National Survey of America's Top Math Students Provides Glimpse into Their Academic Success

National Survey of America's Top Math Students Provides Glimpse into Their Academic Success

April 4, 2017

Do the math. Revealing the academic habits of some of the country's top math students plus sharing the findings may equal improved overall scholastic scores for American youth.

National Survey of America's Top Math Students Provides Glimpse into Their Academic Success (CNW Group/Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

That's the thinking of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) in unveiling the results of a national survey that queried 1,680 11th and 12th grade students, comprising some of America's brightest young math minds, to get a glimpse into the motivation and practices behind their academic success.

Survey results

According to the survey, sponsored by The Moody's Foundation, the majority of students queried (84 percent) do their homework in a room by themselves. Almost half of the students (47 percent) spend more than 11 hours a week doing homework, while 29 percent spend 6-10 hours.

After school, 78 percent of the students participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs and student government, while 55 percent are involved in volunteer activities. Nearly half (47 percent) eat healthy foods most of the time, while 24 percent prefer healthy foods but frequently eat fast food or junk food.

The students queried for the survey are all participants of the Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge, a prestigious national math competition that involves high school juniors and seniors committing a 14-hour weekend day to use mathematical modeling to recommend solutions for real-world problems. Now in its 12th year, the MChallenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and a viable, exciting profession, awarding $150,000 in scholarship prizes. From a pool of 5,100 students, working in 1,100 teams, six teams were judged to be superior by a national panel of professional mathematicians. Those six finalist teams – from Alpharetta, GA, Durham, NC, Lincolnshire, IL, Lincroft, NJ, Silver Spring, MD and Westford, MA – will participate in the final event at Moody's headquarters on April 24.

Other findings of the survey showed that when it comes to interest in math, 51 percent of respondents said they are naturally interested, while 25 percent cited a good teacher sparked their interest, and 11 percent said the prospect of a better college and career path is what motivates them.

When grappling with a math problem, almost a third said they keep at it until they come up with an answer, with the balance reaching out to a teacher, the internet or a friend. When learning math, 64 percent of respondents said understanding the underlying concepts behind the formulas works best for them, while 23 percent cited practice at solving math problems to be most effective.

International study

The survey follows the December 2016 unveiling of results of an international math quiz by Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that showed U.S. high school students lag behind their global peers in math, ranking 40th in math out of 72 countries last year. The U.S. score was down 17 points from 2009 and 20 points below the average of others taking the quiz, which saw Singapore come out on top, followed by Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada.

According to the OECD report, only six percent of the 15-year-old U.S. students who took the international math test had scores in the highest proficiency range, while 29 percent did not meet baseline proficiency.

Moody's comments

"The SIAM survey is an important step in identifying what makes those who are passionate about math succeed so that we can transfer that insight to American educators and parents, and enable students who struggle with STEM and other subjects to learn from it," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, a subsidiary of Moody's Corporation.

"In today's knowledge-based economy, it's critical that we provide the next generation of Americans with the tools they need to ensure their skills are competitive and innovative," Zandi said. "A good starting place is working to boost our country's academic rankings, particularly in math and science, which research shows open doors to a rising number of job opportunities – from economics and computers to engineering and healthcare."

Based on the results of the SIAM study, Zandi suggested that increased efforts be made to promote a natural interest in math among American youth. "Investing in a national math competition that opens students' eyes to the possibilities of using math to solve real-world issues is one effective way," he said.

"Another important approach is for parents and educators to plant the seeds of interest in children at a young age," he explained, pointing to numbers-related board games, puzzles such as Sudoku, brain teasers, online programs and gaming sites, and analyzing sports scores or retail discounting as a good place to start. "The message needs to be that math not only gets you places, but is used every day and can be a lot of fun too."

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