A Parent’s Guide for the Journey of Mathcounts

As parents, we all yearn to provide the best learning resources,  nurture and help our child grow to their full potential and become independent learners acquiring the right kind of knowledge and skills to be successful in life. This is an effort to share my experience so you can navigate through this maze easily.

In my search for resources to raise competent, confident children I discovered enormous articles online of which many touched upon the importance of competitions towards the development of skills and building self confidence. To my surprise, I also discovered many educational competitions even at elementary and middle school levels in the USA and one can start their journey as early as Kindergarten level. I have also written a post on the list of competitions a student must consider if they are serious about competition math that you can read from here. 

The amount of information available was so overwhelming yet there was and even till now a lack of clear path of where to begin and how to plan and navigate through the activities in this competitive landscape. It took awhile for me to absorb the information and to make my own plan so I did not act on any information in a structured manner until my son reached his 5th grade. Between his 3rd and 5th grade we took it very lightly and had fun learning about various topics, signing up for a variety of competitions in order  to figure out what his interests are.  Luckily, we discovered Mathematics as his main interest during this period. 

The time and effort in identifying one’s interest level is crucial for long term success. So before you can start to pour your energy into a particular area make sure you have zoned in on your interest where you want to focus your attention.  Without interest and passion things may seem to go well initially but only lasts for a short period of time and eventually comes to a halt due to the lack of inner motivation and desire. By then, you would have already spent several years of your time working towards an unattainable future goal. Don't make this mistake. If you have read this far, I assume that your child has an innate desire to learn Math and to do well in Mathcounts and/or other Middle School Competitions and you may be wondering how you can support your child in his/her competition math journey. If so, this article will give you plenty of information and ideas. So let's get started. 

    1. Remember the proverb, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Never over do anything. Kids are kids so as a parent you must be vigilant to keeping a balanced act between preparing for Competition Math and other activities so that it does not become monotonous. Based on your kids interests, engage them on a variety of secondary activities that make learning fun.

    2. Collect and organize all learning materials 2 to 3 months before the Mathcounts season begins. Ideally the preparation should begin early August. Spend time collecting all previous year tests, books, learning materials etc., It saves plenty of time you will otherwise spend on searching for materials every time you need them. Believe me, You will thank yourself later for this. I have written a post that talks about everything you must have and need to gather for Mathcounts preparation that you can

      read from here. 

    3. Make every day a learning day. Spend 30 minutes daily with your child doing a few problems together. Even if you are not good in Math, you can easily play the act of sounding board by asking them to explain what they worked on that day so they try to articulate and in the process will make them think independently. This can reinforce their understanding of the concepts.

      The other way to get involved is to watch 1 or 2 Competition Math videos online together. It is a show of support and helps keep the momentum going. 

    4. One of the biggest challenges where you can support is to have enough tests and mocks ready for practice after the first round of preparation is complete. This is always a challenge because when they prepare through the AoPS, Alcumus, Mathcounts Trainer and other usual materials they have already consumed all the questions from the previous years of Mathcounts. So, when it is time to do practice you may have already seen most of the questions during your preparation and do not give a clear measure of your current level. What I found useful was when I started going through various competitions similar to Mathcounts  from other countries and test using those to identify gaps in skill level. Now, we are working towards compiling and creating a library of unique questions that students can use to practice under test conditions outside of what they would have normally seen in order to identify gaps in their skill levels to fill it with more work and practice.

    5. Countdown is another skill to master - really really well. You can work with your child using a PowerPoint presentation and a buzzer and test out their response time. We usually start this a month before the Chapter competition for 15 minutes daily. It helps to get your mind trained and there are some neat strategies that you can utilize to increase your speed and accuracy and concentration. Get a buzzer or a bell so it gives that sense of urgency and adrenaline rush. Typically we try to solve 60 countdown problems in 6 minutes with a 3 minute break and repeat (that is roughly 6 seconds per problem on average). Some may take only 3 sec to 4 sec and others a little more than 6 sec. It is a process but you can get there. I have witnessed it first hand. 

    6. Take them to as many competitions as you can.

      Failure is the single most important ingredient in success. Competitions can be very stressful and most of the times it is fear that prevents them from trying things that are hard, not performing at their best and thus reducing their chance to succeed. As a parent, give your approval that it is ok to fail and share some of your own lessons and how you handled it in your life. Let them fail so they can self-analyze and learn valuable lessons before entering into highly competitive events such as Mathcounts. By participating in as many competitions as possible one can overcome the fear of failure as well as know the ways and means to handle pressure under competitive circumstances. 

    7. Keep a performance and score log of their competitions and Mathcounts practice in order to measure the level of progress they have made over time. If they are doing well, then make sure you praise them for their hard work. Never use the word Smart. It is important for them to realize that all who compete are Smart but only ones who differentiate and become the winner or in Top 3 are the ones who have worked and practiced tremendously hard. Eventually it is the work ethic that pays off. Always say you are happy to see them working hard and it is evident from their performance and results. 

    8. There are many formulas that your child needs to remember and develop their own patterns for memorization for Mathcounts. What we found very useful is that for each of the formulas that are needed, prepare certain problem sets and see if your child can solve those problems. The only way to solve them is if you know the formulas. Once you review and understand the concept, formulas and patterns then it registers strongly in their memory. So instead of just asking for formulas which they recite from their memory, give them a problem based on the formula and see if they can solve it. If so, they have mastered that concept and the formula.

    9. Provide positive reinforcement to keep them motivated to learn and challenge themselves to do better. Keep reasonable goals, timelines and when they complete certain topics, concepts and problem sets use positive reinforcement as your tool to motivate them. Also, give them something in addition that makes them happy. You know your kid and you know what they like. 

Times are different now. Data is everywhere. Billions of it. We are living in the Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning era and employers value analytical and critical thinking skills now more than ever and want to invest in people who can make sound logical decisions based on data. And for those who have good logical skills, mathematical ability to understand data, the know-how to work with others in order to achieve a common goal is a valuable skill in almost any career. As a parent, when you support and motivate your child to take part in math competitions it helps enhance their analytical, critical thinking, time management and stress management skills thus making it an invaluable asset towards building a strong professional career. For additional information and help, feel free to contact us at support@practicecompetition.com