MD Math Team advances to MathCounts state competition

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Ariella Frommer, Staff Writer

12 Middle Division (MD) math team members competed in the MathCounts chapter competition on February 27. Five of the 12 contestants advanced to the state competition in Saratoga Springs.

There were four components to the competition: two written tests in the sprint and target rounds, a team round, and a buzzer round, Head of MD Math Team Jacob Silverstein (12) said. Team members complete 30 questions in 40 minutes during the sprint round and four rounds of two questions during the target round had four rounds, each with eight minutes for two questions. The team round put students in groups of four to solve 10 problems in 20 minutes. While the MD students were competing, Silverstein and Rhea Singh (10) acted as the school’s faculty advisors, and they graded the competitors’ tests alongside teachers from other schools.

The easiest part for Olivia Xu (8) was the team round because her team worked well together, she said. The final countdown was the most nerve wracking part. “We went in a specific order and I was the last to go, so as each person got called on, I got more and more nervous.”

The topics on the test included geometry, algebra, basic number theory, probability, and combinatorics. “You can go into it and do okay with what you learned in middle school and maybe ninth grade,” Silverstein said. 

To prepare for the competition, he and Singh led meetings every other week since the beginning of the year. During the meetings, the students did practice tests from the American Mathematics Competitions and MathCounts. “The most helpful part is when the high school coaches go over every single problem and explain what we haven’t learned yet in math class,” Xu said. 

The target round was the toughest one for Schuyler Levin (8), she said. “The questions just kept getting harder and harder.” For the most advanced problems, the students could use a calculator. “When I didn’t know the answer, I started putting in numbers [to the calculator] as fast as I could just to see what would come out.”

A problem that stumped Xu was a question about the area of a sphere. “I had no idea what the formula for the area of a sphere was, so I was stuck on that for a while,” she said.  MathCounts was harder because it did not give multiple choice answers, she said. “You can’t use process of elimination, so on those longer, tricky problems, the only tools you can use are brute force and logic.” 

The state competition was last weekend, but the team was unable to attend due to the snowstorm, Silverstein said. “But, we’re hoping to do a makeup state competition with other schools in the area who weren’t able to go.”

Think you’re smarter than a middle schooler? Try this sample question from the competition:

John wants to build a hexagon. He starts by drawing a circle, then places six points evenly spaced along that circle. He then randomly draws six segments such that each point is connected by a line segment to exactly two other points on the circle. What is the probability that the resulting figure is a hexagon?