2013-03-14 / Front Page

Islander sets sights on national math olympiad team

Sam Hollister is a junior at North Kingstown High
BY KEN SHANE


SAM HOLLISTER SAM HOLLISTER Sam Hollister is an accomplished young man. The Jamestown resident is not only well known as a classically trained pianist, but he is also gaining renown for his skills as a mathematician.

Sam recently qualified to participate in the 31st annual American Invitational Mathematics Examination that takes place Thursday, March 14. To qualify for the competition, a junior or senior must score in the top 5 percent of students across the nation in the American Mathematics Competition, a 25-question, 75-minute multiple choice exam that can be understood and solved with precalculus concepts. Approximately 6,000 students qualified nationwide, with only 13 from Rhode Island making it to the next level.

The American Invitational Mathematics Examination was established in 1973 to provide an intermediate step between the American Mathematics Competition and the USA Mathematical Olympiad. All three are administered by the Mathematic Association of America.

The exam that Sam will take will consist of 15 questions. He will have three hours to complete it, without the use of a calculator. Students who score highest will have the opportunity to be part of the olympiad team that will represent the nation at the premier worldwide competition, the International Mathematical Olympiad.

According to North Kingstown Principal Tom Kenworthy, about 100 students at the school participated in the American Mathematics Competition. Sam was the only entrant who advanced, although others will receive awards in different categories. He said that Sam was the first North Kingstown student to reach this level in approximately five years.

“To make the final round is very rare,” said Kenworthy, “and quite an honor.”

Sam, a junior, is a year ahead of the other students in his math class. He began taking calculus as a sophomore, something that is usually reserved for juniors and seniors. He said he has been preparing for the exam by making use of the competition’s website. The site has all the questions that were posed on previous exams.

“I printed out 15 of them, the equivalent of the entire test,” Sam said. “I’ve been going through them as quickly as I can because I only have 12 minutes per question, and they’re not the easiest of questions. It’s not multiple choice. The answer is a number between one and 999. There’s no guessing.”

According to Sam, the preparation has helped to ease some of the pressure involved in having to face the questions in the exam setting. The easier questions tend to come at the beginning with the harder ones following. One point is awarded for every right answer, with no points awarded for a wrong answer. A perfect score would be 15.

“Apparently getting a five or a six out of 15 is a really good score,” Sam said. “So I have pretty low expectations as to the exact numerical value of my score because it’s so difficult that even the best math people in the country aren’t expected to get every one of them.”

(Example: In a group of nine people each person shakes hands with exactly two of the other people from the group. Let “n” be the number of ways this handshaking can occur. Consider two handshaking arrangements different if and only if at least two people who shake hands under one arrangement do not shake hands under the other arrangement. Find the remainder when “n” is divided by 1,000.)

The platform that the test is based does not require calculus, but an understanding of precalculus is important. Sam feels that his grasp of calculus will be an important factor.

“The exam is more focused on statistical things such as probability,” he said.

Sam credits his math teachers at North Kingstown for his profi- ciency in math.

“I think the school does a great job with the math department,” he said. “The math teachers that I’ve had are the best teachers I’ve ever had. Luckily for me they are in the math department.”

Kenworthy said that math skills have been an area of focus at North Kingstown since he became principal three years ago.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but still only 55 percent of our students scored overall proficient in math,” Kenworthy said. “We’re making steady progress. We’re well above the state average.”

A student must be either fully proficient or partially proficient in math to graduate from high school. When factoring in both of those categories, 80 percent of North Kingstown students qualify.

As if his mathematical achievements weren’t enough, Sam will compete in the annual Piano Extravaganza at the University of Rhode Island in early April. He has been playing the piano since he was 4 years old. This will be his 10th year competing in the event. He will play three pieces with a total length of about 25 minutes, without the use of sheet music. The composers he will be taking on are Beethoven, Chopin and Ginastera.

“Sam is an incredible young man,” Kenworthy said. “He’s at the top of his class academically. He was a freshman when I started and I was amazed at how talented he was. He’s just grown from there in the last few years. I wish him the best of luck in the competition. I know that he’ll do great.”

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