# Tips for Tackling Mathematical Modeling Competitions
### Jimmy Le, Kevin Li, and Luke Whitman
#### May 2018
An hour spent during the contest doing prep work you could have done before the contest is an hour wasted.
## Assemble your team.
This may be one of the most strategic aspects of the competition. Don’t assign roles, but do focus on a distribution of skills and contributions. Among your team members, you’ll want a range of these skills:
Ensure someone, at least two students, can clearly articulate the methodology, results, and analysis of the model while making the words and layout look pretty.
### Conceptual and Creative Mathematics
Everyone doing the competition probably can do math. Now, take a step further and be able to apply a wide-range of mathematical concepts to the problem.
### Visual Thinking
This may be having a strong grip of geometry or simply being able to design diagrams, tables, and pictures to illustrate your thinking.
Leadership!!! Have someone (ideally a group) that can facilitate productive progress by overcoming mental roadblocks, bad relationships, and motivate the team to push further.
### Workhorse attitude
Having people that are always willing to grind out work and bash through some tedious math is vital to diving deeper into a problem.
Always have someone that will challenge ideas and question current models in order to bring greater quality to the math and paper.
Some of the best ideas or critical information are already out there on the internet. Always have people that can find this literature online to apply to your model/paper.
You’re at Central, so you’re all experts in this to some extent – you’ll want someone who can spin, who can make things sound good even if they’re a little iffy. This has made all the difference in years past. You might not have a full solution or might have to make some broad assumptions. Make sure you can make it sound sophisticated.
It’s often nice to have someone who can develop weird, strange ideas at any point during the contest. Don’t immediately dismiss ludicrous-sounding ideas – you’ll find that they often find their way into the paper, or at least jog someone’s thinking into a different (more innovative) direction. This is where uniqueness happens.
## Get everyone on the same page.
Make sure everyone knows how to contact team members and Marcketti, how to access online resources (like JSTOR), what time the contest starts (this has been a problem before!), and what each member should bring.
## Choosing when to start.
Strategies include: choosing a start time where you maximize the time you have to work, maximize the time everyone is there together, and finishing at a reasonable time (ending the competition in the evening has been helpful).
## Work food out!
You’ll want to clarify dietary restrictions and preferences ahead of time to avoid problems. Also, bring snacks!!! We’ve gone through half a dozen boxes of Cheez-Its in one day before. (if you’re Luke, you’ll want your local Jimmy John’s to deliver their J.J. Gargantuan)
## Prepare a template.
Judges love to see well-formatted papers. We have a recommended template with an automatically-updating table of contents and standard headings that we’ve found performs really well. Make sure to prepare something before you start that you can comfortably use.
Have whatever materials you need ready—textbooks, calculators, etc.
Before jumping into anything, *think*! In fact, have everyone think *on their own* for at least half an hour before collaborating on ideas. This gives a wide range of interpretations and approaches to start with. Don’t settle on a problem before *careful* consideration and discussion – have each team member write out their thoughts, including pros and cons for each. Try to make sure that every member of your team is on board with the question you choose; while it’s possible to change later on, you really don’t want to do it if possible.
## Make sure you know what the question is asking.
Read it *at least* a few times, and keep it open so you can refer to it.
## Approaching the problem.
Answer the question but don’t stop there. Many successful papers take the scope of the problem a few steps further.
## Keep things moving.
If you don’t know where to go, try something – anything! The weirdest ideas sometimes end up leading to the best answers.
## Don’t box yourselves in.
Be open-minded; nothing is final. Reconsider earlier factors or choices, and be cautious of over-binding assumptions.
## Be visual.
Diagram your thinking, use sticky notes, and have lots of paper. Being able to see different possibilities will help with choosing where to approach the math.
# Powering Through the Contest