Sunday 23rd July 2023

Dawn Chen: IMO 2023 Report

Pre-IMO training

“Tell me where I went wrong?”- Ross towards this elegant mathematical gibberish


After a period of anxious anticipation, the pre-IMO training officially started! To kick things off, we received a briefing on the exam procedure which involved a wide range of police and handcuff analogies from Ross in order to illustrate his point.

We then had our first two days of mocks (which turned out to be the better ones of the four) followed by a day of excursions. That day I learnt an important lesson: if a Maths Olympiad kid tells you they are bad at something, they are at least moderately good.

The pre-IMO training then concluded in a blur of maths puzzles, conspiracy theories and an unexpected encounter with a strange Australian accountant.

Arrival in Japan:

Opening Ceremony

Jane Street Hub Happiness

After a slightly turbulent 10-hour flight and too much Big Bang Theory, we finally arrived at our destination in Japan! We quickly settled in to the hotel where I faced the first problem of the trip: working the over-complicated toilet (but I ultimately solved this with a cunning proof by exhaustion).

The next day we met up with the Dutch team and spent a day together enjoying the rich anime culture of Japan. At night, we discovered the Jane Street hub (heaven in disguise) which had an unlimited supply of snacks, arcade games and Jane street merch.

The following day was the opening ceremony, where we enjoyed a fabulous band performance and presented to the world our mascots, Ramsey and Rocky. But amidst all this grandeur, sure enough, the exam drew near, and an unspoken anxiety hovered in the air…

IMO exam day 1:

Post day 1 exam distraction

Brian sharing his proof to Q2 after exam

Advice for the reader: In the event that manifesting does work, make sure to manifest for the right thing.

With butterflies in my stomach and perhaps too much on my mind, I walked into the exam hall. Having been well trained in the pre-exam etiquette, I was surprised by the buzz of life there, with numerous people mingling and chatting. I quickly took a stroll around to wish the other team members good luck and headed back to my desk to meditate.

Soon enough, the exam started. I turn over the paper. Q1 number theory, Q2 geometry exactly as I had manifested for! (and Q3 algebra) Excitement rushed through me and I started writing promptly. I started off Q1 trying some small cases and finished off with a proof by contradiction. With a good while left on the clock, I returned to Q2 to battle the geometry question which turned out to be a struggle. As time ran out, I began to stress eat chocolate, which arguably may have further hindered my performance.

I ended the exam with a proof for Q1, a few conjectures for Q2 and little for Q3. A feeling of dread filled me as I realised what this meant for day 2; algebra and combinatorics for Q4 and Q5 (my two worst areas).

IMO exam day 2:

More post exam distraction

Enjoyed some lovely night scenery

Claim: If you clap for long enough, everyone will brainlessly follow along

I arrived at the exam hall again with the same sense of anxiousness, but as usual, the exam hall was buzzing with activity. At the back of the hall, there was an intense 100m sprint; to the right, there was an exhilarating push up contest; beside me, our very own team member Brian attempted a challenging handstand performance. This buzz died out slowly as the exam drew near.

Having already experienced the first day, it wasn’t too surprising that the paper was exactly as people predicted: ACG, Q4: algebra, Q5: combinatorics, Q6: geometry. Now, as someone who holds the wise words of Ross and Josie close to heart, I remembered their remark that the number of pages you submit is positively correlated to the number of marks you get, which might have been why I submitted 32 pages for Q4 (we agreed collectively after the exam that if there were a prize for most pages submitted for Q4, I was sure to be in the running)

Now let me expand on how I reached this striking number. For the first hour of attempting Q4 I took the inaccurate approach of trying to use induction, which resulted in a good 15 pages. After taking a tactical toilet break, I realised my original method wasn’t going to work and continued to use proof by contradiction to ultimately solve the problem. Now, this isn't the end because perhaps due to lack of sleep, stress of the moment or mere stupidity, I thought I needed to provide a construction for equality… Bad move on my part as it was a complete waste of time and paper. This left me with little time to do Q5 or Q6 and that ultimately concluded the IMO 2023 exam.

After the exams:

Last night of IMO

Sunrise at the beach

Our new team uniform

“Crazy? I was crazy once…” - the Dutch

“Number, rabbit, snap, prime, tokyo???” - Me every turn in Mao

The day after exams, I woke up at 4:00 am to see the sunrise, but much to my disappointment, I didn’t find a single window with a nice view. The rest of the trip consisted of a day at Disneyland with the Netherlands team, a trip into Tokyo and a severe lack of sleep. This was followed by the closing ceremony where we congratulated other fellow contestants and took photos with teams from around the world. The rest of the night was a blur of music, eating Drop from the Dutch and playing Mao far too late at night for my mind to comprehend. Here, I would like to take a moment to appreciate the 24/7 Lawson convenience store in our hotel which fueled us through these nights. As tradition apparently goes, we pulled an all-nighter and went to the beach to watch the sunrise before heading back to NZ on our flight.

Overview of the IMO experience:

This IMO trip has been the experience of a lifetime, and I'm genuinely thrilled to have had the chance to connect with brilliant young minds from all corners of the world. The most significant reward I gained from this immersive experience was the opportunity to reach out to other maths enthusiasts and hear about the vast possibilities out there in the field of mathematics. Another highlight was definitely engaging in the dinner conversations with our leaders and others from all over the world to hear about all their journeys and ideas. Ultimately this experience has made me all the more curious about the mathematical realm and I can’t wait to discover more of it! (P.S I have also been rewarded with a gazillion maths puzzles so I can start my next steps of discovering from there)

To conclude, I would like to thank Ross Atkins, Josie Smith and Kevin Shen for arguing for every last mark on our papers and training us to become better mathematicians, Jamie Craik for keeping us intact along the way, YuQing Wu for looking after us in Japan and all my fellow teammates for being part of this experience. Many thanks to St Cuthbert's College for supporting me on this trip and, last but not least, thank you to my family for giving me all the encouragement I needed!