Canberra's Rowena Stening leads nation in Australian Mathematics Competition
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Canberra's Rowena Stening leads nation in Australian Mathematics Competition

Even to a nation-leading maths student, some exam questions don't make sense at first look.

While this year's Australian Mathematics Competition stumped many, a handy technique helped Rowena Stening through it.

Rowena Stening, 17, has been named the top female year 12 student in Australia for an international maths competition.

Rowena Stening, 17, has been named the top female year 12 student in Australia for an international maths competition.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The 17-year-old, named its top Australian performer among female year 12 students, finds the answers to such conundrums is often within grasp if she takes a new route.

"I try to look at them at a different angle, or I try to break them into different parts," she said.

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The answer is in the question, ready to be found by applying the right knowledge.

Rowena's performance in the international problem solving challenge has won her the Cheryl Praeger Medal for female excellence in mathematics in Australia.

The competition, sat by 540,000 students, put her grasp of calculus, geometry, statistics, number theory and other concepts to work.

Its problems got tougher as students progressed through each stage, challenging the most gifted at maths.

Rowena hoped her medal win would break down the myth that men were better at maths than women.

"I hate the stereotype, and I would love to change it," she said.

"I would like to think that you're not restricted to humanities and other fields that are traditionally more feminine."

After finishing her International Baccalaureate at Canberra Girls Grammar School, Rowena wants to pursue physics at Oxford University in a material science course with a goal to one day work for NASA or Europe's space agency.

She spent year 12 balancing her subjects with sport and studying between two and six hours a night, and says variety in her schedule helped keep her engaged.

Rowena, who lived in China for seven years before returning to Australia aged 14, said she loved maths for its definitive answers and freedom from the barriers of language.

"It's so easily translatable across different cultures and I really like that."

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.

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