I really need to ask this question. Perhaps my question is against the rules of the MSE. I am an IMO participant. I only joined once and I only managed to solve $2$ questions. ($14+1$ points). I've never had a medal. My teacher said I should join again. However, after seeing the students who collected $42$ points, I feel very poor. Maybe I will never be like them. I love mathematics. I enjoy solving the question. Teacher said that, if you work harder, you can win a medal. But I know this will upset me more. That's why I want to stay away from math. I don't want to be a participant again. Really, this is a very sad situation. It feels so bad to know that I'm so inadequate. In the future, I want to choose a field that is not related to mathematics. I don't know what to do. Maybe I wanted to relax a little bit by writing these. Thank you very much..

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    $\begingroup$ See Thomas Edison : "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2018 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MauroALLEGRANZA That's easy to say from someone who already has the genius and who has never experienced being less intelligent :) $\endgroup$
    – Eff
    Oct 12, 2018 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who took part in my country's preselection to the IMO but didn't participate, I'd say that even participating is an achievement (especially if you come from a large country), and getting 15 points is actually not a bad score at all. Congratulations on that! $\endgroup$
    – Arnaud D.
    Oct 12, 2018 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ You got 15 points; trust me, others got zilch. Contest math, and one's performance on one such test is hardly a trustworthy indicator of whether or not to pursue math in future studies, and it is most certainly not a reliable indicator on which to base one's sense of intelligence, competence, creativity, perseverance, grit, dedication, etc. You're going to make yourself miserable in life if you set your sense of worth and competence on single endeavors like the one you speak of. If you love math, enjoy it, do well overall, why stay away from math? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Oct 12, 2018 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ I think this Academia question could be of interest, as well as the ones linked to it (you don't mention research, but but a lot of the things mentioned there would apply to pretty much any "competitive" situation). $\endgroup$
    – Arnaud D.
    Oct 12, 2018 at 10:22

2 Answers 2


I think the issue isn't maths, but competition. It isn't unusual to see youngsters in sport who love their sport but hate competing. They don't like the extra pressure, or the possibility of losing so take themselves away from the sport they love. The same is possibly true for you of maths, it's clearly something you enjoy doing, and should carry on doing. But that doesn't mean you should necessarily compete. Try taking some time off competing, still try the questions (if possible), but in your own time, at your own pace, and don't compare yourself to others. See how that goes, and whether or not it reignites your passion.


As a side note, don't put down your own achievements. Qualifying in the first place, and collecting $15$ points is no mean feat. You are clearly talented, try and be proud of yourself.


Solving two questions in an IMO is pretty good! Yes, there will be people who do much better because they've trained extensively, but you shouldn't let it worry you. (There will also be a few people who do much better just by being brilliant, but you shouldn't let that worry you either. Unless you're Terry Tao, there's always going to be a few people like that now matter how far you go in math.)

If you enjoy the problems, that's the most important thing, and I would certainly keep going. The people who are going to be successful in math are those who enjoy doing it. And while it does need you to work hard, it's not the same sort of hard work that people do to train for IMOs, which is very specific to the types of problem that get devised for the IMO and is not really transferable to answering research questions that no-one else knows how to do.

It's also definitely true that comparing how much math people can do in 9 hours is not much like comparing how much they can do in 3 years.


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