In <firstname.lastname@example.org> email@example.com (TalmageC) writes:
>Well, in 1997 I had a sad 117. Last year I had a pathetic 116. This year, I >had an even more pathetic 115. I hope this arithmetic score sequence doesn't >continue.
I haven't yet heard the northern california AHSME scores, but I do want to reply to this.
Those are NOT pathetic scores, they are outstanding scores! In the entire country, in 1998, out of about 250,000 students whose tests were graded, only about a thousand scored above 115. You are in the top 0.4 %! (and the population taking the ahsme is already a bit more selective than, say, the high school population as a whole, at least as far as mathematical ability goes).
I love math contests -- I'm on my way to help out at one now -- but I do think they can sometimes unintentionally discourage students.
I knew a student, now in college, who managed to make the USAMO, and who even got invited to the MOP, the US math olympiad team training program, but felt he was outclassed by everyone else there. Afterward, he came away thinking (or at least gave the impression he was thinking) "gosh, I'll never be good at math like those guys"... whereas, he had just turned at least the 30th best performance in the country and is probably the best math student his high school teachers will ever encounter in their careers!
I don't know what the answer is to this -- or even if it's a serious problem. Most people get over this in college, or at least in later life, I think -- though I have known some exceptions. Still, it always pains me when I see math contests, especially contests I've worked on, discouraging students to whom they were intended to give pleasure and motivation.