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ACG Parnell College’s world-class mathematics trio

Having three ACG Parnell College students recognised as Top in the World for IGCSE Mathematics in the 2021 Cambridge Learner Awards is a spectacular accomplishment. However, this incredible result is even more impressive when you consider that our three talented mathematicians were all Year 10 students at the time (IGCSE papers are typically taken by our Year 11 cohorts).
Mathematics whiz-kids (from left) Elena Song, Nicholas Chen and Michelle Gao

Students at ACG Parnell College are blazing a trail in mathematics, with not just one but three students gaining Top in World Mathematics Awards in 2021.

Now in Year 11, Elena Song, Nicholas Chen and Xinya (Michelle) Gao all attained the rare feat of a perfect score of 200/200 raw marks and received Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards for their efforts. We talk with them about their success and gather some top tips for students keen to follow in their footsteps.

Elena Song
“I remember my goal at the beginning of last year was to achieve an A* grade (90% and above) for Cambridge IGCSE maths, but I never expected to get Top in World! So I felt really happy – and slightly shocked – when I received my results. This award means a lot to me, as not only does it show that my efforts have paid off, but it has also given me more confidence, especially for exams.

“I would definitely consider maths to be one of my favourite subjects. Although to be honest, I find all the subjects I’m taking for Cambridge to be really interesting and intriguing. I like how maths tests the way in which my brain thinks. I enjoy figuring out where I went wrong and learning new methods to solve questions. When I’m doing difficult problems, I often find myself doing the questions again and again until I understand it and get it right.

“I think I’ve always been quite goal-driven, and that has definitely helped me to achieve these results. My maths teacher was another key ingredient, as she would always help me if I had problems and made our lessons really fun and enjoyable. I think it’s incredibly important to use class time efficiently and ask questions when you’re unsure about anything. Finding a study technique that works for you is also crucial. For me, going over past exam papers helped a lot.

“This year, I hope to achieve another A* grade for AS-Level mathematics and gain similar results to my IGCSE maths! Of course, another Top in World or Top in New Zealand would be great, but I think the learning process and what I get from the course is just as important.”

Nicholas Chen
“Maths is one of my favourite subjects (along with chemistry) because I like dealing with algebra and numbers more than dealing with words. As you improve in maths, you become able to solve questions that you’ve previously struggled with. This process of conquering difficult questions brings me great satisfaction, and this award is the perfect finish to IGCSE maths for me! Being careful with my answers – and ensuring I didn’t make any careless mistakes – helped me achieve this result, and so too did having a really good maths teacher, Mrs Dimitrova. She taught us how to structure our working and answer properly.

“In order to achieve your best possible result in your Cambridge maths exams, I would recommend doing plenty of past papers and practising lots of different question types. My personal study technique is to learn all the course content before we learn it in class. Pre-learning the content helps solidify my understanding and enables me to practice past papers and tackle different problem types earlier.

“My goal for AS-Level maths this year is to aim for no careless mistakes and continue to expand my maths knowledge beyond the course.”

Michelle Gao
“I felt amazed when I received my result because I’d assumed I would lose one or two marks on careless mistakes, but I actually got everything correct. It’s a good feeling knowing that all my effort has paid off, and it has given me the motivation to continue working hard in maths. I don’t think there’s any secret to my success; all I do is just practice. I basically did all the past papers from the last two years – some more than three times each! Listening carefully and concentrating during class time is essential, and I find it helps to find your weakness and do lots of questions relating to that topic.

“Maths is definitely my favourite subject. I like the fact that all the questions have a definite answer, which means I don’t need to be creative; I can just use my logic to solve the problem. I always feel happy and excited when I get a hard question right. This year I’m aiming for all my maths grades to be above 90%, as AS-Level is a tough year according to the teachers. I’m also taking IGCSE level biology, chemistry and physics with the hope of eventually going on to tertiary level studies in England and forging a maths or science-related career.”