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. Be sure to know how to model mathematically. Taking an hour or two to review the modeling handbooks in advance will help beginners A LOT.

  3. Basic knowledge of statistics is a great help. 

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

  5. Bring an open mind along with knowledge of many different fields of mathematics. 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. Before you begin, select a team captain, and maybe even a co-captain. Make sure everyone has faith in these people and agrees to go along with their leadership. The leaders should have an even greater responsibility to review all rules and guidelines and make sure they are competent to lead the team to submitting a good paper.

  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. What are each person’s strengths and how can they best be used from start to finish? How much time will you devote to research before digging into your model? You may have to cycle through the process again, so allow time.

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

  11. Making calculations by hand can be necessary, but try to work on a computer as much as possible to avoid wasting time.

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

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

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

  15. Be thorough and concise in your report.

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

  17. 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 applications.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

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, and look for both logical and outside the box thinkers.

  3. You may want to consider having the following roles represented on your team: a writer, a project manager, a mathematician, 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 assign a scaled down version of the previous year’s problem to your students. After they have completed that task, show them videos of the winning teams presenting their solution papers (in the online archives), and the winning solution papers. They tend to have more confidence in their ability to handle this competition after they see that the Challenge is “doable.”

  2. Have students critique the past winners’ solution papers. Ask them to suggest what they would have done with the problem.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. Teach students other modeling techniques — like basic network theory — and include modeling projects in their calculus curriculum, if possible.

Additional thoughts

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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 have a significant impact on whether or not your solution paper advances. View the solution paper template, which has been provided for teams wishing to use it.

  2. Read the judging perspectives in the archives on the M3 website. These documents, written by an experienced judge, give unique insight into how the solution papers are scored, and provide the framework for using math-modeling as a tool to solve the Challenge problem. 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. With a little advance review of the resources freely available on the M3 website, especially the modeling handbook, and videos, your team can prepare for success.