November 6, 2020

MATHCOUNTS Prep Guide from The Study Huddle

MATHCOUNTS Competition series is where The Study Huddle began its journey of teaching. A few students, in a school district which was entirely new to these competitions, became interested in participating in MATHCOUNTS Competition. They decided to meet regularly and pour over the problems from the previous competitions, intent on improving their problem-solving skills. To hold true to their school mascot name the “Pioneers”,  the students from the Gordon Gregory Middle School were the first team to participate in the MATHCOUNTS Competition from school district 204. This enthusiastic team became winners at both the Chapter and State levels competitions, and energized more students to get excited about problem-solving and winning competitions. Since then The Study Huddle (known as Math Factor-e previously) has produced several more winners at the chapter and state levels. More importantly The Study Huddle has used MATHCOUNTS training as a platform to bring love of problem-solving in students all over the United States.

The Study Huddle has been the training ground for these competitive students for the past 10 years. Here the students learn the subtle nuances and strategies of mathematical concepts, along with the importance of training with consistency and regularity in order to improve their skills. We also encourage students to think deeper and challenge themselves further which allows them to be the best versions of themselves everyday.


MATHCOUNTS, is a nationwide middle school mathematics competition held in various locations in the United States. Its sponsors include Raytheon Technologies, the Department of Defense, CNA Foundation, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to name a few. Historically, the highlight for the national winning team is an invitation to the White House to meet the President. Here is the  2010 MATHCOUNTS winning team with President Obama at the White House.

Interest in prestigious high school math competitions has been steadily growing. With the win of the USA team in the International Math Olympiad in 2018 and 2019 there has been even greater interest in this field. MATHCOUNTS is one of the largest feeders for all high school math competitions, especially those that feed into the International Math Olympiad (IMO) selection. About 100,000 students around the country participate in the program’s competition series, which culminates in a national game-show style contest held each May and telecast through ESPN. According to Poshen Loh, who was the coach for the winning IMO team, nearly all of the members of the U.S. IMO team took part in MATHCOUNTS as middle school students. Loh believes that middle school is such an important age because students have enough math capability to solve advanced problems, but they haven’t yet decided what they want to do with their lives. They are more likely to become engaged and excited about math competitions at this stage in life. 


Here is a breakdown of the MATHCOUNTS competition:

  • There are 4 levels of competition: School, Chapter, State, and National.
  • Each level has

    • 30-question Sprint (40 minutes, non-calculator)
    • 8-Question Target Round( 6 minutes per pair of questions, Calculator allowed)
    • 10-Question Team Round (4-person team, 20 minutes, Calculator allowed)
    • Count Down round (maximum 45-second, No calculator).

More details on the competition can be found here. The tests at the chapter, state and the national levels are organized and run by volunteers from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).


2021 MATHCOUNTS Competition

This year due to Covid-19, the tests are done through the AoPS online platform and the format is slightly different. Also, due to the pandemic, several schools have decided not to participate in MATHCOUNTS which has resulted in some disappointment amongst students who were looking forward to competing.

But there is no reason to despair! According to the MATHCOUNTS website, “Any student whose school is not participating in the program can register as a non-school competitor (NSC). MATHCOUNTS encourages students to pursue all avenues to participate through their school before registering as NSCs.”  The best way to involve the school is to engage your math teacher and Principal of the school and ask for their help in sponsoring a school team. If you need more guidance on this you must contact MATHCOUNTS directly. If we can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us at The Study Huddle as well.

Here is a quick guide to the process and events that lead up to the national level competition for the 2021 MATHCOUNTS. You can also view  in the MATHCOUNTS website.

  • School Level: The school registers up to 15 students from a school (last year the in person team size allowed was capped at 10). Schools/Coaches do not have to select specific students at this point. The school simply completes the registration process to include up to 15 students.

  • The registered school can invite up to 50 students to participate in the first three online practice competitions (school level). All participants will compete as an individual. Before the 4th online practice competitions, coaches will identify up to 15 names to fill number of seats that they have registered for.

  • The fourth online practice competition will be held in January 2021, and is only available to the selected participants. Coaches may use the first three tests and other factors to select the participants. Schools are allowed to register up to 15 participants. Each NSC would be considered as a registered student and will be able to complete all four tests administered by the parent/coach.

  • Between 1 and 15 individuals from each school participate in the 2021 Chapter Competition, which will be available online from February 5 at 1:00pm ET through February 6 at 1:00pm ET. Each NSC will also participate at this competition. Information on this will be provided by the local chapter coordinators from NSPE.

  • The top scoring student from each school and the top 20% of individuals from each chapter will advance to the 2021 Chapter Invitational Competition, which will be taking place online on February 25 at 7:00pm ET. NSCs must advance out of their chapter as part of the top 20% of competitors in their chapter; NSCs are not one-person schools. Be sure to contact your local chapter coordinator if you have any questions.

  • The 2021 Chapter Invitational Competition consists of the Sprint and Target Rounds and will take place online at 7:00pm ET on Thursday, February 25, 2021. Winning students will receive recognition. The top 5 competitors in each chapter will advance to the State Competition. Additionally, the next 10 highest-ranking competitors in the state will advance to the State Competition.

  • The State Competition consists of the Sprint and Target Rounds and will take place online at 7:00pm ET on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Winning students will receive recognition. Up to the 4 highest-ranked competitors from each state will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Competition to compete as a team.


How do you prepare for the competition? And how we can help!

  • Set aside time for training. Most of the training and preparation for MATHCOUNTS happens outside the confines of the normal school day. Students attend after-school math clubs, online forums and classes, or math teacher-led groups, in order to prepare for these competitions. The Study Huddle has MATHCOUNTS Prep for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced students.We have trained hundreds of students through these programs.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice. Each year MATHCOUNTS publish a handbook with about 300 problems including Warmup, Workout, and Stretches. The topics under the Stretches training may vary each year. If you have a collection of these Stretches it is a great way to review all concepts prior to the competition.

  • Sign up for Alcumus on the AoPS website. This is a platform for daily practice we recommend to all of our students who participate in competitions. While you are there practicing, be sure to time yourself to improve your speed, as well as track your accuracy. To bring regularity and consistency it is helpful to engage with group level participation and rewards / recognition as motivation. These practices could be self-guided or teacher-guided.

  • Study Smart. Alcumus practice uses a lot of previous countdown problems that might be too light sometimes. It is important to continue to challenge yourself with new problems using different resources. In addition, if you are very serious about winning, it is ideal that you practice previous handbook problems or competition problems. The level of handbook problems will vary based on your fluency. If you’re an advanced learner, you should focus on problems in Warmup-9 or above and Workout-4 or above. A good number would be 30 problems per day as you get closer to the competition.

  • Selecting the right level of challenge. If you’re able to do all problems, that is a good indication that you can be challenged further. If you’re finishing 70% problems that is an indicator of a good level of challenge for yourself.

  • Know your approach. There are two approaches when it comes to preparing for the competition. The first is to do as many problems as you can, make mistakes, and then learn from them. In the second approach, you would begin by learning concepts and completing some concepts based practice. You would then attempt a test or some handbook problems. You learn with either approach, however, using the approach that keeps you focused and engaged is key to your success. Checkout our courses if you need help with conceptual learning. In TSH we assign daily and weekly practice for students based on their level and fluency. We also assign topic based assignments in Alcumus and monitor progress.


    • The topics covered include
      • Number Theory
      • Angles, Polygons, and Circles
      • Perimeter, Area, and Volume
      • Ratios and Proportions,
      • Sequences and Series
      • Linear Equations and Functions
      • Quadratic Expressions and Equations
      • Coordinate Geometry
      • Counting and Probability
      • Statistics

  • Practice previous year competitions. Many of them are a google search away. Study one level up. For example, in order to do well in school level you should be practicing all the chapter level competitions; for chapter level you should practice state level competitions; for state levels practice national level competitions; and so on. At TSH we offer weekly practice. In addition, we also offer 5-day long immersion camps every year during holidays to prepare them for the chapter level competitions. These workshops cover the core topics in depth by working on the hardest problems, and discussing various strategies and concepts behind them. These workshops prevent the skill/ fluency erosion that can occur during holidays and preparing students well for the contests.

Find math groups or clubs to stay engaged. For the self-learner looking for a place to meet regularly and math-jam with a group of like minded people, consider looking into math clubs. These are ideal settings for students to exchange ideas and sharpen their MATHCOUNTS skills in a group setting. The Study Huddle regularly hosts virtual math clubs, making it possible for students nationwide to connect online and math-jam. Learn more about our weekly Mathlete club today.