Maths Competitions - What are the Benefits?

There are many benefits to running extra-curricular maths activities for your students – not only does it increase their enjoyment and understanding – it can be a great deal of fun for the teachers as well.

In a previous blog, we focused on Maths Trips. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the maths competitions which your students can enter.

What are the benefits of entering a maths competition?

 • Students love winning prizes – it can give them a real boost in their confidence – and lots of the competitions are designed so that large numbers of pupils can win a small prize or certificate.

• Most maths competitions require a different style of mathematical thinking – this means that sometimes students can surprise themselves and do better than they might normally expect.

• Problem solving skills and thinking outside the box are often tested as part of maths competitions. This will really help pupils in their normal maths lessons and particularly in tackling the new GCSE syllabus.

• Maths competitions can be great for a wide range of abilities. They are also particularly valuable for your highest achieving students who need to be really stretched. For really exceptional students they can provide access to mathematical support from beyond your school.

• Some pupils will one day be required to take STEP papers or other university entrance exams. Maths competitions can help pupils gain confidence early on in tacking unfamiliar mathematical challenges.

• Sixth-formers will be able to put some of the maths competitions on their personal statements – this will be particularly useful for those applying to do mathematical sciences at university.

• They can be fun! Sometimes formal exam preparation can start to drain the fun from mathematics and it can be great to remember that maths can be fun and enjoyable.

Ideas for competitions

1. UKMT individual and team competitions.

The United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT) undoubtedly run the best known mathematics competitions for school pupils. On their website it says:

“The UKMT organises national mathematics competitions and other mathematical enrichment activities for 11-18 year old UK school pupils. We were established in 1996 and last academic year over 650,000 pupils from 4,500 schools took part in the three individual challenges, the UK's biggest national maths competitions. Each challenge leads into a follow-on Olympiad round and we run mentoring schemes and summer schools for high performing students as well as training the team of six to represent the UK in the International Mathematical Olympiad. We also run team maths competitions for two age ranges, publish books and organise enrichment seminars for teachers.”

One of the great things about these competitions is that they cater for lots of different abilities and nearly every school will have some pupils who can win a prize. They also work with pupils who are really exceptional, and where an individual school might struggle to provide the right support on their own.

Did you know?

In 1994 Maryam Mirzakhani won a Gold Medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad. She later went on to become the first female winner of the Fields Medal, a mathematical equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

2. The Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

This competition is aimed at school pupils up to Year 11 and is run by the School of Mathematics at the University of Manchester. Every one or two weeks a new code is released for your teams to crack. They also now run a similar competition for Sixth-formers called MathsBombe.

3. Maths Careers Website Competitions

The Maths Careers Website run competitions twice a year – usually there are three separate age categories running from Year 7 up to Year 13. Most competitions focus on creating a poster – previous themes have included “Famous Mathematicians” and “Famous Equations”. The great thing about these competitions is that they are suitable for all abilities. They also help pupils to see maths in a wider context, by looking at where maths is used in the real world, or by looking at the impact maths has made on history. Keep checking the website to find out the latest release dates.

4. The Advanced Mathematics Support Programme

The AMSP run a lot of different competitions including Year 10 “Maths Feasts” which are a team competition. Events will vary locally – so it is best to check the website for your region.

Please note that the AMSP used to be called the FMSP – the competitions should however be easily found by using a google search for AMSP or FMSP competitions.

5. Pop Maths Quiz (In some areas)

Some areas run a Pop Maths Quiz. This is a pub quiz style event usually run by a university, where pupils answer maths questions in teams. The largest event is run by Sheffield Hallam University. Again, a quick google search will uncover Pop Maths Quizzes near you. (Some schools are also prepared to travel quite far in order to attend these events.)

There are lots of other great local competitions such as the Mathematical Education on Merseyside Challenge Competitions, however we don’t want to make anyone living too far away feel too jealous!

Some competitions are very long running, whereas others come and go, therefore it is worth keeping your eyes peeled for new competitions. Speak to other teachers about competitions in your local area, as this is the best way of finding out about what is on.