How to Prepare for MathCounts

Updated: Jun 16

MathCounts is a middle school math competition for grades 6-8. Students cannot compete beyond grade 8. It is fun to compete because unlike AMC 8, this has multiple rounds and levels. Different skills are also tested. Some of the rounds allow the use of calculators so they test your problem-solving skills heavily and move so much beyond smart arithmetic.

How to Register for MathCounts

Topics for MathCounts

What to expect in MathCounts or MathCounts format

Scoring in MathCounts

MathCounts preparation

For school and chapter level

For State and National Level

General Tips

During the MathCounts exam

How to Register for MathCounts

Through school: Usually students can register for Math Counts only through school. A lot of schools only let you participate if you belong to the school's math club.

As an individual: In 2020-21, they opened up individual registrations. Students can participate as an individual only if their school does not participate. (Not sure if they will continue this though. Will update as soon as I learn about this).

Topics for MathCounts

Since this is for grades 6-8, students are expected to know the Middle School Math, Geometry and a part of Algebra 2 well. The following list is just a guide and is not exhaustive.

Some common topics

1. Number Theory

a. divisibility rules,

b. LCM and GCF,

c. modular arithmetic,

d. base number arithmetic and

e. number sense.

2. Algebra

a. fractions, decimals, ratios and percents,

b. exponents and radicals

c. equations and inequalities,

d. functions, quadratics, and more

3. Geometry

a. angles,

b. Pythagorean theorem and special right triangles

c. perimeter and area of 2D shapes including circles

d. surface area and volumes of 3D shapes,

e. co-ordinate geometry

f. similar triangles

4. Counting and Probability

a. nPr and nCr (permutations and combinations)

b. Pascals triangle

c. Binomial theorem

d. Probability

e. Geometrical probability

What to expect in MathCounts

MathCounts usually is 4 levels - School, Chapter, State and National. In 2020-21, they introduced a Chapter Invitational Level because of individual registrations. Since all the individual participants directly went to Chapter level, they added an extra round to filter out. So it was School, Chapter, Chapter Invitational, State and Nationals.

In each of the levels, we have 4 rounds - Sprint, Target, Team and Countdown. None of the rounds are multiple choice.

Sprint Round: Consists of 30 questions to be answered in 40 minutes. No calculators are allowed. Students have to write the correct answer in the correct format in the blank provided.

Target Round: Consists of 8 problems. Students are given 2 problems at a time ( a set) and they get 6 minutes to solve the set. Time is not carried over, so it is wise to take up the time and check your work if you have some time left.

Team Round: Consists of 10 problems and students are given 20 minutes to solve them. Students work with their 4 member team to solve these problems. How they split the problems depends on the team's strength and weaknesses.

Countdown Round: Two competitors compete head on with each other. They are given less than 45 seconds per question. It's a buzzer round. One of the most tense rounds I've seen :)

A particular school, chapter and state might or might not do the countdown round. But this is the round that determines the National Champion.

Here's a sample of National Countdown round you can watch at youtube.

Scoring in MathCounts:

Your individual score is the sum of sprint and target rounds. Each question in sprint is worth 1 point and each question in target and team rounds is worth 2 points. So 30+16=46 points.

The team score is the sum of individual scores divided by 4, plus 2 points for each correct answer in the team round. It is not the average of the individual scores. This is because even if your team has only 3 members they will divide the sum of individual scores by 4. Hence it is always good to have 4 members in your team.

Materials/ Resources to Prepare for MathCounts

I coach kids for all middle school competitions and here are some of the resources that I use/ suggest to prepare for Math Counts.

  1. See if your school has a math club. Most of the schools that host the competition does. If not try to see if you can start one with the help of a teacher. A lot of schools will let you participate only if you belong to the school's math club as well.

  2. Math Counts handbook: Math Counts releases its own Handbook. For the 2020-21 handbook you can click here. It will give you an idea of what topics to expect and the type of questions. If your school is registered and has a coach, these are the worksheets they usually give you.

  3. Past Exam Question Papers: Math Counts has one year’s question paper available for free. You can download it from their website. The previous years question papers can be bought from their online store. They also have a book on MathCounts Practice Problems that you can use for extra practice :)

  4. Resources from Math Counts website: Go to their website and hover over resources. You’ll find a trainer app, video resources, online problem library, problem of the week etc. for practice. For online practice I especially liked the MathCounts Trainer App.

  5. Books from Art of Problem Solving: If you’re a beginner to the competition get the Pre-Algebra by AOPS. If you’re familiar with the topics then get the Volume 1 from AOPS. To be really thorough and for state/ national rounds you should practice from their Intro to Algebra, Geometry, Number Theory and Intro to Probability books.

  6. Courses by Art of Problem Solving: They have beginners and advanced courses specifically for AMC 8 and Math Counts.

MathCounts preparation

For school and chapter level

School level is the easiest one and chapter is not too difficult either. Even if you are a beginner, you can get through this with dedication and sufficient practice.

  1. Start with the school competition exam paper. That’s the easiest. If you’re extremely comfortable with the questions, move on to Chapter level papers. This will also tell you where you need to focus. Based on that you can start with hard core preparation.

  2. If you get fewer than 20 on a school sprint test, start with the Pre-Algebra book by AOPS. You can then move on to Algebra, Counting Probability and Geometry books.

  3. Work through the current year's school handbook. It does help you practice a variety of topics in a short time.

  4. Know all your perfect squares till 25 squared and all your primes till 200. These will help you save time.

Unless your chapter is ultra competitive, doing the past papers, the handout and Pre-Algebra book should get you through.

For State and National Level

  1. If you can get a score of 25+ in chapter level competition go to Volume 1 book and go through it chapter by chapter. If you are stuck in any chapter, review that by going to the respective book.

  2. Mathcounts State Competition Preparation books (5 Volumes) by myMathCounts is also definitely useful.

  3. You can also practice questions from AMC 10.

  4. If you've done all this and still want more practice, try getting question papers from other middle and high school math competitions and do them as well. It's always good to get a variety of questions.

General Tips for MathCounts preparation

  1. Prepare with your friends. You can bounce off ideas and it'll make the preparation fun as well.

  2. The earlier you start your preparation, the better it is. Summer is usually a great time to prepare because you have a lot of time to dedicate.

  3. Try to work for 30-45 minutes 3-4 times a week during school time. Summers aim for at least 1 hour a day for 4 days a week. Some kids do residential math camps and they work 6 hours a day for 3 weeks straight. What makes this fun is doing it with friends/ like minded people.