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How to Prepare for MathCounts

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

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

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.

  4. Do not time yourself the first time you solve a paper. Take however long it requires. Sometimes struggling with a question for an hour will help you learn more than doing 10 questions that you already kind of know how to do.

  5. Apart from topic knowledge, improve your problem-solving skills. While doing the AOPS books, if you encounter a problem you have trouble with, do try out various ways before giving up. Like I said in the previous point, your struggles help you learn more. I highly encourage my students to not give up. Look at the hints but looking at the answer should be the last resort.

  6. Since Target and Team rounds allow the use of calculators, learn how to use it. I've seen students spend a lot of time preparing for Sprint without doing much of Target and Team and hence do not use calculators much. Be comfortable using your calculator!

  7. Prepare an excel sheet marking the questions you got right and wrong. After you solve a few years papers, look into it to see if you can find a pattern. Do you consistently get problems from a particular topic wrong? Work on that. Or do you have trouble with the last few problems? Try setting your Alcumus level to "Hard" or "Insanely Hard" and try out the ropics.

  8. Once you go to Chapter level you need to choose a strong team and team captain. Your team should get used to solving problems together and you should be prepared on how to deal with the team round and what works for you before you enter the Chapter level competition.

  9. If you want more help in preparation you can always hire a coach/ tutor to guide and help you through it. A coach will always look at your strengths and weaknesses and guide you accordingly.

During the MathCounts exam

Sleep well the night before. You should have established a good night routine much before the competition. A good bedtime routine will help you throughout your life.

Do some breathing exercises to calm down. Adrenaline rush is good for solving problems but too much stress is not good. Be relaxed. You've done all the preparation and now it is just fun time :)

Sprint Round: The first 15-20 questions should be easy even in State Round. It should take you about 10 minutes for the first 20 (or at least 15) questions. So depending on how much you want to score, you should make sure that you get all of those right. You can then move on to the harder ones.

Target Round: The first 5-6 questions should be easy. Since you are given only 2 questions at a time and 6 minutes to solve them, make sure you utilise it fully. Do not return the answer sheet even if you finish early. Check your work and if you still have time left over, take rest.

Use your calculator where necessary. I've seen my students so used to doing everything by hand they forget to use calculators. I keep reminding them to use it.

All the best for your competition! Glad that you are thinking through this early. It does require a year (or more) to prepare. If you liked this article and it was useful please do share it with your friends and in social media.

Do you have any other tips that has worked for you? Do let me know in the comments below.

About Me:

Hi, I'm Vasudha, an Online Math Tutor. I help prepare students for all Elementary and Middle school Math Competitions. If you'd like to talk to me about preparing your child for math competitions please do contact me here.

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