Math Kangaroo vs. MOEMS

Parents often ask me about math contests for elementary students. The two heavyweights are Math Kangaroo and MOEMS:

Math KangarooMOEMS
ScheduleAnnualMonthly x5 months
Time75 mintes30 minutes + 20 minutes recap
Prizestoy, t shirt, certificatecertificate, trophy, pins, patches
Difficulty Levels6: grades 1-122: elementary and middle
PracticeBooks sold online (Amazon)individual exams on MK site (solutions extra)

The popularity for MK is a head-scratcher for me. I do think it’s a great exam and students can learn a lot from studying past contests. The questions are a bit more “puzzley” in nature than what I find on the AMC.

Working against MK is that it’s an annual exam; once and you’re done, then you go home. It lasts over an hour, which is a long time for most first graders. You can purchase their old exams, but only individually, the solutions cost extra, and the online store is awkward to navigate.

MOEMS stands for Math Olympiad for Elementary and Middle Schools. I have my students take the exam, turn in their papers, and then immediately following we go through each question one at a time. I write the problem on the board, and ask for volunteers to explain how their solved the problem. While they describe their solution I scribe for them while also helping them with their newly learned mathematical vocabulary. For example a student may say, “I connect those 2 points on the left.” I may gently say, “Oh, you mean you draw a segment connecting vertices A and B?”

I continue by asking if there are any alternative solutions. Students learn from each other, which makes the problems seem within their grasp. Over the course of a season, the students build friendships that lead naturally to higher level math contests like MathCounts and ARML.

Old exams with solutions are published in books that can be easily found on the MOEMS website or Amazon. You can participate officially by paying a registration fee, and at the end of the season they provide you with trophies, pins, and certificates. Or you can use the old exams unofficially in small groups or individually, and on your own schedule and rules.

The word “Olympiad” in the name conjures the International Mathematical Olympiad for high school students, but there is no relation between the two math contests. In fact, it’s a friendly collegial math activity that’s perfect for our younger math students.

My own affection for MOEMS stems from my personal experience with my homeschooled daughters. Over several seasons they befriended other mathy kids while I befriended their parents, making it easy to recruit team members for MathCounts and other activities. MK is homeschool friendly, and I would put MOEMS as homeschool agnostic, not exactly welcoming, but easy to work with.

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