The IMC (Intermediate Maths Challenge) now hosted by UKMT is a competition many rival to score full marks in and others simply see as a chore thrust upon them by their maths teacher. This specific competition is held in late January each year with the JMC and SMC (Junior and Senior Maths Challenge) spread across the year targeting different ages. With a history, stretching back for the better part of a century, Competitions maths in Britain (and the rest of the world!) is an often competitive but almost light hearted way at weeding out those with an exceptional mathematical and problem-solving prowess. So why was the IMC, SMC and the BMO (British Mathematical Olympiad) started?


The paper has its roots ,as most exam papers do, in separating wheat from chaff. To hunt for those up and down the country that can deconstruct and systematically work through some truly intense mathematical proofs and problems. It begins at Round 1 of the SMC, if you score sufficiently high you receive an invitation to the BMO Paper 1. The filtration continues through to a second paper, the BMO Paper 2, which used to have further more fine sieves at later points but now serves to produce 24 top candidates to train at Cambridge University for the IMO (International Maths Olympiad), here an intensive round of training and testing occur, a final team of 6 is then produced in late may, their heads full of powerful incantations and mathematics beyond their years.

But you may be wondering, the UKMT maths challenge serve a dual function of satiating the problem solvers of Britain, but also to funnel the keenest amongst them to a IMO; so where did the IMO find its start? Well, “competitions maths” is not a novel modern phenomenon and can be found in Renaissance Italy with competitions held to solve depressed and full cubic polynomials. All the way back to Greek academic circles competing to solve geometric problems. The IMO, however, doesn’t look to solve some highly contested mathematical theorem rather its original purpose served to strengthen ties between Eastern Bloc nations?

An almost puzzling complex geopolitical background for an unsuspecting mathematical competition. First held in 1959 in Romania intended only for the Eastern Bloc countries, it has expanded to over 90 countries since then. It opened up to Western nations, spearheaded by the United States (as most things were in the détente of the 1970s), in 1978 with the US sitting the competition in East Germany, a nation still schismatised by the USSR. The competition is only open to those who have no postsecondary–education, so over its length has brought renown to some true mathematical prodigies, case and point, Terence Tao. The youngest ever winner of the IMO at age 12 in 1988.

The IMO now serves as a friendly but fierce competition between nations. Not on grounds of economic growth or military might ,but of rigorous logic and mathematical proof. A hopeful message from the past, demonstrating the power of international competition, to which we should all listen.