The American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) are not your average school math test. They require a whole different level of thinking, studying, and problem-solving, and many students struggle with this.

This article is here to help you overcome those AMC prep challenges and give you a solid, long-term plan to get you ready for the competitive math exams. We’ll show you how to boost your confidence and get the scores you want.

Common challenges and overcoming them

Challenge 1: Lack of clear strategic thinking

One of the major obstacles to success in AMC prep is the tendency for students to misjudge the effort required. This can manifest as either under-preparing or over-preparing, both of which can be detrimental to their performance. Every student has a unique optimal level of effort, and blindly following the advice of peers or teachers often leads to less-than-ideal results.

Overcoming the lack of strategic thinking

To overcome this challenge, students must introspect and determine their optimal level of effort. Rather than relying on external benchmarks, a thoughtful assessment of personal learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses should guide their study approach. This strategic thinking requires finding the right balance—not too little effort, not too much—tailoring preparation precisely to individual needs.

Challenge 2: Ineffective study methods

A common pitfall for students is the use of ineffective study methods. Merely reading problems and quickly checking the answers, or worse, skipping problem-solving entirely, are counterproductive habits. Recognizing the subtle yet crucial difference between productive and unproductive study methods is key to preparing effectively.

Overcoming ineffective study methods

The key is to get hands-on with problem-solving. Instead of jumping straight to the answers, you should really try to figure things out on your own. Messing up and learning from those mistakes is actually a huge part of understanding the material and getting better at it. Ditch the passive reading and make studying more about tackling problems head-on.

Challenge 3: Misconception of AMC as a school test

A common mistake is approaching the AMC like a regular school exam. In school, the goal might be to simply get a good grade and move on. However, the AMC requires a different approach. Achieving a high score isn’t enough, especially as you advance to the AIME. The skills you develop and the benefits you gain from the AMC go far beyond those of typical school tests.

Overcoming the misconception

To succeed, you must understand that the AMC is not just another test. It’s a unique opportunity to develop a specialized set of problem-solving skills. Shifting your focus from simply performing well on exams to embracing a problem-solving mindset is essential. Recognizing that the AMC presents distinct challenges and rewards is the key to unlocking its full potential.

Long-term preparation plan for the AMC

Step 1: Acknowledge the challenge

This is going to be difficult. If it were easy, you’d have so much more competition. Know that this will be difficult, and work towards your goals accordingly. Many students assume it will be easy, and this misconception can lead to frustration and quitting when faced with challenges.

Step 2: There will be despair. Overcome it!

It’s important to remember that messing up at first doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for it.  For those used to things coming easy, learning to stick with something even when it gets tough is a super important life skill. Getting past that initial “I can’t do this” feeling is the only way to keep getting better.

Step 3: Build vocabulary and fundamental knowledge

To get good at solving AMC problems, you need to start with the basics. Think of it like building a house: you need a strong foundation of vocabulary and basic concepts before you can start tackling the more complicated stuff. This means taking the time to really learn and understand the essential math ideas.

Step 4: Develop problem-solving 

The fourth step is where you take all that knowledge you’ve gained and start putting it into practice.  It’s like finally getting on that bike and riding it after learning how it works.  The focus here is on developing your problem-solving skills and learning how to think critically to find solutions.

Step 5: Identify and correct bad habits

The fifth step is all about figuring out and ditching any bad habits you might have picked up. When the pressure’s on, it’s easy to fall back on things that don’t really work.  Learn to recognize these habits and replace them with strategies that actually help you succeed in the AMC.

Step 6: Address identified barriers

The sixth step is all about tackling those specific roadblocks that your coach has pointed out. Coaches are like guides, and they can really help you see what’s holding you back. This step is about using their feedback to adjust and improve your study plan.

Assessing your standing

The main way to see how you’re doing is by taking practice tests. These tests, when you carefully check them over time, give you a solid idea of where you stand.

Taking a practice test isn’t about learning new stuff. It’s more like looking in a mirror to see how you’re doing right now. Many people think you should take them all the time to get better, but that’s not really the point. They’re meant for checking in on your progress, and there aren’t even that many of them—only about two a year for the AMC 10 and 12, and even fewer for the AMC 8.

Tracking Your Progress

To really see how you’re improving, I suggest taking one to four practice tests a month. But, there are two common mistakes people make when looking at their results.

First, some students get hung up on their raw score and think a lower number means they’re getting worse. What’s more important is how close you are to the qualifying score for the AMC, which changes every year.

For example, let’s say you got an 87 one year and an 85 the next. It might look like you’re slipping, but if the qualifying score changed from 100 to 92, you actually got closer to making the cut!

The other thing to remember is that the AMC has gotten tougher over time, especially in the last five years. It’s more challenging now, and they try to stop you from just memorizing old answers.

This means you shouldn’t use the newest tests to measure your progress because they’re way different from the older ones. Instead, choose a bunch of tests from 5 to 15 years ago and skip the most recent ones. This will give you a better idea of how you’re really doing.

The older tests are great for seeing how you’re doing, but they won’t fully prepare you for the real thing. You also need to practice with the newest tests because they’re the closest match to what you’ll see on test day. They’re the gold standard for what you need to know and be able to do. Save these tests for the final stretch of your prep so you can really sharpen your skills and boost your confidence.

Fluency, knowing certain concepts inside out, is a big part of doing well on the AMC. My Achievable AMC 10 and 12 course is a great way to keep track of your fluency during that part of your training (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out How to Start Preparing for the AMC Exams).

This fluency phase is super important, even though we don’t track it after it’s done.  It’s like the foundation of a house—you need it to be solid.

So, during the fluency phase, the Achievable AMC course becomes a valuable tool for tracking and measuring progress. Instead of just taking practice tests, you’ll be focusing on how well you know the key concepts. The memory score in the course is what you’ll be watching closely.

Once you’ve got a good memory score and finished the course, your next practice test should show a big jump compared to your earlier tries.  This means you’re not just making progress, you’re really understanding the material.

Include coaching, and you will truly excel

To ace the AMC exams, you need strategic thinking and effective study methods. You can attain fluency and commendable problem-solving skills with my Achievable AMC course, However, what will truly bring out your light is coaching from us at Wes Carroll Tutoring and Coaching. With our guidance, you will discover, refine, and unleash your mathematical potential and score higher on the AMC exams and in life.

Enroll with us today!