Calculating his way into MIT
As a student, Tristan Chaang Tze Shen saw mathematics not only as a school subject, but also his passion.
For eight years, he immersed himself in competitive mathematics, even travelling to countries such as China, Singapore, India, Romania and Norway to pit himself against international students.
Having won two bronze medals and three honourable mentions at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), besides clinching the National Champion title multiple times at the Chen Jingrun’s Cup Mathematics Competition and the Hua Lo Geng Secondary School Mathematics Competition, the 20-year-old has been paying it forward by imparting his knowledge to students keen on taking part in such competitions.
It was his active participation in these activities, coupled with his academic achievements, that Chaang believes earned him a spot in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States.
The only Malaysian accepted into the prestigious university this year for undergraduate studies, he also received an offer from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
But his success at clinching these offers, he said, came not without any setback.
“I applied to MIT in 2021 using my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and SAT results. However, I was waitlisted and eventually rejected,” he told StarEdu.
Instead of giving up, Chaang went on to give his best in his A-Level studies at Sunway College.
He paid attention to online lectures, did various past year papers, and sought to understand the contents of the syllabus, instead of solely memorising answer techniques, he said.
He eventually achieved 4A*s for his effort, and won first place for Best Across Four AS Level in Malaysia and Top in the World for Further Mathematics in the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards in 2022.
“I have to thank my lecturers, Mr Yong Yau, Ms Chian Chom Fon, Mr Ding Moh King, and my mentor Mr Soh Beng Seng, for their effective guidance and pedagogy during my A-Level studies,” he said.
Eager to begin his studies at MIT in August, Chaang has set his sights on taking majors such as applied mathematics and applied physics.
“I’m particularly interested in quantum computing and quantum technology. A large amount of mathematics is involved; hence, I will do my level best to continue honing my mathematical skills in order to excel in those courses,” he said.He also looks forward to meeting people from all around the world who share the same interests as him, besides learning from top-notch lecturers and professors.
A firm believer in the significance of competitive mathematics, Chaang expressed his hope that the government would provide more resources to support IMO events.
“This will go a long way towards opening new doors for Malaysian students in achieving international recognition,” he said.
On his part, Chaang has set up a YouTube channel, where he has been uploading recordings of his lecture sessions for students looking to participate in the IMO.
He has also published an ebook entitled “Techniques for High School Mathematics Contests”, which covers various mathematics topics such as modular arithmetic, floor function, recursion, Diophantine equations and calculus. The contents, he said, were compiled throughout his years of training students for mathematics competitions.
“I believe secondary school students will benefit from it by using it to get a head start on their mathematical journey, possibly towards international contests eventually.”
Chaang was also one of the organisers of the recently concluded Youth STEM Cup, which was a collaborative effort of college students to host a national contest on biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and astronomy.
“My role was to lead the problem selection committee, and be responsible for creating and handling the test papers,” he said.He is currently undertaking a 15-week teaching post at his alma mater, Kuen Cheng High School, where he is part of its mathematics training team.
Studying mathematics, said Chaang, has helped him think more rationally, which improves his problem-solving skills not only in mathematics, but also life in general.
He added that due to his strong grasp of mathematics, he has been able to learn physics, economics and computer science more effectively, and to pick out the applications of mathematics embedded in everyday life, such as financial planning, traffic planning, and even the simple question of “What should I do today?”.
Chaang advised students against doing things just for the sake of impressing a university.
“Do what you love and invest your soul in it. This way, you can improve much faster, become a better person and naturally you will impress the interviewers.”
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