In 1977 Mona Leeuwenburg initiated, organised and ran a "mini-mathematics" competition for Grade 7 learners in the Cape Peninsula. It proved to be popular with both learners and teachers and became an annual event. In 1985 MASA, one of the ancestors of AMESA, with the assistance of the teachers' centres helped to organise the Mathematics Competition in other regions. In 1986 the Competition was extended to other grades. In 1995 the name was changed to the AMESA Mathematics Challenge. In 2011 AMESA requested SAMF to take over the administration of the Challenge, while AMESA gives academic leadership (e.g. about the nature of the questions) and AMESA Regional Organisers still organise locally.

The Challenge is not an end in itself, but is intended as a vehicle to enhance the quality of the teaching and learning of mathematics.
More specifically, the Challenge aims

Given these objectives it should be clear that the Challenge is not at all intended as yet another scholastic test. The Challenge questions are aimed at conceptual knowledge, the application of knowledge in new situations, problem solving, reasoning, communication and general mathematical thinking. We want the Challenge to help South Africans to become empowered independent creative and critical thinkers! And we believe mathematics is accessible to all, not just the select few!

The Challenge is actually not about competition or about standards, but about participation, and we want learners to enjoy participating in the Challenge. We recognise that learners may initially find the questions quite challenging - hence the name Mathematics Challenge! But the questions are not necessarily "difficult" - they simply address a different dimension of mathematics of which our learners in the traditional curriculum have very little experience.

We work with the following matrix as guide in designing questions:

We try to set questions that are easy but creative, rather than difficult but non-creative.

Here is an example of the difficult non-creative category that we avoid:

Here is an example of an easy creative problem that we promote:

This flag has 7 regions. You want to colour the flag so that no two touching regions are the same colour.  What is the least number of colours you need?

The Challenge aims at giving learners experience of such problems. The more experience learners have of such non-routine problems, the more successful they will be in the Challenge, and the more we will achieve our objectives.

Click here for some sample questions.

The Challenge consists of a First Round and a Final Round, with separate papers for Grade 4, 5, 6 and 7 set by a Problem Committee. Each paper is an hour long and consists of 25 multiple choice questions. See here for the First Round Circular to schools and the Final Round Circular to Regional Organisers.

The First Round is written in schools on a specific date determined by the organisers (see below), at a time as arranged by the school. First Round papers are distributed only by e-mail to Regional Organisers, who then distribute it to schools in their region. Schools make copies of the papers for their learners.

Given the aims and nature of the Challenge, we encourage schools to let all learners participate in the First Round. There are two categories of participation in each grade: more confident learners may prefer to participate as individuals (singles), whilst others may prefer to work in pairs (doubles).

Teachers mark the answers themselves from the memorandum we provide. Or the class may mark it during a class discussion!

The Final Round is for learners who achieved 60% or more in the First Round. It is written at a central venue in different regions (a group of schools in geographic proximity). See here for the existing regions and Regional Organisers. An important aim with the Final Round is for learners to interact with others in the context of mathematics - mathematics is a social activity and we communicate with and about mathematics!

We send Regional Organisers the master copies of the papers and the Regional Organisers take responsibility to duplicate the papers and to organise the Final Round (venue, invigilators, etc.) for their region. Afterwards, the Regional Organiser sends all answer sheets to SAMF in Pretoria, where it is marked by computer.

Teachers or projects who are interested/willing to act as Regional Organisers or who want to form a new region, should please contact the Project Manager.

In 2004 we replaced the previous norm-referenced system of a few regional and national winners with a criterion-referenced acknowledgment of achievement - read here about the thinking behind this change. The Challenge recognises achievement and awards the following certificates: All learners scoring more than 80% in the Final receive a "gold" Certificate of Achievement, those scoring more than 60% receive "silver", and those scoring more than 50% receive "bronze" Certificates. Last year about 3 000 certificates were awarded, and we are eager to improve learners' achievement in the Challenge in all rounds.

Participation in the First Round is free to all learners. We encourage schools to become Institutional Members of AMESA (see the membership form).
For the Final Round, the entrance fee is R10 per learner to cover the costs of the Regional Organiser. We encourage schools to pay the entrance fee for their learners.

Presently about 70 000 learners from about 300 schools participate in the Challenge every year. We are eager to increase participation by more schools and more learners!

The Challenge is organised by SAMF (South African Mathematics Foundation) in partnership with AMESA.
For forms for participating schools, see the SAMF webpage.
For any enquiries please contact the Project Manager, Jeffrey Thomas.


  • Master copies of the Challenge papers will be sent to participating schools by 30 April.
  • First Round is written in school during the week 12-16 May 2014
  • Schools inform their Regional Organiser of learners participating in the Final Round by 23 May.
  • The Regional Organiser informs schools of arrangements for the Final Round by 25 July.
  • Final Round is written in the regions on Wednesday 30 July.
  • The Regional Organisers send all learner scripts to SAMF by 4 August.
  • SAMF announces the results by by 1 September.
  • SAMF supplies Certificates of Achievement to schools by 1 October.

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