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Maths Challenge London Finalists

Well done to Roshann, Akish, Romaine, Bradley and Prince who took on other London schools in the Jack Petchey Count on Us maths challenge funded by the Mayors Fund. The boys had already qualified from the heats and then came runners up in the semi final at City Hall on Thursday. BELOW is an explanation of what the expectations were from the semi finals. 

Good luck in the final and well done to you all and Ms Marasli 

Congratulations on getting through to the semi-finals. The standard at the regional heats was very high and some high scoring schools did not make it! Indeed, you will notice that there are 13 teams in each semi-final. With school scores tied in those final few places we ended up needing to include two extra schools.
Once again, schools and individuals have been very impressive, so I wanted to share some of my observations from the heats to help you prepare for the semi-finals. Notice that in the semi-finals, we will select the top 3 in each tournament by right and then the next 6 highest scoring schools will be selected to compete in the final.

It was very clear that preparation and practice made a big difference. Notably, all schools who qualified did at least fine in all of the rounds. There were examples of schools who concentrated on one round in particular (notably the 24 game) but failed to qualify despite exceptional performance in that round.

1. Even after specifically mentioning the importance of the swap rule, it was rarely used. Notably if the team playing first start in one of the 4 ‘centre’ spaces and the team playing second do not swap, then they would expect to lose.
2. If you go second, you would expect to have to ‘defend’ to some extent.
3. The player playing fourth needs to keep careful track of possible winning positions. It was often the case that an empty space was available to a ‘fourth’ player and they did not notice. Likewise the fifth player is most likely to have to play the winning move, so they need to have a good view of the positions.
4. The player playing fifth does not stand on the board – they play plates for the fifth and subsequent moves.
5. In the semi-finals we will uphold our rules more forcefully. This was our first experience as referees and we have learned from some issues. Notably we will be very careful to ensure turns have reversed when the swap rule has been used. Also, we will look out for hand gestures and other nonverbal communication. The mover must decide where to go on their own. Finally, we will insist on a maximum 5 seconds per turn. Then we will apply the rule of one warning, then next time lose the game.

1. It remains the case that this round is still relatively low scoring. Scores were well distributed, so it was clear teams were thinking about and gaining bonuses where they could.
2. Puzzles in the semi-finals will be harder, although this is difficult to gauge. For tangram and soma cube all puzzles are equally hard anyway. For soma cube we won’t just ask to build the cube again. For dominoes, the puzzles will be larger.

Tips for the Semi-Finals from Chris Olley

1. Once again, we had a number of exceptional players. The scoring system whereby you score for winning or coming second in a round rather than for the total spots, is a little unfair individually but it smooths out the impact of having to play against the exceptional players, while ensuring that their schools score well.
2. It is clear that this is the round where practice has the clearest and most immediate benefit, so just keep practicing!


1. A small but significant number of schools clearly had not practised the set of algebraic equations given (i.e. the key stage 3 national curriculum!) or did not know how to decode a Caesar shift code. None of these schools will be in the semi-finals. So, you are aware of the need to ensure that both of these skills can be done reliably, quickly and accurately.
2. It was very interesting seeing teams writing on the back of the info sheet and the recording sheet. These two vital documents needed to be on view at all times.
3. If you are given a sheet with information on it, then there is certain to be something on it which you will need to use.
4. Somewhere in the things that you are given, there will be some written instructions. You should read them and follow them carefully. I would suggest picking a team member who is in charge of finding and following the instructions. Very few teams were attempting to follow them.
5. The puzzle sheets which had a decoding puzzle at the top and algebra puzzles lower down gave rise to an interesting effect. The vast majority of teams ignored the coding at least initially, and did the algebra. Again – put someone in charge of making sure that everything is being attended to.
6. If other information is given e.g. documents, a talk, slides, audio, then it is there because things in it matter. E.g. “take the documents to St. Pancras Station” and “the Mayor has left a hard copy at his office” were vital to the task, but not widely heard despite frequent repetition.
7. Finally, it is important to remind teams that this is a problem-solving round. They are NOT at school. They do not need to ask for permission to do things e.g. runners get up and move around. A problem will be described in some form, their job is to solve it.
8. On average 4 schools completed the algebra/coding problem entirely at each heat, which is the same average as teams who are in the semi-final. So, in the semis you will be up against teams who can do this!