The AMC exams are a series of competitions that test your problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge. They are also the first step in a pathway that leads to the prestigious International Mathematical Olympiad.

But how do you start preparing for these exams? What are the best ways to study and practice? And is there a way to guarantee your success?

Let’s help you answer these questions.

Starting the preparation journey

Many parents and students wonder: At what age or stage should students start preparing for the AMC exams?

That’s quite a loaded question. Let’s flip it around a bit: instead of focusing on preparing specifically for the AMC exam and polishing your memorization skills, the real goal should be to acquire the skills the AMC exam aims to teach (or test). Once you have those skills, preparing for the AMC exam will be much easier.

It’s like asking when one should start flossing before a dentist appointment. The right answer is not to start a week before the appointment to avoid bleeding gums. You should have been practicing good dental hygiene all along. Similarly, preparing for the AMC exams should ideally start as soon as you can comprehend a math problem, perhaps around second grade, because you have to master the foundational skills.

Now, I understand that starting AMC prep in second grade might not be realistic for most people. A more practical approach could be when you’re learning eighth-grade math stuff. This could be in fourth grade for some students, but the main thing is to start AMC 8 prep when you’re doing eighth-grade math. That’s the important time.

What are the AMC foundational skills?

We can break them down into three key components: fluency, presence, and boldness.


Naturally, before taking the AMC 8, you should have a solid grasp of eighth-grade math. Similarly, for the AMC 10, you’d ideally be proficient in Algebra I and geometry, perhaps even dipping into Algebra II. The AMC 12 demands a more advanced fluency, typically aligning with the initial months of a precalculus course.

This fluency requirement isn’t tied to age or grade level. If you’ve conquered precalculus in seventh grade, the AMC 12 should be on your radar.


Foundational skills here revolve around understanding that mere genius isn’t sufficient. Success in these exams requires meticulousness, self-management, and often, coaching. Recognizing the importance of diligence, pacing, and the ability to get thoughts down on paper becomes critical. Many bright students accustomed to solving problems through sheer intellect might find that meticulousness and strategic thinking are indispensable for consistent success.

There are a lot of smart kids who can solve math problems just by thinking really hard. But they might face a unique challenge. If, for instance, you are a super genius relying solely on your brain power, and I am a normal smart kid who knows how to write down my thoughts, plan my time, and pay attention to details (the executive function skills a lesser intellect demands to keep up with people like you)—I might just beat you every time. That shows how important it is to have other skills besides being smart.


This part is about having a list of things to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s a basic skill you need for the AMC exams and dealing with this tough life. Being bold here means having a plan for moments of uncertainty—a skill that helps you not only with math problems but also with other hard stuff in life.

What’s the best way to study for the AMC?

The best way to prep for the AMC—one I highly endorse—is to work with a coach. It might seem like a simple answer, but the intricacies of effective preparation are best addressed through personalized AMC coaching.

One of the things you’ll learn with a coach is don’t read answers after practice tests.

While it might feel like a valuable learning experience, it often leads to a false sense of understanding. A more effective approach is to take a practice test, have your tutor, coach, or someone else assess your answers, and crucially, not tell you the correct answers or explanations. This method enhances learning by encouraging self-reflection on the reasoning behind your choices.

An integral aspect is the thorough examination of mistakes. Instead of being handed the correct answer, understanding the process that led to an incorrect response is vital. This self-analysis is just one approach a coach uses to make sure you come out with the skills to excel in life.

How do you handle schoolwork and extracurriculars with AMC prep?

Balancing AMC preparation, schoolwork, and other activities can be challenging. Different students may have different needs and goals, so there is no simple solution. However, we can explore the broader perspective.

What are your extracurriculars? Are they beneficial to you?

Many people think that spending a lot of time on sports is good for students, but they don’t value spending time on academic pursuits outside of school. While physical activity is certainly important, I question this assumption. I think that students can benefit more from investing some of their time in learning new skills and exploring their interests like math competitions, coding, or other intellectual activities.

The reality is that only a very small fraction of students who play sports will become professional athletes. On the other hand, almost everyone will use the skills they learn in school throughout their lives. So why is it acceptable to spend hours a day on a sport, but not on an academic activity? For every outstanding lacrosse or volleyball player, there might be ten students who could achieve great things if they devoted some of that time to math competitions or other challenges.

The sports analogy goes further. Training for math competitions involves strategic thinking, problem-solving skills, and continuous improvement, just like an athlete improving their fitness and tactics.

For many students, doing math competitions for half an hour a day is very helpful. If they show some talent, they can increase their time and challenge themselves more.

For exceptionally smart students, following the normal rules may not work well, because they are rare. The school system, designed for the average student, may not meet their needs. These students need to do things that suit their amazing abilities, even if they seem unusual.

Success on the AMC is a goal you will have to work hard and smart towards. You will face many challenges in this exam, and you have to overcome them.

And that’s why you need coaching

Unlock your potential with individualized coaching for the AMC exams. Wes Carroll Tutoring and Coaching offers tailored guidance to hone your foundational skills. Strategize, prepare and succeed with our personalized AMC exams coaching. With your determination, we will help you score higher on the AMC exams and start your journey to mathematical excellence.

Sign up for AMC coaching with Wes Carroll today!