Gold – It is provided to the top 1/12 of individual scores.
  • Silver – It is provided to the next 2/12 of individual scores.
  • Bronze – It is provided to the next 3/12 of individual scores.
  • Honorable mention – Any student who received a 7 on a problem but did not receive a medal.
  • Special Prize – Awarded to students who score a 7 in one problem and provide an exemplary solution.

Now that you are aware of the Math Olympiad format, let us learn some tips to prepare for the Math Olympiad. 

Interesting Question from International Math Olympiad

Two squares on side 1 have a common center. Show that the area of their intersection is greater than ¾ (Ukraine Regional Olympiad 1998)


You can get one square from the other by rotating around the common center. In this rotation, the circle inscribed into the square is mapped to itself. Therefore, the area of the intersection of the squares is greater than the area of the circle, which is, of course, equal to 

π/4 which in turn is greater than ¾.

Preparing for a Math Olympiad

We often regard studies as merely reading books and solving problems. However, studying for the Math Olympiad is more than that. You need to find quality problems and explore your weaker areas to help you reach your full potential. 

1. Use Quality Practice Resources

The Internet is littered with low-quality resources. Sure, you can practice any problem out there, but if you are serious about the Olympiad, study quality problems whose questions are like past exams. The more you solve these problems, the more you will understand the question pattern in the exam.

2. Do not Lounge Around

Focused practice is the key. During preparation, make sure there are no distractions such as television in the background, or smartphones. 

 Gather all your study resources beforehand to avoid getting in the middle of studying to source them. Sit on a proper desk and not on the bed to avoid falling asleep.

3: Focus on Your Weak Areas

Most students run away from their weaker sections in math. They only solve what they know, leaving the rest of the problems unsolved. However, this might not help you in the Math Olympiad. 

Each question is an opportunity to help you get closer to winning. Leaving some questions during preparation will mean you will not be able to answer them during the main exam. Thus, decimating your chances of scoring well. 

As you solve problems, keep track of the questions whose answers you got wrong and write them in your notebook. Then, revisit them after some time and figure out why you got them wrong. This will help you clear your doubts and concepts. 

4: Beware of Tiny Mistakes

Even a tiny ant can kill an elephant. 

Do not underestimate the power of tiny mistakes like forgetting a negative sign, using the wrong arithmetic operators, or a decimal point. Even though the method you use will be correct, the final answer will be wrong due to these tiny mistakes.

Hence, you must be extra careful while solving problems and not let these tiny mistakes slide through. Keeping track of tiny mistakes while doing the practice will help you avoid them in the real exam.

5: Schedule Regular Study Time

A regular study schedule will ensure that you get ample time to rest and do other activities. 

You can easily develop a routine that helps you study and review the material by setting aside a specific time each week. This will help it register in long-term memory. Plus, a regular schedule will help you know whether you are on the right path and track your progress.

6: Attend Other Math Competitions

If there are any local math competitions in your school or community, join them! By doing so, it will help you deal with exam nerves. In addition, it will provide you with more practice opportunities, and you can also make friends who can help you in studying for math competitions. 

These competitions expose you to the tricky side of math questions, which your school doesn’t.

How Mental Math Helps in Preparing for Math Olympiads?

You most likely have heard about mental math. You are using it regularly to make simple calculators in your head like estimating time left, calculating the sum of products in your shopping cart, and so on. 

However, when was the last time you solved an entire complex problem in your head without using pen and paper? 

If you have never used mental math to solve complex mathematical problems in your head, then it might be time to learn. Here’s why:

Mental math relates to the ability to use number sense. In simple words, your mind can manipulate problems in your head to find solutions. 

Most people with number sense use flexibility. They can break apart problems into tiny parts and then put them together in various ways to find the solution. And the best part is there is no need for pen and paper. 

Now, you might ask, but how can mental math help me during the math olympiad? 

You see, the questions in the International Math Olympiad are not like regular problems you solve in school. They are often twisted to confuse your mind. 

Hence, as we said earlier, using mental math provides flexibility to break down the problem into tiny parts and find a solution

If you do not believe it, see how mental math techniques can help you solve a complex problem within minutes. 

For example, if you want to find the number five times, multiply it by 10 and then reduce it in half. 

5 X 480 

10 X 480 = 4800

4800 divided into half gives 2400. Wasn’t that easy? 

Let us take another example. This trick involves multiplying in parts. 

What would be the answer to 3 X 74? 

By using this multiplication in apart trick, you can mentally calculate in the following way.

74 = 70 +4 

Hence, 3 X 70 = 210

3 X 4 = 12

Now, simply add them together, 210+12 = 222. 

With the help of mental math, you were able to solve problems within seconds without using a calculator. 

Things to Keep in Mind to Perform Well in Olympiads

  1. Keep track of time!

It is very easy to lose track of time while solving an exam. Nevertheless, the time is limited. You will not get extra time to submit your answer sheet. Use it wisely and keep tracking the time after some intervals. 

  1. Read the rules 

Every competition has its own rules. Avoid breaking them, or else you can get disqualified from the exam. 

  1. Planning your strategy

What is your strategy for the Olympiad exam? Will you solve the simple questions first or the tough questions? How will you time each question? And so on.

  1. Warm-up but do not learn anything new.

Trying to learn anything new just before an exam can be futile. It will only confuse you rather than helping you. Learning is not a quick process. Hence, try to revise the questions you already solved during your preparation and avoid reading anything new. 

  1. Reduce stress 

Stress can slow you down significantly. If you see your competitor solving questions at a fast pace, do not panic. They might solve it fast, but you never know if the answers they got are correct or incorrect. 

Instead, avoid looking anywhere but your paper. This will help you concentrate on questions rather than thinking about your competitors. 

What Should You Do the Night Before a Competition?

Relax and rest. 

Do not try to cram information one night before the competition. It will only confuse you. Instead, get a good night’s sleep regularly one week before the exam, as sometimes nerves can keep you awake one day before exams. 

Proper Diet

Avoid eating anything before the exam that can upset your stomach. A good idea is to have greens, fish and healthy carbohydrates such as whole wheat pasta or rice. Try dark chocolate or fruit for dessert.

Want more mental math tricks, techniques and preparation guidelines? Then, this training might help you.

Scott Flansburg created this mental math training. Scott is a Guinness World Record Holder for ‘Human Calculator.’ He has also appeared in popular shows worldwide such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen Show, Discovery Channel, and many more. 

If you want to succeed in the Math Olympiad, Scott’s training is worth a try. He guarantees to turn you into a human calculator.


How do I enter the Math Olympiad?

Before you can enter the Math Olympiad, you must pass the qualifying test conducted by the Mathematical Association of America. Only the top scorers will be eligible to give the American Invitation Mathematical Exam (AIME). After that, if you perform well in AIME, you can qualify for the US Math Olympiad. 

How many levels are there in Math Olympiad?

There are two levels in the Math Olympiad. 

What is the benefit of IMO?

There are many benefits of IMO. Some of them include increased computational abilities, arithmetic and logic skills, a sense of competition, and preparation for future competitive exams. 

How do you train for the Math Olympiad?

You can use the math training online specifically designed for Math Olympiad or take the help of your teachers and friends to solve problems. 

Wrapping Up

Competitive exams, especially exams on the international level, can feel daunting. The good news is you do not have to prepare everything on your own, and you can take the help of mentors or your school teachers. 

If they are not available, you can register for the math training online. This will ensure that you practice proper questions based on your ability and grow your skills exponentially!

And what can be better than to subscribe to our newsletter to receive mental math tips, and resources in your inbox directly.


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