Tristan Owain Pang of Auckland smiles mischievously when you ask him what his favourite subject is.

"I like them all ... but obviously I'm quite good at maths."

The 10-year-old Ficino School pupil is being modest. Last year he sat the IGCSE mathematics exam through the Cambridge international exam system and top-scored with 97 per cent.

Tristan was New Zealand's youngest-ever candidate - "and quite possibly the world's", says mother Elaine Pang - to sit the exam, normally done by students in Year 11.

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Peter Crompton, his principal at the Mt Eden school, said he recognised Tristan's unique capabilities when he first joined the school three years ago.

"I used to teach at Oxford University in the UK and there are some very, very intelligent people there ... but Tristan is something entirely different. He really is quite special."

Tristan's father, Thomas Pang, said his son exhibited a keen interest in learning from a young age. "He started doing puzzles when he was only a year old ... I think it helped him to develop his problem-solving skills, even then."

Now Tristan is studying towards AS-level maths. He is aiming to sit the exam, which most students do when they are 16 or 17, at the end of the year.

Despite his mathematical talent, Tristan is a typical 10-year-old boy in other ways. "I really like riding my bike and in the weekends I hang out with my friends ... We mainly like to play games ... and no girls allowed!"

Both Tristan's parents insist their son stay with his year-group at school, so his Cambridge studies are mostly done outside school hours.

"Tristan teaches himself on his own ... we leave it up to him to decide how far he wants to extend himself," Mrs Pang said.

To this Tristan replies: "I like it, it means I can go to piano lessons during maths at school!"