All you need to know about International Math Olympiad in India

Oct 07, 2020

How many of you are charmed by Math? Or, plan to pursue higher education in this amazing subject? Some of my friends love Math to such an extent that they have been making attempts to bag scholarships! Now, that’s a really interesting option you can consider, especially if you are serious about Math.

But, how can you realize your goal of studying Math after school? Or, emerging into a reputed Math professor, or a Math scholar? Any ideas friends? Okay. Let me lend you a helping hand here. Why not try appearing for the Math competitions for high school pupils?

Exams like the National Mathematics Talent Exams and Regional Mathematical Olympiads or RMO are the stepping stones to success in the field of higher studies in Math. The Association of Mathematics Teachers of India, Chennai arrange the first exam, particularly for students belonging to the fifth till the twelfth standard. And, the RMO are conducted throughout India, that form a part of the selection procedure for the ‘International Mathematical Olympiad’ (IMO) exam.

What is International Math Olympiad exam?

IMO is known to be the oldest of the International Science Olympiad series and arranged for high schoolers. The very first IMO had been conducted during 1959 in Romania and has been held annually since that time (except only in 1980). It is a crucial Math exam for pre-collegiate students and boasts of a rich legacy.

Eligibility for International Math Olympiad:

Now, in order to appear for IMO, you must appear and clear the four different stages of Math Olympiad exams that are arranged by the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education (HBCSE).

Moreover, you must be aged below twenty years if you wish to qualify for this exam. Also, you must not register yourself with any tertiary organization. India is classified into sixteen different areas, for the purpose of conducting the Olympiad exams. The National Board of Higher Mathematics or NBHM supervises all these exams that are pre-requisites for IMO. What I mean is, the NBHM is in charge of training Indian candidates for taking part in the IMO exam. So, do you now understand why the Math Olympiad Program is so important? Let me discuss how this program enables you to participate in the IMO, in the stages mentioned below:

  • Stage I: First of all, you must appear for the RMO, in order to be eligible for the IMO. In this three-hour written exam, you would find about six or seven Math problems. Based on your performance in RMO, certain candidates are shortlisted for the second stage. However, in certain regions, a pre-RMO Math exam is also held. Students who score well in it are then selected for RMO. The regional coordinator of the Olympiads is responsible for setting the criteria for choosing the candidates for RMO.
  • Stage 2: If you have passed the pre-RMO and RMO exams successfully, you would be permitted to appear for the second stage of exams, known as the Indian National Mathematics Olympiad or INMO. The duration of this exam is four hours, and the question paper is common across the entire region of India. A Certificate of Merit is awarded to the candidates who are amongst the top thirty-five performers in the exam. Now, the other candidates whose scores are lower than the top performers, and belong to the tenth standard, are offered an INMO Certificate of Merit. These students are allowed to sit for INMO in the following year, without appearing for RMO.
  • Stage 3: Thereafter, candidates who have been awarded in INMO undergo a formal training during the months of May or June. This continues for an entire month. Apart from them, candidates who were awarded the Certificate of Merit during the previous year and also invited for a second round of academic training. Next, you have to clear some selection exams in the training camp. The best six performers would be capable of representing the nation through the IMO. If you’re a junior candidate, you would be entitled to an award of books as well as an INMO certificate. But, if you’re senior, you can receive a cash prize along with books.
  • Stage 4: Can you guess what this stage is all about? Well, let me tell you. Remember the top six performers of the selection tests who were awarded in recognition of their high grades? Now, they would have to undergo a second round of training. The training would continue for the next ten days, before they finally leave for the IMO.
  • Stage 5: Finally, it is time for the six best candidates to represent India in the final stage that is the IMO. This international exam is normally conducted every year, in the month of July. The venue of the exam is a different nation. Candidates must appear for two written exams spanning four-and-half hours. These two tests are arranged on two days. Generally, the organizers leave a gap of one day in between the two days. Now, if you win bronze, gold or silver medals at the IMO, get ready for some generous cash awards from NBHM at the conclusion of the training. Winner of gold medal receive Rs. 5000, while the winner of bronze medal is awarded Rs. 3000. But if you win a silver medal, be assured of a cash prize of Rs. 4000.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development or MHRD funds the travelling expenses of the students appearing for the IMO. On the other hand, all other associated expenditure of IMO are financed by the NBHM. Do you know what the selection process is for IMO? Well, it differs from country to country. In the last few paragraphs, I discussed how Indian candidates are selected for the IMO.

Pattern of IMO exams

International Math Olympiad is all about solving Mathematical problems. So, you can expect six problems in this test, where each question carries seven marks. Therefore, the total marks comes to forty-two marks. But remember, you are not allowed to use calculators in the exam hall. Earlier, I had mentioned that the IMO exams are held for two days, with a gap of only one day in between. You would be given three problems to solve, on each day of this exam.

Wondering what are these problems based on? Well, the problems can be on any field including combinatorics, geometry, algebra and number theory. Now, here is the good news for you guys! You need not know analysis, or the tough concepts of Calculus to clear the IMO test. So, relax, for cracking the IMO is not as challenging it might seem to some of you. Just ensure you have a strong foundation in Math, and are able to solve the basic problems easily and accurately, if you want to score well here. Now, here comes the twist. Though the problems might be simple, they are often camouflaged to confuse examinees. Let me share give you a hint. Most of the problems focus on geometry, complex numbers, inequalities, etc.

But, how are the Math problems selected? Each country which participates in the IMO suggests a few problems to a special committee, known as the ‘Problem Selection Committee’. However, the host country is not permitted to submit any problems to this body. After the problems are presented to the committee, the host nation shortlists some of these problems. Prior to the final days of the exam, the team leaders of IMO reach the host country to create an official jury for the IMO. Their duty is to decide on everything related to the IMO exam, including the six problems that would be present in the IMO question paper. The problems are decided in such a manner that they become tougher gradually, with every question. For instance, the second problem would be more difficult than the first, the third more difficult than the second and finally the sixth tougher than all its previous counterparts. Since the team leaders are well aware of the all the questions that would come in the exam, they are observed and not allowed to mingle with the candidates.

But how exactly are the marks decided upon? The scores of each nation are consulted between the team leader of that country, deputy leader and also the coordinator of the host country. The marks of candidates belonging to the host nation are agreed by the leader of the group whose nation had suggested the problem. But, the final decisions rest with the chief coordinator of the IMO. In case of any dispute, the opinion of the jury is considered to be final.
Official Syllabus of IMO Exam

To make sure you come with excellent grades at the IMO, you should be familiar with the exact syllabus. Note that the official syllabus of national, regional as well as the international Math Olympiad exams are similar to that of one another. You would come across high school Math in this Math exam, the topics of which I have stated below:

  • Permutation and Combination
  • Theory of Probability
  • Elementary Graph Theory
  • Combinatorics
  • Number Theory
  • Trigonometry
  • Inequalities
  • Complex numbers
  • Co-ordinate Geometry
  • System of Linear Equations
  • Factorization
  • Quadratic Equations
  • Integers
  • Finite Series
  • Geometry

Topics like Statistics and Calculus, as I had said earlier, are excluded from the IMO syllabus. Do you know which are the most common topics covered at the IMO exams, quite frequently? They are the number theory, algebra, geometry and also combinatorics. So, you can say the syllabus of IMO resembles that of the tenth and the twelfth standard. But, as you progress from RMO, INMO and finally IMO, it does get tougher and tougher. I mean the Math problems. I would suggest you go through the question papers of the last few years, to get a hang of the questions. Trust me, it would do you a world of good if you follow the question patterns of these question papers.
Penalty for IMO Exam: Like every exam, IMO too penalizes candidates if they are proved to use unfair means while writing their exam paper.

So, if you were caught cheating at the IMO, you would be disqualified immediately. For instance, during the year 1991, candidates of North Korea were disqualified as they had been cheating in the exam. This incident had occurred at the 32nd IMO exam. Unfortunately, the incident was repeated in 2010, during the 51st IMO. North Korea is the one and only nation whose students had been caught red-handed.

I hope now you have got a fair idea of how International Math Olympiad exams are like. Why not start preparing for today? High-schoolers, you have an advantage. Wondering why? Haven’t you noticed that the IMO syllabus is quite similar to that of your school curriculum? So, practise, practise and keep practising various kinds of Math problems on geometry, algebra and others that are included in the IMO syllabus. If you somehow crack the IMO, you would be entitled to a brilliant fellowship, that’s the ‘Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana’. But, this would be only applicable if you pursue your academics in the Science stream, in India. Are you all geared up for IMO, now?

All the best, friends and prepare well for the IMO.


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Sid writes educational content periodically for Wizert and backs it up with extensive research and relevant examples. He's an avid reader and a tech enthusiast at the same time with a little bit of “Arsenal Football Club” thrown in as well. He's got more than 5 years of experience in technical content framing, digital marketing, SEO and graphic designing.

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