Battle of the Mathletes

UC Irvine hosted the MATHCOUNTS State Competition for middle school students from schools all over Southern California this past Saturday on March 9. Around 50 middle schools were represented in the math competition, but more than 6,000 schools participate in these competitions annually.

UCI Student Center was crowded with sixth, seventh and eighth grade students accompanied by their parents and teachers as everyone socialized and prepared themselves for the different rounds of the competition.

“The competition is the state competition, so all the students today qualified in a regional competition to be here. There’s both team and student competitions, and they’re here to compete to go to nationals,” Sarah Eichhorn, the Assistant Vice Chair of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics, said.

The competition consists of four rounds, which includes the “Sprint,” “Target,” “Team” and “Countdown” rounds. The Sprint round is a written test taken individually, where students have 40 minutes to complete the questions. The Target round is when students have eight questions given to them two at a time, and students have six minutes to complete each pair of problems. The Team round has 10 problems and a team of four teammates work together on problems and turn in solutions as a team. The team winners are chosen as a combination of their individual and their team score. Finally, the Countdown is an oral lightning round which is a head-to-head quiz. The top 12 students qualify for that round.

“They go head-to-head and answer math problems as fast as they can. It’s actually pretty exciting to see students typically answer the questions faster than I can read the questions, and I’m a professional mathematician,”  Eichhorn said.

For eighth-grader Michael Wang from Amelia Earhart Middle School, “the Countdown is the best part.”

His friends, also eighth graders from the same school, agree that this competition is helpful while being fun.

The students face similar competition styles at the regional, state and national levels.

“Also, it lets you practice coping with pressure and time management because everything is timed,” Kumann Liu, a participant, said.

The students in this competition not only get practice with the material and with being timed, they also participate because of their interest in and passion for math.

“Their motivation to participate is the opportunity to achieve at their highest potential and not be limited by their curriculum. They get to excel in their field. It’s a joy to work with kids who are highly motivated,”  Carrie Poindexter, a teacher at Amelia Earhart Middle School, said.

After the state competition ends, the winners for the national competition are announced. Simultaneously, northern California is holding a similar competition, and once the state competition is over, the southern and northern California representatives discuss how well students did in order to pick the winners, and both individual students and teams can qualify.

The winners of the national competition get a paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete in May. For most of these students, it’s not just about the awards or recognition, it’s about their passion for math.

“I really like competing and it’s a fun experience being with a lot of your friends and discussing math problems,” Megan Joshi, a seventh grader from Sycamore Canyon Middle School, said.

“I think it’s a great experience because students get a competitive showcase of their academic skills in an encouraging and supporting environment for people from math,” Eichhorn said. “They really love it, they enjoy it, they do it for fun. You’ll see some of them going around with rubix cubes and stuff like that. Their recreation is mathematics and I think that’s neat.”