AIMEing for the top

Freshman mathlete participates in national math competitions to one day be one of the best math olympiads in America.


Math, to many, is a painful subject to drag through, but to freshman Hee Jae Hong, it’s her world. From receiving basic math tutoring to professional coaching, Hong has been taking math exam after math exam to qualify to compete with the best mathematicians in the country.

“Math means to a lot to me,” Hong said. “It shows me how much effort I’ve put in over the years and it shows me I haven’t wasted my time and actually accomplished something.”

Since seventh grade, Hong has been qualified to take part in both the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) and the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME). This year Hong took the AIME on March 3 but was not able to move on to the next level. Next year, Hong will retake the AMC in February to once again qualify for the AIME hoping to make it farther into the competitions.

“Ever since I was in middle school my math was one or two steps ahead, so I’m used to taking classes with upperclassmen,” Hong said. “Without math, I don’t think I’d have anything to be confident about, it really helps me understand that I can practice something and get good scores.”

To qualify for the AIME, students are first required to have passed the AMC where they need to score at least 120 of the 150 points to move on. Then, students are required to correctly answer at least nine out of 15 questions on the AIME to move on to the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO). In the USAMO, the students compete with the top 200 students from schools nationwide, a goal which Hong said she hopes to accomplish.  

“I got interested mainly because of my mom who introduced me to math,” Hong said. “At first I really didn’t want to do it, because what little child would want to. But later on, I found it to be interesting because it felt good to try to solve problems and get them correct. It just doesn’t make you feel better, but [also] makes you feel you have this talent that other people don’t have, which is really nice.”

Hong dreams to attend a school like MIT which offers strong computer science and math programs. She plans to use her skills to become a successful statistician, someone who uses statistics to acquire and analyze data and how to apply it to the world.

“The part I don’t like the most is that I get discouraged when I don’t get a good score,” Hong said. “And I think my main weakness is not being able to get over a bad score. If I get a bad score on a math test for a math competition, I kind of hate myself for not being so good and failing at it. When you don’t do so well you should know how to move on and get better and I’m not that good at that.”

As a freshman, Hong has been taking college level math classes which are usually taken by juniors and seniors. As of now, Hong has completed AP Calculus AB and is planning on taking AP Calculus BC sophomore year.

“I hope that everyone can understand that math isn’t just a nerd thing and that it’s just not for smart people,” Hong said. “In math it’s actually really fun to solve all of these problems and get them right, and I want more people to understand that.”