Holmes student places first at state math contest

Holmes Junior High eighth grader Kevin Yang is the state MathCounts champion.

It all began in sixth grade, when Yang became seriously interested in math competitions. “Some student told me about MathCounts when I was in sixth grade, and it sounded cool, so I joined.”

That year, he took home the gold. At the MathCounts chapter competition, he placed first. Since then, he has placed first every year at Districts and in the top 10 individuals at State. This year, he made it to first.

This was not initially one of Yang’s goals in 6th grade. “During the chapter round in sixth grade, I only expected to get into the top 10, not number one by five points. In State, I just tried to have fun, only to find that I got sixth place. After that, I was expected to win or make top five in everything but Nationals.”

Yang said that he gets lots of help from his parents and his MathCounts director Karen Newcomb. He works mainly after school and on his free time for the competitions.

He uses helpful formulas from his mentors and a web program for math students called aops.com. His parents also gifted him a book of 500 difficult math problems, which Kevin studies from for two to three hours a night.

“The only way to study,” Yang said, “is to do many, many math problems.”

Even for a hardened mathlete like Kevin, nerves don’t fall out of the equation. “I don’t get really nervous for basic written rounds, but the oral rounds are much more nerve wracking.” It’s easy to see, given that oral rounds can have anywhere from 100 to 250 judging eyes.

His secret to overcoming the nerves? Focusing on the competition. “It’s better to do the easy one’s first, then the harder ones.”

Nationals may even be less stressful for Yang. The competition, held in Orlando this year, is more exciting for Yang. Many fun things are in store, including a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. “The National Competition is meant to have fun, not compete.”

For those who wish to follow in the MathCounts footsteps, Yang has one piece of advice. “If you want to do good, just study a lot of problems and don’t get nervous for competitions. Have fun.”

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