Competitions: A Parent Guide

Whether you’re thinking of signing up for Math Club, or you’re in the club and the first math contests are coming, or you’ve been to many contests with your kids before, please read the following for some important information and reminders.


Do the kids have to compete in contests?

Kids in Math Club are strongly encouraged to attend every contest they can.  In fact, once students attend a single contest, no strong encouragement is needed.  Every student I’ve ever had, regardless of how nervous they were about their first contest, wanted to sign up for every single contest afterward.

This is one reason why we charge fees and sign students up for contests ahead of time.  They eventually want to go, but if we waited for them to express that preference, we might miss signup deadlines or contest sites might fill up before we submitted our entries.


Why isn’t there a noncompetitive math club?

We have had this in the past, when there were many more volunteer coaches available.  We could look into this in the future if more parents consider coaching.  In the past we have also looked into private vendors to offer math instruction, but they charge significantly more per student what we charge for math club.

Are the contests fun?

The kids themselves tell us that the contests are fun!

Why do they like them so much?  They usually can’t articulate it, but I have some theories based on what I’ve seen over the years:  because they get to use the skills they have prepared, they get to hang out with their friends outside of school, they can just do their best without worrying about grades, they typically do well because of the preparation they’ve done, they get interesting (and sometimes funny) problems, they represent their school, they use math in cool and clever ways far beyond what today’s large classrooms can reasonably support, they can compete in something that uses their brains instead of relying on physical prowess, they like to know where they stand against a broader group….  Different aspects will appeal to different students.

Also, many kids just like to do their best at everything and hope to win!


How can it be fun to do math for hours?

Keep in mind that almost all the problems at contests are word problems.  (“I bring pencils from home.  On the way to school, I drop half of them.  I give half of them to my friend and keep the other 6.  How many did I bring from home?”)  So they are not being drilled on math facts or filling out worksheets.  They’re exercising reading comprehension, logic, problem-solving, and communication skills, in addition to computational skill.

Our contests page has links to past contests if you’re interested in seeing what the problems are like.  For most contests, the problem types don’t change much from year to year at a particular grade level.  Difficulty levels can fluctuate as volunteer test writers come and go.


Aren’t the contests intimidating or hyper-competitive?

They are only as intimidating or competitive as the students choose them to be.  Some want to maximize their performance and strive to win; we give them the tools to do that, if they’re willing to put in the effort to prepare.  Others want to just do their best and have fun; we support that as well.


What are the behavior expectations for students at contests?


Meridian Park expectations and PTSA Before and After School Policy apply.  Students are expected to demonstrate sportsmanship, effort, and self-advocacy.  They should always know who the adult in charge is nd follow that person’s directions.


What do I need to do as a parent before a contest?

  • Sign the permission slips.  Every student need to have a permission slip in order to participate in every contest.
  • Mark the date on the family calendar.  Contests typically go for many hours on a Friday afternoon/evening or Saturday morning/afternoon.
  • Plan to volunteer.  We need and expect at least one parent to volunteer for every student.  More about volunteering in a moment (spoiler alert:  it’s easy and it helps your kids).
  • Plan transportation.  More on this later too.
  • Encourage and help your students to prepare:  give them time and space to do the homework independently, act as a mental-math proctor when needed, go over answer keys and solution sets with them.


What is a contest day like?

Please see our contest day page for more information.



Who runs math contests?  Who does all the work?

All of the contests we attend are run by non-profit organizations.

All contests rely on volunteers to do most of the legwork. And those volunteers are … us.


Why do you always ask for volunteers at contests?

Part of being a math-club parent is committing to volunteer at these contests. Even if you can’t actually watch them compete (most of the time), there are many volunteer roles to be filled.  Other schools bring many volunteers and MP has a reputation for doing the same.

Volunteering at math contests has enormous side benefits. The kids appreciate you being there to support them, get them food/snacks, and sit with them during the entertainment and awards. Also, you will get many many ideas about how to help your kids succeed more, if only through the networking opportunities with parents from other schools. By grading papers or watching students compete, you will see common issues that kids often have and that will give you ideas as well.


I’m ready to volunteer.  What do you need me to do?

The most common volunteer roles are chaperoning and scoring. Both are pretty straightforward.

As chaperone, you keep an eye on a team of four students, make sure they get to the room listed on the schedule, and during breaks help them snack and remind them to use the bathroom.

As for scoring — you’re just grading a paper using an answer key. Don’t worry, everything is double-scored so your work will be checked. And there is a lead scorer in the room to answer any questions or address issues and ambiguities.


How likely is it that my child will win an award at a contest?

This depends on the contest and the year — some contests are more difficult than others, and we compete against the strongest public and private schools in the area.  If students do the assigned homework and parents work closely with them, they can compete at a very high level even in the most challenging contests.

No matter what contest we are entered in, rest assured that MP students have achieved very high honors there in the past; but it took a lot of hard work and preparation, inside and outside the classroom.

If your student wants to win an award and they’re willing to do the assigned work to get there, they can do it!


How do kids get to and from the contests?

Parents are responsible for transportation to and from contests.

In general, you will need to drive your kids, or find a way for your kids to get driven, to the contests.  Important:  For your student’s safety, please tell the coach if your student will not be accompanied by his/her parent.

Even when we ride a school bus (eg to Blaine as we have done in the past), there still needs to be a responsible adult. The few math coaches simply cannot be responsible for all the kids all the way to Blaine and back.

Please be on time to contests and let your coach know if there’s a problem getting there.  If you’re late, that usually means that your child’s teammates are also prevented from checking in.

If you cannot volunteer and must leave the contest site, please be aware of who is chaperoning your student and be clear on the time for pickup so that other parents can go home.