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Shrewsbury’s Praneet Mekala is preparing for the “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician” contest in Baltimore in January.
Shrewsbury’s Praneet Mekala is preparing for the “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician” contest in Baltimore in January.American Mathematical Society

A Shrewsbury student will go head-to-head against 12 other math whizzes from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician” Championship Competition in Baltimore.

Praneet Mekala, a senior at the Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science in Worcester, was selected based on his score on an online qualifying test that included questions on algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and probability. This is not Mekala’s first rodeo: He joined his school’s math team in sixth grade and competed in math competitions throughout middle and high school.

Now, he’s headed to the big leagues on Jan. 19. The top prize is $5,000 for the winner and $5,000 for the math department at their school. Metro Minute caught up recently with Mekala, 18, and asked about his preparations for the competition and his love of math. (Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)


What does it feel like to be headed to this international competition?

I’m happy because I made it, but I’m also nervous because it’s live stream and I don’t know how I’m going to perform during a national competition. I’m a bit nervous.

How do you prepare for something like this?

This is a speed based competition — I practiced speed-based math. Calculations in your head, nothing particularly too hard, but I have to be able to do it fast. For other competitions that are really difficult, I practice by doing previous rounds from other years. Most problems have shortcuts, so it’s a matter of seeing the shortcuts.

How long do you spend preparing?

It depends on how close the competition is. If there are not competitions coming up, I probably spend a few hours a week. If there’s something coming up, I probably practice every day for about two hours a day. Usually when I come home from school, it’s homework first. Then if I have time, and I’m in the mood to study, I will study.


What is it about math that is so interesting to you?

There’s only one right answer, but there’s a lot of ways to get to it. It’s not open to judgement in any particular sense, but there’s a lot of ways to get to the same one result. My favorite [subject] is probably algebra because there are so many different ways to solve algebra problems that all lead to the same answer.

What do you want to major in for college?

Right now I’m really split. It’s either computer science, biomedical engineering, or finance. Computer science because I like the algorithmic way of thinking. Finance because it’s heavily involved with math and I really like math. Or biomedical engineering because I’m really interested in biology. But I’m not good at memorizing stuff. Doctors need to memorize a lot of different things. The way I think is algorithmically, one step leads to another. Because of that, I want to do an engineering part along with biology.

What will you do with the money if you win?

“If I win I’ll probably save up the money for college or for later when I might need it.”

The competition will be webcast live starting Jan. 19 at 1 p.m. Visit www.ams.org/wwtbam.

Morgan Hughes can be reached at morgan.hughes@globe.com.