I am often on the lookout for ways to broaden the horizons of my children, so this past school year I offered my 7th grade daughter the chance to take part in math contests. She accepted. In the fall, she took the American Mathematics Competition 8 (AMC), and this spring she competed in MathCounts. As a home educating family why and how did we get involved in math competitions, and what was the experience like?
Why sign up?
The biggest reason I considered this path was that I thought it to be a unique opportunity for her. She is at ease with math, and I hoped she’d find it interesting. Also, math competitions give students the chance to develop problem solving skills in a positive environment with others who share similar interests.
How to prepare for the AMC8
The AMC 8 is a 25 question, 40 minute multiple choice exam for middle school students. Although it was easy to register for this competition, I did have to locate a proctor. I was fortunate to find a private school math teacher who gave her the exam. The AMC 8 website also has additional locations for the AMC 8 at Higher Education Sites. There is also a similar site for the AMC10/12. If you want your child to take one of the AMC tests but cannot find a proctor, one of the locators may be worth a try.
To prepare for the AMC 8, she studied past exam problems from the AOPS Wiki. This worked well for her, but you may also purchase past exams and solutions directly from the AMC website (see the Registration page).
How to prepare for MathCounts
We registered online and submitted a ‘Homeschool Participation Attestation’ form in early fall. To be eligible, a student must be in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade. The process was relatively simple, and we had no problems entering her to compete as an Individual. Homeschool Teams are also eligible to participate.
Once registered, they mailed us a packet which included the MathCounts School Handbook. This is one of the several resources my daughter studied (another being Art of Problem Solving textbooks). The earlier you sign up, the more time you’ll have to prepare.
Since we educate at home, I chose to be her coach. Parent as coach is something to carefully consider, because it is a time commitment. We set Fridays as our competition prep day and used Sunday afternoons to go over any problems that needed more discussion. Another option to consider, depending on the laws in your state, is that you may also be able to find a local public or private school team for your child to join. There are advantages to each case.
What was the actual contest like?
The contest consisted of a Sprint, Target and Team Round. These rounds extended to about two hours total including breaks. The Sprint Round was 40 minutes (30 questions). The Target Round was about 30 minutes (8 problems in four pairs at 6 minutes per pair) and the Team Round was 20 minutes (with 10 problems solved by a team). After this mental workout, the students were treated to a pizza lunch while the scores were calculated. Following lunch, the top scoring 16 students were asked to move to the front to compete in what is known as the Countdown Round.
As the only event open to the public, The Countdown Round was a fast-paced, oral competition in which the students were then called two at a time up to a table in front of the 130+ students, coaches, and spectators. These two competing students were asked a question on the overhead screen and were given only a short amount of time (about 45 seconds) to answer. No calculators were allowed. Once she had figured her answer, she had to respond by first pushing a button and then waiting to be called upon. The first student who answered three questions correctly remained in the front to continue on to the next round.
It was exciting to watch the Countdown Round. I’d never witnessed anything like it before. I was impressed with the bravery the students displayed – competing in front of a large group of onlookers…answering tough questions…under strict time restraints!
The top three Teams, Individuals, and Countdown Round competitors received a trophy. In addition, students who make it to the national level may even win scholarships.
The preparation paid off. I’m happy to report that my daughter did win a MathCounts trophy. It was inspiring to see her be rewarded for her efforts – with several of the students congratulating her. This encouragement has convinced her to continue, and she will be back to training this summer and fall for the next contests.
Though it was not an easy thing to prepare for, I’m glad she agreed to take part. The sacrifices were worth it; I think it was a positive experience for her.
If you have a child who enjoys a challenge and would like to be around others interested in Math and Problem Solving, these competitions may be for you.