by Andrew Kang, Grade 9
For two years, I have competed in the Math Challengers events, in Grades 7 and 8. This year, going into Grade 9 as a new student at SMUS, I was determined to try and get to the provincials again, like I did last year. I felt even more confident than the last two years because not only did I have experience, I was working with others who were just as determined as me.
At our meetings, which were organized by our excellent coaches Mr. Williams and Mrs. Rajotte, we worked intensely at finding out new strategies and working on past contests. We also analyzed problems from past contests and learned the best, quickest ways to solve them, and we became familiar with these methods. Soon the regional competition came, and I was excited that it was finally here. The competition consisted of a few parts, with two writing components, a cooperative component and then a buzzer round. I could feel the tension in the air as we worked through the problems; I kept checking the time to make sure that I had enough time to answer all the questions. When we had the co-op round, we developed a strategy where each person was assigned two questions, to get all the questions done within the time limit. It was a relief when we finally got to the pizza break (which was delicious), and then it was off to the buzzer round.
We were surprised to find that five students from our school made it to the top ten. The buzzer round has always been my favourite round; it felt great to have such an adrenaline rush, my heart beating like crazy and my brain working away to get the answer before my opponent did. What made it even harder, was that we were only given a minute and a half, and we each had only one shot to get the question right. My left hand was on the buzzer so that it would take less time to press it, and my right hand was writing like crazy to answer the question. I managed to win the buzzer round after a close match, and I won first place.
Not long after, the provincials came and we took a ferry to Vancouver. Overall I think it was a fun experience rather than a competitive one. We ate at a Korean restaurant and went to a nearby mall. At night we all met at the hotel and practiced for the competition, and we went back to our rooms anticipating the next day. On March 5th we went to SFU, where we had a competition similar to the regionals. Instead of working at large tables, though, since there were several hundred students competing, we had to work in very small spaces. The only difference with this competition and the regionals was that the questions were much harder. After each round we talked a lot, letting out all the tension from working so hard in silence. Then the co-op round came, and we had to skip several questions that seemed impossible to us, since we knew that trying to solve them would be pointless. Finally, after what seemed like more than a couple of hours, the buzzer round came and I found out that both Jennifer and I had made it to the top 10. I was faced with a student from University Transition, who I already had met before. I was so nervous, I wasn’t sure if I could press the buzzer right. By this point I needed to answer the questions so quickly that I wouldn’t have time to write it; I have watched the other competitors and saw how fast they could answer. My opponent and I were both answering before the announcer finished the question, since it was also displayed on the screen above us. I had another extreme adrenaline rush, and at the end I couldn’t believe that I had won 3:1. It was undoubtedly the best experience I’ve ever had, and I wish that I could do it again next year, if it wasn’t a Grades 8 and 9 competition.
So the big question is, why do I like math? Why do I compete in these competitions? I think it is mainly because math makes sense to me. When I am doing math it seems so logical and connected, and when I get a solution it is like a lightbulb is literally lighting on in my head. It’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle: you fit each piece in the right place until you get the right picture. In fact, that’s exactly what math is. You take a formula and you use it in the right question and for the right numbers, until you get a solution that makes sense. The sensation of getting a question right especially makes me want to learn more. Eventually, as I learn more and more concepts there are more and more questions I can solve and my curiosity and desire to learn new things are satisfied. Also, as for the competitions, I feel the determination of everyone else in the room and it makes me want to try even harder. The tension in the air makes me want to do better than everybody else, and the sensation of getting first place drives me even more.
This year was my second year participating in Math Challengers. Last year, I had placed 8th in the province. This year, I was determined to do even better. I spent many lunch hours with fellow matheletes, and coaches Mr. Williams and Mrs. Rajotte, figuring out ways to tackle tough questions, learning formulas, and practicing. By the day of the regional competitions, I felt prepared. The first two parts of the competition are written sections that we worked on individually. The tension in the air was palpable, and the room was silent except for the sound of paper and pencil. As I solved each question, the familiar contest rush kicked in, and my heartbeat accelerated, my mind focussed further, and my pencil quickened. The Co-op stage followed; these 10 questions are more difficult, and requires the participation of all five team members. We divided the questions so each person worked on two. All five of us—Andrew Kang, Jacky Joe, Tiffany Yang, Jill Ding, and myself—worked as fast and as hard as we could to solve our share of questions.
During the pizza break that followed, I was grateful for a chance to relax, and talk with my friends and competitors. I recognized some faces from last year, and chatted with a few of them. Shortly after, we all filed into one room for Face-Off, or the “buzzer round,” as we liked to call it. For me, this is by far the most exciting and interesting part. It’s just you and your opponent, trying to solve the question before the other. To add to the pressure, you have a little over a minute, and only one chance to get it right. A surge of pride washed over me as I glanced through the names on the board: five of our students had made it into top ten! I watched with growing excitement and nervousness as one by one the students went up to compete against each other. When finally it was my turn, my heart was racing madly, and I had to take deep breaths to compose myself before walking up. As soon as the questions appeared on the screen, I began working. My left hand waited, tense and ready on the buzzer, as my right hand scribbled on the paper to find the answer. The adrenaline pumping through my veins was exhilarating. After what seemed like an eternity, I placed second in Victoria. The winner? My friend, classmate, and now rival, Andrew Kang.
Soon, the provincial competition came. I had known that the provincials would be a challenge: as a member of the My Fair Lady cast, I had had a show every evening for the last three days, and I was forced to miss the matinee for provincials. Friday night’s show had prevented me from joining the rest of my team in Vancouver until the morning of the competition, when I caught the 7 am ferry with a few other teams from Victoria, and arrived at SFU near 10 am.
After a exhausting week of school, performances, and late nights, I was far from in my best condition, but I wasn’t ready to give up without a giving it my best shot. The provincial competition is basically the same as regionals; the questions are just harder. But was I more prepared? As I worked through the questions, I felt more in control than I had last year. Even my sleepiness didn’t last long; the tension and excitement that charged the air quickly dispelled it.
Co-op, however, was a different story altogether. We had to leave a few questions blank as it was impractical to attempt in the time we were allotted. Instead, we focused on the questions that we deemed manageable, checking our answers repeatedly to ensure we put down the correct answer. In the lunch break that followed—we were all provided delicious pizzas—I was glad to be able to finally relax.
I had given up hope of getting into Face-Off. After all, what chance did I have against a roomful of incredibly intelligent students? So when we walked back into the room for the last part of the event, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had in fact made it in the top ten, along with Andrew. I knew the buzzer round here moved much faster than in regionals, but still it was unnerving to watch as questions were answered before the announcer finished reading. My nervousness mounted, and I was almost shaking by my turn. I lost in my first round, but I was happy. I hadn’t hoped to make Face-Off, and had ended 6th, better than last year. My work done, I watched as Andrew battled another student for first place, and won. I couldn’t help but be proud of my teammate.
People sometimes ask why I like math and competitions. I guess the simple answer would be that I enjoy it. I enjoy the logic of a solved problem. I enjoy the sense of achievement when I figure out a problem that was frustrating me. I enjoy the “rush” of competing—the particular mixture of excitement, tension, and adrenaline. I enjoy the excitement that overcomes me when I work on a difficult question, and realize that at the end of this path lies the answer. Only math can give me this kind of type of rush and excitement. And until the day I bore of it, I will continue to compete.