Thoughts on 2020 AIME Cutoffs

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See our previous post explaining the details of this year’s cutoffs by clicking here. There has been discussion online and in various forums about the fact that this year’s AIME Cutoff separated from Distinction. We wanted to follow up the previous post with some of our own thoughts a team.

Note: Until full statistics are released by the MAA, all the information we have is based on the released cutoffs and explanations of those cutoffs. Some of the thoughts below are speculative and may change when new or corrected information is released. As always, the only source of official information is the MAA. Click here for the MAA Competitions website.

What is the difference this year?

In previous year’s, the MAA has typically released 2 sets of scores (for each of the AMC 10A, 12A, 10B, and 12B Competitions):

  • AIME Cutoff: The minimum score needed to qualify for the AIME Exam.
  • Distinguished Honor Roll: The minimum score needed to be in the approx. top 1% of scores.

The AIME Cutoff was often also referred to as Honor Roll and defined as:

  • at least top 2.5% for AMC 10
  • at least top 5% for AMC 12

The MAA has been consistent in the wording that more students could be invited to participate in AIME, but this year they have deviated much more substantially from these cutoffs.

Distinction, explained as the top 5% of the scores for each contest was also released this year. Notably, the AIME Cutoffs for all the contests is lower than the Distinction scores. Hence more than 5% of students have been invited to take the AIME for both the AMC 10 and AMC 12.

This year we decided to invite more students to take the AIME, thus the cutoff scores had to be lowered.

MAA response via email when we reached out for clarification about the meaning of Distinction.

Why invite a higher percentage of students to take AIME?

Until official statistics are released, the “more” in the statement above can either mean a higher percentage of students or actually a higher number of actual students. For example, if a lower number of students take the exams, the percentage of students invited to AIME could increase, while the actual number of participating students stays constant.

AMC Competitions are meant to grow interest in math

MAA’s messaging is fairly consistent that they see math competitions as a way to increase student interest and participation in math and related fields. Of course, hard work and preparation is needed to advance and score well, but the problems on the AMC 10 and 12 exams are meant to be approachable to regular high school students, even without prior preparation.

As educators ourselves, we want students to be challenged, but not discouraged. In this way, only allowing a certain group of students to take the AIME makes sense. You only advance students who have prepared enough to solve a few of the easier problems on the AIME exam. If the MAA thinks more students are prepared to take AIME, why not let more take it?

Achievement is still recognized

A common worry is that allowing more students to take AIME diminishes the achievement of qualifying for AIME.

For many colleges and universities, the act of qualifying for AIME proves a student’s commitment to improving their math knowledge and shows the hard work a student is willing to do to achieve their goals. Even with a lower AIME Cutoff, qualifying for AIME is not easy and takes a lot of time and dedication.

For students wanting to further stand out, Distinction does show they have a higher score. Trust that college admission officers will understand the difference!

AIME is one math competition

In the end, we have to all trust in the MAA to do what they think is best to keep growing the competition and encourage students to participate in STEM.

Further, these competitions are just one of a wide range of competitions and activities that students can do to cultivate their interest in math and science. Some our offerings:

For guidance on what school classes, extracurricular programs and competitions, and community service helps a student stand out, check out our college counseling page by clicking here.

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