MathCounts Mathletes Excel as Competition Becomes In-Person


Longfellow’s MathCounts team became the State Champions once again when they competed at the Virginia State MathCounts Competition on March 4th. Seventh grader Shunyao Y. placed first overall in the individual round, earning a spot on the Virginia State Team. 

The Virginia MathCounts team is coached by Patricia Freeman, a former Longfellow teacher, and current math teacher Mei Coffey.  The team competed at the National Competition in Orlando the weekend of May 13 where they placed 13th out of 61 teams.  The competition includes not just the 50 states, but also territories and the State Department.  Shunyao came in 15th out of 244 students nationally. 

The team’s success comes after meeting twice a week all year long, every Monday and Tuesday after school.  You can find them in the upstairs math hallway, where students sharpen their math skills by solving problems from various competitions. 

MathCounts, the club’s namesake competition, is a big part of its focus. According to their website, there are four levels to the Competition.  Students compete at the school level, where the team finds its strongest players.  The real competition starts at the chapter level, where local schools compete, and the winning team moves on to the state competition.

Although Longfellow won the state level, that doesn’t mean the whole team competes nationally.  Instead, the top scorers combine to become the state team.  The state team competes with the top mathletes from other states. 

In the MathCounts club, students share a deep passion and love for math.

“I’ve met a lot of friends through MathCounts who have the same interests as me in math and the same passion for problem-solving,” said 8th grader Paul Y., a member of the Longfellow team competing at the state level. “We grow from this community of peers.” 

In addition to friends, MathCounts also promotes teamwork and collaboration skills, which benefit the mathletes greatly.

“MathCounts has allowed me to get to know a lot of people within the math community and build new friendships. I’ve also learned to collaborate in new ways with people from frequent team practices, and because of that, I can work better within a group,” said 7th grader Yeeyung L., another member of the another member of the Longfellow team that computed in the state competition. 

Teamwork is one of the things that sets the MathCounts competition apart.  

“As an individual, you don’t have the time to do all ten questions [in the team round], but having a team speeds up your pace. It will take up less time so that you can be more efficient and more accurate,” said 7th grader Shunyao., also a member of the State team. “MathCounts is more speed than, say, the AMC, so you’ve got to get it right, but also do it really quick.”

All four team members believe that their math abilities are owed to the time they spend doing it, all of them practicing for hours each day. 

“If you spend time on something, you’ll eventually get better at it,” Michelle L. stated.

“The best way to improve is just by practicing and spending more time on it,” Shunyao observed.

The usage of the variety of available resources has also helped mathletes improve. 

“There are lots of resources out there if you look for them,” Paul said.  “Once you start getting out of your comfort zone and solving more and more problems, you can start improving your math skills.”

These resources include teachers and textbooks; as Shunyao explained. 

“Practicing can be getting a really good book to teach you, or getting a teacher to actually teach you, or just doing practice sets,” he said. 

The team members find that MathCounts has helped them with a lot more than just math.  This year is the first time since the pandemic that the competition reverted to the in-person format.  While this format vastly differs from the online format,  they each have advantages. 

“At in-person competitions, you get to meet all the mathletes from other schools, which means you get to make new friends. I have made friends with all of the members of the Virginia state team who are going to Nationals, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place winners. With in-person tournaments, it’s just easier to make friends,” said Shunyao.

For team competitions, the in-person environment allows for easier communication. Longfellow team member Michelle prefers the in-person format over the online one. 

“The in-person format is a lot better because you get to interact with your teammates in person and face-to-face instead of just talking to a screen,” she explained.

With all competitors in the same place, more activities can be scheduled. “For in-person competitions, you would have a pretty long schedule where you would not only do the tests for the competition but also get to have lunch and do activities with your friends– it’s really fun,” said Paul. 

Paul also had fun with the online competitions.  “Last year, when MathCounts was online, we all got to take the test in a single room, and it was still fun eating snacks and hanging around.”

The environment is an important factor as well. “I think the in-person competitions allowed me to focus better during Mathcounts, because screens are usually something that makes me distracted,” said Yeeyung. “However, because [the] Chapter [competition] was held inside a cafeteria, the distraction kind of leveled out because doing math in a quiet place with little people– which is what happened last year– is better for me, and the cafeteria sometimes distracted me from the problems.”

Because of this, many team members have made adaptations to their practice.  “I used to practice my MathCounts problems online using [the] Mathcounts trainer, but after being told of [the competition being] in person, I went back to doing paper competitions and writing my answers on the packet,” said Yeeyung.

With all of the effort that the team members have put into MathCounts, it is evident that success will follow.