IDEA MATH - Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions that are asked frequently asked. If you have additional questions, please email

Program Information

Q1: What sets IDEA MATH apart from other programs?

The unique strengths of IDEA MATH can be summarized as follows:

1. Comprehensive and well-tested teaching materials, modeled after the training material of the Phillips Exeter Academy math team

2. Strong team of instructors, consisting of front-line teachers and coaches, and college/graduate school students who have extensive middle school/high school/college level extracurricular experience

3. Emphasis on student leadership and the development of an attitude conductive to learning

4. Foster peer relations within local communities (school, neighborhood, etc.)

1. Comprehensive and well-tested teaching materials:

The first and one of the most critical and unique assets that IDEA MATH has is its curriculum and teaching materials. IDEA MATHs print-outs, practice tests, and other teaching materials are inspired by a compilation of over a decade of training materials of Phillips Exeter Academy math team, one of the nation's strongest. Not only does the material cover a wide breadth of topics, it is also structured in a clean and thoughtful way, optimized by years of teaching and training. From the basic topics, such as introductory algebra, counting, and geometry, to complex and deeper materials at the Olympiad level and beyond, IDEA MATH's unique teaching material provides the firm ground work for instructors to design a more effective and structured curriculum.

2. Strong team of instructors:

The second and equally unique asset is IDEA MATH's strong team of experienced teachers. IDEA MATH's instructors consist of front-line teachers, math team coaches, and former students of the program, all of whom have taught middle school and high school students for several years. As a testament to the flexibility and strength of our teaching, IDEA MATH does not have an entrance exam: we are confident that we can find an appropriate place in our extensive curriculum to fit any student, regardless of his/her background. Our teaching staff is attentive of each student's unique learning style, and will work to tailor each class depending on his or her specific needs. For more information about IDEA MATH's instructors and their credentials, please visit Instructors

3. Emphasis on student leadership

Finally, the third unique asset of IDEA MATH is its emphasis on leadership and behavior. While learning mathematics is the primary focus of the program, it certainly is not its only goal. Instead, the program pays special effort to cultivate in each student an attitude conductive to learning. It is our philosophy that in the long run, cultivating a good mindset far outweighs the benefit of learning a specific material. Simply put, when a student learns a mathematical knowledge, it will serve him/her throughout his/her school years. When a student learns how to be a good learner, it will serve the student for the rest of his/her life.

Concretely, IDEA MATH instructors guide students not to brag about their achievements and rush ahead, but rather to develop patience and maturity. Students are expected to, at the guidance of the instructors, become teachers and leaders themselves by helping their peers. This way, not only does the student develop a deeper understanding of the material, he/she also gains leadership and maturity that will enrich his/her learning experience.

4. Focus on schools and the local math community

In contrast to most programs, IDEA MATH encourages and assists students to go back to their schools and contribute to their local community. For example, IDEA MATH has helped the students and their parents build school teams to participate in local MATHCOUNTS events. Rather than taking the top students from the schools to form a single team, we help the students build their own school teams with their friends and teachers. Through this process, the students can demonstrate leadership, organizational abilities, as well as build a closer relationship with their respective schools, and gain a lot more from the process.

Q2. Are all classes aimed towards math competitions?

Classes are not aimed exclusively towards math competitions. Instead, IDEA Math is a program that can help students develop logical thinking and problem solving skills in the long run. We have found that our program not only broadens and deepens the students' knowledge and skills in mathematics, but also help them develop perseverance and creativity that will benefit them in the long-run, regardless of their career paths.

Q3.What are the course structures of the program?

The core (computational oriented) courses are PC1, PC2, UC1, UC2, UC3, RC1, and RC2. These courses provide a comprehensive enhancement of middle/high school math curriculum (Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Pre-Calculus) covering all levels of computational oriented contests (such as, AMC8, MATHCOUNTS, AMC10, ARML, AMC12, and AIME, etc.) and beyond. These courses will be provided in each of our weekend and summer programs. Gradually, each of the UC1, UC2, UC3, RC1, RC2 courses will be available in our online program.

The core (proof oriented) courses are RP1, RP2, and RP3. These courses are designed to guide highly able (young) students who want to experience advanced mathematics reasoning and/or prepare for mathematics Olympiads. Selected materials from these three courses form the bases of our MO1 and MO2 courses in our weekend and summer programs. Gradually, each of the RP1, RP2, RP3 courses will be available in our online program.

In addition, RC3, EC1, EC2, EP1, EP2, EP3 courses are designed for the most advanced mathematics contestants. In each of our weekend and summer programs, we will select proper materials from these courses to work with the most advanced students enrolled in the program on an on-need base.

Q4.What is the general teaching style?

We apply seminar-style teaching in our classes. Class sizes are small (see next questions and its answer) to ensure that students receive plenty of individual attention. Students are expected to work with each other and present their solutions and ideas to the class.

Q5. What is the general class size or teacher/students ratio?

In general, there are no more than 15 students in each class. There will be at least one teaching assistant if the class has more than 15 students. (If we have more students taking a common course, we create multiple sections to keep this 1/15 teacher/students ratio.)

Q6. Is there an admission exam for the program?

We are among the few high-level problem-solving based math programs that do not require an admission test, rather, we emphasize on course placement. (Please see the next question and its answer). This policy stems from our belief that we are able to teach students regardless of their background, as long as they have the right attitude. As a result, instead of an entrance exam, we pay careful attention to the student's academic background information (age, grade level, course taken at school/programs, detailed contest scores, etc.).

For students new to our program applying for our summer programs, we require a recommendation letter from a school teacher (preferably math teacher) and student’s personal essay on an experience/activity he/she is passionate about. There is not particular form of the recommendation letter. Through these writings, we want to gauge applicants’ interests in learning, study habits, and other personal traits (in particular, peer relations and abilities to follow instructions) that are not captured by an exam.

Q7. What determines which class a student is placed into?

Comparing to other extracurricular programs, we put in by far the most efforts to work with enrolled students (in particular, students new to our program) to find the best fit course for them so they can gain the most from our programs. We go over students’ academic background (age, grade level, course taken at school/programs, detailed contest scores, etc.) thoroughly, make our placement/placement test recommendations based on these information, and communicate these recommendations with the students to reach an agreement. A student's placement will be based mainly on his/her work in the placement test, background, grade level, and age. Therefore, it is important for the students (in particular, applicants new to our program) to provide accurate, detailed and up to date academic background information in their account.

A word of caution: we ask every parent to respect our placement process and decision. At times in the past, we have received complaints regarding a particular student's placement, usually accompanied by a request to move a student up. We have no intention to hold a student back if the student is ready. We firmly believe that parents should not pressure their child to take a particular level of course, as we have learned from experience that such pressure is always negative for the student's growth. We ensure you that our staff pays close attention to each student's placement, and assigns each student to a class that will maximize his/her growth in a long run. We thank all the parents in advance for their support and understanding in this matter.

Q8. After I (the student) am placed into a class, can I move in between the course during a particular program?

It is possible, but not likely – we put in great effort into placement to minimize such move so students can focus on learning in the proper class without unnecessary distractions. On the other hand, all members of our academic team always keep a close eye on students’ work. Related members of our academic team will communicate with each other, act promptly and professionally to help the student to make the transition to another course if they see a move is proper.

Q9. How am I (the student) evaluated? Are there any evaluation tests?

In each program, there will be a test per about every 15 academic hours. The main purposes of the tests are intended as check points on students commend of the covered concepts, rather than as evaluations.

There could also be various forms of mock contests or team contests. Scores/results will be kept only for the purpose of practicing, not for evaluation. We try to use these activities to help students improve their learning skills, to stimulate students' interest and get them used to the contest atmosphere, instead of pressuring them through evaluation.

At the end of each program, we will also give each student a course recommendation for the next class he/she shall take. We will provide short comments reflecting students’ work in the program. Both those information will be available shortly after the program ends.

Q10. I (the student) am a retuning student, what course shall I take in the coming program? Can I skip a course?

At the end of each program, we will also give each student a course recommendation for the next class he/she shall take. If there is a long break between the programs, we will also consider student’s updated academic background information and make further recommendations.

Q11. Who shall I meet at IDEA MATH?

You will meet other capable peer students (the stated and other nations) who are passionate about mathematics. Many of our students have developed lasting friendships with their IDEA MATH peers, and many have learned a great deal from their peers as well as their instructors.

Q12. What is the difference between IDEA MATH curriculum and what my school curriculum?

More likely, the difference is in the depth of the curriculum. At IDEA MATH, we do not focus on introducing students to higher level math concepts, say calculus. However, we go into much greater depth with topics covered in a middle/high school curriculum. For example, an eighth grade geometry math class may cover the fact that the three medians of a triangle are concurrent at the centroid of the triangle, but our UC2 course will introduce different methods proving this fact, and the connection between these different methods.

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