Maths advice from a Year 12 maths gold medallist

We spoke to Grace Chang Yuan about her love of maths, what it was like competing in a Mathematical Olympiad, and her advice for students who are struggling with the subject.

Grace, a Year 12 student at a Victorian secondary college, is already doing amazing things with maths – like competing for Australia in the 2022 European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO). The EGMO is an international maths competition for young women where teams of four sit two exams. The Australian team placed third overall, with each member (including Grace) scoring a gold medal for their individual scores. Overall, Grace ranked sixth out of 222 students.

So who better to talk to about where maths can take you and why it’s so awesome?

What do you love about maths?

I love the dual nature of simplicity and complexity of mathematics. It always surprises me when complicated maths questions can be solved with simple and succinct solutions, while a seemingly easy equation may take mathematicians ages to find the answer.

What’s your favourite area?

My current favourite area would be combinatorics. Solving combinatorics problems is like taking part in a treasure hunt, and there are always many possible routes to win the game.

Tell us about the Mathematical Olympiad. What was the competition like?

It was an exciting journey! Even though we could not go to Hungary to join the competition in person, we still managed to join all the EGMO activities online. As for the exam, I think the process of solving the six elegant problems was the best part. I felt a bit nervous when we were waiting for the exams to begin but I was no longer stressed after I dipped into maths.

EGMO has managed to create a great platform for girls passionate about maths.

What’s your top tip for students who struggle with maths or who are thinking about dropping it?

Don’t be limited by yourself. It is especially important for girls. It is quite important to keep confident and determined before you start to work on a maths problem. If you always recognise maths as a hard subject that you cannot do well in, then you are more likely to give up working on a hard problem and thus miss out on the chance to improve.

I also want to say that competitive maths is not only reserved for students good at regular school maths. I would highly recommend everyone to give it a go. You might really enjoy it!

How will you use maths in the future? Will you study it after school?

I am planning to study maths at university, but I haven’t decided on my career path yet. I hope that my future job would have a direct or at least close connection with maths. One of my passions beyond maths is to research the factors that discourage girls to do well in maths and to create an environment more conducive for girls to thrive in the area. My EGMO experience has definitely enhanced this determination of mine.