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Maths whiz receives a perfect New Zealand Scholarship score

After receiving the NZQA Scholarship Top Scholar in Calculus Award and being recognised as the Top IGCSE Computer Science student in New Zealand, 16-year-old Bufan Zhao (Brian) had a stellar 2021. But the Year 12 Prefect has set an equal challenge for himself in 2022.
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ACG Parnell College maths whiz, Brian Zhao

In addition, to offering the Cambridge International Curriculum, ACG Parnell College also gives accelerated senior students the chance to sit NZQA Scholarship examinations.

This valuable opportunity allows the school’s star scholars to further extend their skills as they compete against some of the best students in the country.

ACG Parnell's top academic performers – usually in their final year of study – are invited to participate in this rigorous assessment. Among the candidates sitting the 2021 Calculus exam was phenomenal mathematician and Year 11 student Brian Zhao.

Two years younger than most of his fellow participants, Brian was more focused on the experience the Scholarship assessment would deliver than the actual outcome. So his staggering results came as something of a surprise.

Earning a perfect score, the 16-year-old wunderkind is now one of only a handful of students in the programme's history to be awarded 100 per cent for the NZQA Calculus paper.

"To be honest, I didn't feel overly prepared as I was primarily focusing on my Cambridge exams, so it was quite unexpected," he explains. "It was fortunate that I didn't make any careless mistakes. I am sure that there are other students who are just as good as me at Calculus and simply got unlucky."

Simultaneously studying for his Cambridge A2-Level Mathematics course, Brian confirms there was a strong cross-over component between the two papers. But to provide further support, the ACG Parnell's maths department organised weekly tutorials for Scholarship students while the library supplied the necessary textbooks.

"Although A-Level Mathematics and Scholarship Calculus cover the same basic concepts, the latter has more challenging questions, so I had to do a few past papers and attend tutorials."

His outstanding results saw the humble teen receive the Top Scholar in Calculus Award, presented to him by the Chair of the NZQA board, the Hon. Tracey Martin, at the New Zealand Scholarship 2021 Top Scholar Awards ceremony held at Parliament in May.

"Usually, the Prime Minister attends the ceremony, and I was certainly excited to meet her,” he adds. “But she couldn’t join us this year due to COVID-19."

For Brian, the appeal of mathematics lies in the subject's purity, depth and orderliness.

"I like how maths is mostly based on logic, and you don't have to memorise a lot of things. It is quite elegant how a seemingly simple question can evolve into a complex puzzle that requires a lot of ingenuity to solve."

Yet mathematics isn't the only area where the analytically minded go-getter excels. Earlier this year, he was recognised in the 2021 Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards, receiving the title of Top in New Zealand for IGCSE Computer Science.

Not content to rest on past success, Brian has ambitious plans for the remainder of 2022 as well. 

Although most students select four subjects in Year 12, the accomplished scholar has upped the ante by including an extra paper, studying AS-Level English Literature, Computer Science, Physics and Chemistry, and A2-Level Further Mathematics. Through a combination of hard work, determination and natural ability, Brian is hoping to achieve A* grades (marks of 90 per cent and above) across the board.

Plus, he’s looking to sit several NZQA Scholarship exams with the goal of achieving a Premier Award. Given to a maximum of twelve recipients nationwide, this prestigious accolade celebrates elite students who have attained at least three “outstanding” Scholarship results in the same year.

And if that wasn’t enough, after attending an invite-only maths camp, he was one of six pre-university students selected to represent New Zealand at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Oslo. Setting his sights on a silver medal, Brian and the team will travel to Norway’s capital later this month to compete against the world’s best in this challenging and fiercely contested event.

However, understanding that there’s more to school life than academics, the maths whiz has also created a positive work-life balance during his five years at ACG. A co-founder of the Coding Club and a newly appointed Prefect on the student leadership team, he continues to make time for a wide range of activities to enhance his day-to-day routine.

"This year, my main extracurriculars consist of the Vex Robotics, Maths Olympiad Club, Coding Club, Duke of Edinburgh, Library Monitor, Year 12 Prefect and peer tutoring."

As for his plans beyond the ACG classroom, Brian is keen to broaden his horizons by studying at one of the world's top universities. Among his preferred choices are the University of Cambridge and MIT.

"I haven't decided on my exact career yet. But something maths or computer science-related would be cool."

Regardless of the destination he selects, it seems clear that whatever pathway the multi-talented student chooses to take, the future certainly looks bright.