Tips & Guidance

Note this video may reference the previous sponsor (through 2017).

Advice for Students from past participants

  1. Form your team with students who work well together, prepare well, pace themselves, and proofread.

  2. Learn to model mathematically. An hour or two to review the modeling handbooks in advance will help A LOT.

  3. Basic knowledge of statistics is a great help. 

  4. Doing some practice problems from previous Challenges is helpful.

  5. Knowledge of many types of mathematics helps. You never know how many different approaches you can take to a problem.

  6. It is likely you will get a topic that you know little to nothing about. Make sure you are ready to dig for data before starting your modeling work.

  7. Select a team captain, and maybe even a co-captain. Agree to go along with their leadership. 

  8. Have a plan and a back-up plan for where you will do your work. Make sure any transportation, computer, and internet issues are resolved in advance.

  9. Try to have at least an idea of how you will divide the labor throughout the day based on each person’s strengths. Have a rough schedule to move from brainstorm to data to building a model, etc.

  10. Take some time to understand the question and brainstorm what you know about the topic. 

  11. Show the validity of your solutions through rigorous mathematical testing.

  12. Be creative and don’t hesitate to throw in seemingly outrageous ideas. 

  13. Make sure to take a break during the process.

  14. Be thorough and concise in your report.

  15. Have fun but keep your eye on the clock!

  16. Put your best effort forward. Whether or not you win, participating will help you solve problems in the future and will look good on your college and job applications.

  17. Use the Challenge as a learning experience and a chance for growth. The Challenge is also an opportunity to strengthen your mathematical skills and broaden your knowledge of math and its importance in other subjects.

  18. Participate for the love of mathematics. Participating is a lot of fun because of the difficulty of the questions. If you like to solve challenging questions, you will enjoy the M3 Challenge!

Links to related material

Although the MCM is geared toward college undergraduates, there are many similarities between it and M3 Challenge. You can get some great hints and perspectives for success in the M3 Challenge by reading this document, written by a veteran MCM participant and current M3 judge.​

Advice for Coaches from past participants

Team selection

  1. The students who have had the most success in the Challenge are those who are not only good at math, but have an excellent work ethic, are enthusiastic, and are up to the challenge of working all day on a problem they may find extremely difficult.

  2. Try to select students with a variety of key qualities, such as research capability, leadership skills, writing skills, coding skills, and look for both logical and outside the box thinkers.

  3. You may want to consider having some or all of the following roles represented on your team: a writer, a project manager, a mathematician, a coder, a researcher, and a well-rounded student.

  4. Students’ ability to work together, open-mindedness, resourcefulness, and strong math and problem solving skills will be important. 

  5. Students who have demonstrated an ability to listen to each other and who work well in a group will have more success in the Challenge. 

Student preparation

  1. In preparation for the Challenge, it’s a good idea to work on a scaled down version of the previous year’s problem. Afterwards, show them videos of the winning teams presenting their solution papers (in the online archives), and the winning solution papers. 

  2. Students should familiarize themselves in advance with software or other technology that they could use for data analysis.

  3. It is easy for students to get distracted during the Challenge, especially with little to no supervision. Prepare them for the rigor and commitment necessary to get a paper produced.

  4. The open-ended nature of the problem means the students must perform research to fully understand and define the problem, identify the problems’ important parameters, and learn to deal with uncertainty. The large scale of the problem means the students must work as an integrated team to prioritize their tasks and delegate responsibilities so they can complete, document, and write up their tasks in a comprehensive report within a very strict deadline.

  5. Remind students that they have to consider facts and statistics, not just opinions, when creating solutions.

  6. Emphasize the importance of time management. Students often spend too much time looking for information; they need to move on to the math at some point and be able to work on multiple aspects of the problem at one time.

  7. Ensure that Internet filters at the team’s work location are not a problem so they have full access to research the problem topic. 

  8. Make sure the students check out their equipment in advance of Challenge weekend.

Advice from the organizers

  1. Read the rules and guidelines carefully. The solution paper guidelines are particularly important. Things like providing a summary, not putting your team name on the paper, and uploading the correct file type are well within your control and can impact whether your solution paper advances. View the solution paper template.

  2. Read the judging perspectives in the archives on the M3 website. Written by an experienced judge, these give unique insight into how the solution papers are scored, and provide the framework for using math-modeling. View the sample scoring guide, provided to give teams further direction about what judges want to see. 

  3. Check out the winning solutions from past Challenges. These are great resources that demonstrate what the judges look for in an outstanding solution paper. Understanding what it takes to write a winning solution will give you a chance to plan ahead and develop strategies for your Challenge day.

  4. Your advance review of the resources freely available on the M3 website will help your team prepare for success.