December 03, 1999
Poly High School senior James Merryfield is following a family tradition in pursuing excellence in math.
More important than his recent perfect 1600 score on the SAT, James last year placed fifth in the nation on the American High School Mathematics Exam out of 200,000 students who took the test.
This year, he topped that triumph by placing third in the nation on the American Invitational Mathematics Exam out of 10,000 top math students in the U.S. These students all excelled on the earlier AHSME test.
As a participant in the U.S. Math Olympiad for two years, he ranks as one of the top 20 students nationally in this problem solving competition.
Both of his parents are on the faculty at California State University Long Beach. His father is a professor of mathematics; his mother, a professor of biochemistry.
This remarkable Poly PACE student in his spare time is collaborating with CSULB math professor James Stein. After completing Stein’s math analysis course at CSULB, Merryfield began assisting Stein with his advanced research on fixed point theory.
James credits Poly High School’s PACE program for creating an atmosphere for his high academic achievement. "It’s all in their expectations," he said.
He had also had great success on his Advanced Placement tests and even greater expectations. Last year he scored highest possible scores of 5 on several AP tests: U.S. history, calculus BC, European history, physics C. This year he hopes to attain perfect scores on five more AP tests: English, economics, chemistry, comparative literature and Spanish. When he does, he will complete a full year of college while still in high school through his test-taking prowess.
James plays viola in the Poly Orchestra and the All-District High School Orchestra and participated in the side-by-side concert with members of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. He has noticed a correlation between math achievement and instrumental music skills in musicians he has known since he picked up his first violin at Prisk Elementary School. Many good mathematicians are also good musicians, he noted.
James credits Poly teacher Pam Zerby with being the most helpful to him as a member of her math team. She was a teacher and started the math team at Hughes Middle School before James was a student and math team member there.
He is applying to UC Berkeley and plans to pursue degrees in math, conduct mathematics research and publish scholarly papers on math theory. Since his stellar performance on the SAT and national math tests, he has received invitations from many other colleges and universities to apply.
His parents have encouraged him in his studies and his teachers set high expectations for him, but he knows there might be another secret to his success.
"Math is easier for me than for most students," he admitted.