Freshman Pushes Envelope with Advanced Olympiads

Freshman Charles Lien pores over his Calculus BC AP textbook and scans each page of the chapter on integrals, picking up some small details. He stops to quickly jot a solution across his blank sheet of paper. As he closes his book, he turns to the next item on his agenda—an American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) pamphlet from which he reviews some of the answers of the test that he took only a week before.
Charles’ parents were key in guiding his preparation for AMC examinations at a younger age. While other students in middle school were trying to master the basics of algebra, Charles’ parents sought to have him master problem-solving techniques that would meet and, at times, surpass the rigor of advanced high school courses.
This year, Charles took the AMC 12, a challenging math examination intended for mathematically proficient juniors and seniors. The problems on this 90-minute test, which gets increasingly difficult, proved to be slightly challenging for Charles. But his well-honed problem-solving skills helped him make it to the second round.
“When I get started on [math or physics] it’s usually fun for me,” Charles said. “But usually I need a push from my parents. Math is natural to me.”
Charles’ parents have given him the initiative to excel at higher-level mathematics and science, given their own background in the subjects. They give Charles meaningful advice and pointers as well as various rigorous physics and mathematics texts to help ingrain problem-solving strategies into his head and make them second nature. Practice and repetition are the key to excelling at problem solving.
Fellow member of the Math Club and participant in AMC 12 sophomore Xianglong Ni also believes in the importance of practicing something to perfect your abilities.
“As with anything, be it a sport or a subject, people become better through practice over time,” Xianglong said.
Recently, Charles took the preliminary exam to qualify for the United States National Physics Olympiad. It is a physics test designed for students already proficient in physics to showcase a deeper conceptual grasp of the science.
Charles has been working on physics since he was younger, and his parents helped him fill in the holes on information that, at times, would be too much for him to comprehend.
“For physics, my parents really only got me one book, with which they taught me everything up to a certain chapter which I needed to take the [preliminary exam],” Charles said.
Working with physics has helped Charles find an enjoyment behind a pursuit that most would find to be difficult.
“Aside from a push from my parents, I realized that it’s really fun when you get into it,” Charles said. “Problem solving is something that appeals to me. And I feel that with a little push, you can understand that nothing is that impossible.”
Charles is enrolled in AP Calculus BC, a course generally taken by juniors and seniors. He excels in the course due to his own efforts and passion for the subject. His proficiency at picking up on problem-solving techniques benefits him in the course, which also helps him in his work with physics.
“[Calculus] is fine,” Charles said. “It doesn’t really matter what your grade is in the class but the content is what’s important.”
Charles also believes that his success in the understanding of higher-level science and math is a direct correlation with his sheer love and dedication toward the subjects. More specifically, it is his love of the unknown and the desire to determine it that has helped him excel significantly in physics and mathematics. It helps that physics is something that he desires to use in his profession of choice.
“It’s something that I’d love to pursue as a career in the future,” Charles said.
But aside from all of the burdens of embarking on a career path, Charles remains a relaxed student.
“It’s hard to tell because he’s usually very carefree,” Xianglong said.