Sam Dittmer, Hiram Golze and Robert Young (Tianyi Yang) won first place by a landslide in the Intermountain Mathematics Competition in October.


Photo: Levi Price.

Mathematics Students Excel in Competition

December 16, 2011
BYU students outranked and outshone students from all over the region in the Intermountain Mathematics Competition this past October. Five schools — Boise State, Idaho State, University of Utah, University of Nevada, Reno and Brigham Young University — competed in a seven-question, three-hour exam to test their math knowledge and problem-solving skills.

Based on the top three student scores, BYU took first place overall with a total score of 159. Second place went to the University of Nevada, Reno, with 71 points. The University of Utah took third place in the competition with a final score of 70.

The cougars took the competition not only as a school, but scored the highest as individuals as well. Mathematics students Hiram Golze, Sam Dittmer and Robert Young (Tianyi Yang) took first, second and third place respectively.

Intermountain Mathematics Competition test coordinator and BYU math professor, Dr. Pace Nielsen, said that a perfect individual score on the seven-problem test is 70 points.

“The average on the whole thing was about 13 points,” he said.

Golze, a junior studying math, took first place in the competition by earning a score of 57/70 on the exam and won a $500 prize.

Golze said although he studied Putnam Exams from past years and took a problem-solving course to prepare for the tests, there was only so much he could do to prepare.

“You can prepare as much as you want,” he said. “But you never really know what’s going to be on the test, so you have to be prepared for anything.”

Golze said he enjoys math competitions because it allows him to be creative.

“I like to figure out new ways to solve problems,” he said. “It’s always fun to see the results afterwards, but overall, it’s fun just doing the problems.”

One week after sweeping the Intermountain Math Competition, Golze, Dittmer and Young competed in the Virginia Tech Regional Mathematics Contest. BYU competed against 98 other schools from 26 states and came in third, behind the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon.

It was a close contest for the first three spots, with third-place BYU coming in only 10 points (out of 160) behind first-place Michigan and only 4 points behind second-place Carnegie Mellon. Duke University, traditionally a powerhouse in mathematics competitions, lost to the BYU Math team by 29 points. The BYU team also beat Yale by 41 points and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by 100 points.

Out of the 600 students who participated, Dittmer, a sophomore studying math, tied for third place with 60/70 points. Dittmer said the exam material is made to be challenging, but not impossible.

“It’s supposed to be math that’s fairly approachable, meaning it’s nothing too beyond an undergraduate level, but it’s still not math that is super easy,” he said. “A lot of the times a trick is to understand how to go about doing the problem, and you can actually understand the problem without going into too much higher math.”

Dittmer attributes his success to many hours of hard work.

“I’ve put a lot of time into it,” he said. “Without putting in the time and the work, you aren’t going to get anywhere.”

—Stacie Carnley, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences