For me the biggest difference between undergraduate math and PhD life has been something I've never seen anyone else talk about: it's the feeling like I could no longer see the ground. To explain what this means, imagine that mathematics is this wide tower, where you start with certain axioms as a foundation, and then… Continue reading Everything I need is on the ground

# Category: Learning Meta

## Sometimes the best advice is no advice

信言不美，美言不信。 I get a lot of questions that are so general that there is no useful answer I can give, e.g., "how do I get better at geometry?". What do you want from me? Go do more problems, sheesh. These days, in my instructions for contacting me, I tell people to be as specific as… Continue reading Sometimes the best advice is no advice

## On choosing exercises

Finally, if you attempt to read this without working through a significant number of exercises (see §0.0.1), I will come to your house and pummel you with [Gr-EGA] until you beg for mercy. It is important to not just have a vague sense of what is true, but to be able to actually get your… Continue reading On choosing exercises

## Understanding with System 1

Math must be presented for System 1 to absorb and only incidentally for System 2 to verify. I finally have a sort-of formalizable guideline for teaching and writing math, and what it means to "understand" math. I've been unconsciously following this for years and only now managed to write down explicitly what it is that… Continue reading Understanding with System 1

## MOP should do a better job of supporting its students in not-June

Up to now I always felt a little saddened when I see people drop out of the IMO or EGMO team selection. But actually, really I should be asking myself what I (as a coach) could do better to make sure the students know we value their effort, even if they ultimately don't make the… Continue reading MOP should do a better job of supporting its students in not-June

## Undergraduate Math 011: a firsT yeaR coursE in geometrY

tl;dr I parodied my own book, download the new version here. People often complain to me about how olympiad geometry is just about knowing a bunch of configurations or theorems. But it recently occurred to me that when you actually get down to its core, the amount of specific knowledge that you need to do… Continue reading Undergraduate Math 011: a firsT yeaR coursE in geometrY

## I switched to point-based problem sets

It's not uncommon for technical books to include an admonition from the author that readers must do the exercises and problems. I always feel a little peculiar when I read such warnings. Will something bad happen to me if I don't do the exercises and problems? Of course not. I'll gain some time, but at… Continue reading I switched to point-based problem sets

## Lessons from math olympiads

In a previous post I tried to make the point that math olympiads should not be judged by their relevance to research mathematics. In doing so I failed to actually explain why I think math olympiads are a valuable experience for high schoolers, so I want to make amends here. 1. Summary In high school… Continue reading Lessons from math olympiads

## On Reading Solutions

(Ed Note: This was earlier posted under the incorrect title "On Designing Olympiad Training". How I managed to mess that up is a long story involving some incompetence with Python scripts, but this is fixed now.) Spoiler warnings: USAMO 2014/1, and hints for Putnam 2014 A4 and B2. You may want to work on these… Continue reading On Reading Solutions

## Against Perfect Scores

One of the pieces of advice I constantly give to young students preparing for math contests is that they should probably do harder problems. But perhaps I don't preach this zealously enough for them to listen, so here's a concrete reason (with actual math!) why I give this advice. 1. The AIME and USAMO In… Continue reading Against Perfect Scores