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June 16, 2010
By Noah McKay
For 54 years, high school students throughout Nevada have competed in a mathematics exam contest and for 48 of those years it has been prepared and preserved by University of Nevada, Reno Mathematics and Statistics faculty member Don Pfaff.
This spring, nearly 850 students throughout the state competed in the Nevada State Prize Examination in High School Mathematics, which was tallied by Pfaff. Winners from 20 schools around the state have received checks and awards for their prowess in math.
The top prize of $500 for “The Best Paper in the State” was won by freshman Kenny Jeon of Bishop Gorman, the only Catholic High School in southern Nevada located in Las Vegas. Last year, Anthony Fidaleo of the Davidson Academy of Nevada won “The Best Paper in the State,” this year winning first place in the Reno area’s District IV.
There have been winners from Elko, Fallon, Carson City, Reno, Las Vegas and all across the state.
“This reflects that there are good students and good teachers all over the state; they are not all clustered together at one or two schools,” Pfaff said.
The exam is meant to “promote scholarship and interest in mathematics on a high school level, and give students a chance to shine in the same way that athletes get to,” Pfaff said. “This test promotes interest in problem solving and lets students get an idea what it’s like to be confronted with problems that don’t follow the template of a text book.”
Pfaff, the longest-serving professor in the University’s 134-year history, carries on that tradition. He doesn’t sit down and look for ways of stumping the students though.
“I build a balance of problems from simple to difficult so almost anyone can answer some of the questions and there are some intricate and thought-provoking problems to challenge others,” he said. “No one has ever achieved a perfect score, so I’ve done reasonably well.”
The two-part exam includes 40 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 80 minutes and 10 problems to solve in 30 minutes that may include drawing graphs, writing calculations, or trigonometric proofs. The exam includes algebra, geometry, trigonometry and logic.
“We have always striven to provide a wide variety of applications and a range of difficulty that ensured that most examinees, even sophomores or talented freshmen, could correctly solve a fair number of problems,” Pfaff said. “Judging from the teacher and student feedback over the years, it is apparent that we have succeeded in challenging the best and intriguing the rest.”
Prizes are awarded in four districts: northern Nevada, eastern Nevada and southern Nevada other than Las Vegas, District I; western Nevada other than Reno, District II; Las Vegas, District III and Reno, District IV.
District winners receive $300 each, special awards of $200 are given to three other students with high scores, 31 students are awarded honors receiving $40 each, certificates of merit are given to the top 10 percent and the student with the Best Paper in each school receives a special Scroll award. The prizes are made possible by a generous grant from IGT.
NEVADA STATE PRIZE EXAMINATION IN HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS AWARDS for 2010
BEST PAPER in the STATE ($500)
Bishop Gorman High School Kenny Jeon
DISTRICT WINNERS ($300 each)
Coronado High School Allen Yu
Carson City High School Merrill Asp
Davidson Academy Anthony Fidaleo
SPECIAL AWARDS ($200)
Edward W. Clark High School Jeffrey Belding
Coronado High School John Du
Coronado High School John Pak