Applying to Cambridge for maths without Olympiads?

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GreenCub
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I'm currently in year 12 and I'm mainly stuck between doing maths and chemical engineering at university.

I took the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge last November but only got a silver due to careless arithmetical mistakes. However, I think I'm a lot better at solving more advanced problems so I would probably be able to do quite well in STEP.

I don't think the Maths Challenge is an accurate reflection of mathematical ability at all since many questions are arithmetic based and there is a factor of luck due to multiple choice.

In addition, whilst subsequent Olympiads like the BMO might correlate more with maths ability, firstly you need to do well enough in the SMC to qualify and secondly, the questions on that are still fundamentally different to university level maths. I personally think that people who do well in these are usually very good at maths, but not all people good at maths will necessarily do well.

The thing is about 1000 people make it to the BMO every year and even more get golds in the SMC so there will be a lot of people applying with these awards.

However, I don't know what admissions tutors would think of them. Maths at Cambridge is obviously extremely competitive, so if I applied would I be at a disadvantage if I didn't have Olympiads? In addition would it look bad to mention the silver in the SMC?
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artful_lounger
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Hi, I've moved your thread to the University of Cambridge forum. Doonesbury might have some insight, so I'm tagging him as well

I believe having actually made an attempt at such activities will be the important thing for demonstrating your motivation for and commitment to the subject. Not mentioning that as such would be, I think, a mistake. I'm not too sure how common such things are outside of applicants to Trinity for Maths anyway...

Bear in mind also that a) not everyone doing BMO is going to apply to Cambridge and b) not everyone who did BMO and applied to Cambridge is going to necessarily be applying for Maths.
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Doones
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(Original post by GreenCub)
I'm currently in year 12 and I'm mainly stuck between doing maths and chemical engineering at university.

I took the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge last November but only got a silver due to careless arithmetical mistakes. However, I think I'm a lot better at solving more advanced problems so I would probably be able to do quite well in STEP.

I don't think the Maths Challenge is an accurate reflection of mathematical ability at all since many questions are arithmetic based and there is a factor of luck due to multiple choice.

In addition, whilst subsequent Olympiads like the BMO might correlate more with maths ability, firstly you need to do well enough in the SMC to qualify and secondly, the questions on that are still fundamentally different to university level maths. I personally think that people who do well in these are usually very good at maths, but not all people good at maths will necessarily do well.

The thing is about 1000 people make it to the BMO every year and even more get golds in the SMC so there will be a lot of people applying with these awards.

However, I don't know what admissions tutors would think of them. Maths at Cambridge is obviously extremely competitive, so if I applied would I be at a disadvantage if I didn't have Olympiads? In addition would it look bad to mention the silver in the SMC?
Andrew Wiles agrees with you

In his lecture at the 2001 International Mathematics Olympiad, Andrew Wiles gave further description of how math competitions are unrepresentative of mathematical practice

"Let me then welcome you not only to this event but also to the greater world of mathematics in what many of us believe is now a golden age. However let me also warn you — whatever the route you have taken so far, the real challenges of mathematics are still before you. I hope to give you a glimpse of this. What then distinguishes the mathematics we professional mathematicians do from the mathematical problems you have faced in the last week? The two principal differences I believe are of scale and novelty. First of scale: in a mathematics contest such as the one you have just entered, you are competing against time and against each other. While there have been periods, notably in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when mathematicians would engage in timed duels with each other, nowadays this is not the custom. In fact time is very much on your side. However the transition from a sprint to a marathon requires a new kind of stamina and a profoundly different test of character. We admire someone who can win a gold medal in five successive Olympics games not so much for the raw talent as for the strength of will and determination to pursue a goal over such a sustained period of time. Real mathematical theorems will require the same stamina whether you measure the effort in months or in years [...]

The second principal difference is one of novelty [...] Let me stress that creating new mathematics is a quite different occupation from solving problems in a contest. Why is this? Because you don't know for sure what you are trying to prove or indeed whether it is true."
You don't need to be good at IMO, etc to get a place at Cambridge. But you do need to be good at STEP...
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sweeneyrod
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(Original post by GreenCub)
I'm currently in year 12 and I'm mainly stuck between doing maths and chemical engineering at university.

I took the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge last November but only got a silver due to careless arithmetical mistakes. However, I think I'm a lot better at solving more advanced problems so I would probably be able to do quite well in STEP.

I don't think the Maths Challenge is an accurate reflection of mathematical ability at all since many questions are arithmetic based and there is a factor of luck due to multiple choice.

In addition, whilst subsequent Olympiads like the BMO might correlate more with maths ability, firstly you need to do well enough in the SMC to qualify and secondly, the questions on that are still fundamentally different to university level maths. I personally think that people who do well in these are usually very good at maths, but not all people good at maths will necessarily do well.

The thing is about 1000 people make it to the BMO every year and even more get golds in the SMC so there will be a lot of people applying with these awards.

However, I don't know what admissions tutors would think of them. Maths at Cambridge is obviously extremely competitive, so if I applied would I be at a disadvantage if I didn't have Olympiads? In addition would it look bad to mention the silver in the SMC?
Not having Olympiads is clearly technically a disadvantage, in the same way that not winning the IMO is a disadvantage. But in both cases plenty of people get in "despite" it. Getting an offer for maths at Cambridge is less competitive than you might think, because they over-offer a lot since STEP weeds people out post-offer.

One thing you have to realise about Maths Challenges is that at a lot of private schools students will drill them (whereas at my state school at least we did them "for fun"). So there will be some people doing the BMO who are quite good at maths, very good at practising for exams, but really interested in some other subject who you won't be competing with for a Cambridge place. Also, people can do BMO two years in a row but only apply for Cambridge once.
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学生の父
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Not having done Maths olympiads will not be a disadvantage; not every school will enter their pupils anyway. But you could mention it in your personal statement if you like. I won't count against you if you do, but don't feel under any compulsion to cite it. It isn't a qualification.

Are you doing Further Maths? You will need that for a Cambridge application (and to prepare for the STEP exams).
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GreenCub
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(Original post by 学生の父)
Not having done Maths olympiads will not be a disadvantage; not every school will enter their pupils anyway. But you could mention it in your personal statement if you like. I won't count against you if you do, but don't feel under any compulsion to cite it. It isn't a qualification.

Are you doing Further Maths? You will need that for a Cambridge application (and to prepare for the STEP exams).
I am doing Further Maths.

Do you think it would reflect negatively to state that I got a silver in my personal statement?
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