I fingered my pencil nervously as I stared ahead at the big screen. A new question appeared. This was it. After this question, it would be my turn. I was terrified and excited at the same time. I have been looking forward to my turn for a long time but as it got closer, I became nervous. I was at the Mathcounts chapter competition and this was the countdown round. In the countdown round, a math problem is projected onto a screen for two kids to solve. The one who figures it out the fastest presses a buzzer. After three questions, the kid who answered more questions correctly goes on to the next round and the other one leaves. It is very intense, since there are only forty five seconds to solve each problem.
MathCounts is a math competition with different parts. First, there are two individual rounds where your score and ranking come from. That determines whether or not you get an award at the end. Then there is a more fun round where you get to work with a team. Finally, there is the countdown round. Only one person represents their school during the countdown round. The countdown round doesn’t actually affect your score, it is just for fun. But in my opinion, it is still the scariest out of all the rounds. I didn’t have to do the countdown round. I chose to do it because I enjoy it. But as my turn came closer, I got more nervous and I almost regretted the decision to do it.
The countdown round takes place right before the awards, so everyone’s mind is on the awards. We’ve all worked hard for this and we all want the award, but there’s only so many to give out. My parents say that it doesn’t matter what I get. That even if I do badly, I still learned a lot from preparing. That what matters is the journey, not the destination. But still, it would feel good to get an award after practicing for this so much.
Everyone is there in the award room waiting, watching from the long rows of seats spiraling upwards in the huge room, as the kids down below, answer the questions. Sitting there in the front you can feel everyone’s eyes on you as you rush to solve the problem.
I heard applause. This round was over. As they called my name, I walked to the front of the room and sat down in one of the two chairs for the participants. I smiled at my friend as she sat down in the other chair. My friend and I were both representing our schools in the countdown round. We were both hoping that we wouldn’t have to go against each other, but the people in charge didn’t know that.
I held the buzzer in my left hand and my pencil in my right hand, ready for the question. The first problem was an equation where they wanted the smallest value of x. I started thinking, going through the options. I was pretty sure that the answer was two but not sure enough to buzz in. Then, my friend buzzed in. “Four,” she said. The moderator said that it was wrong. Then I buzzed in and said “Two.” They announced that two was correct. Then, the next question appeared on the screen. I did the problem and answered correctly. The round was over. I shook hands with my friend and then I went back to my seat to wait for my next turn.
Next, there were two more people. The winner would go against me next. Did I stand a chance? I knew the girl in that round. I knew that she is very good in math and very fast. I wondered what the boy was like? The first question appeared on the screen. The moderator began to read it aloud. He’d barely begun when the boy buzzed in. I didn’t even know what the question was. I hadn’t finished reading it. “That is correct.” the moderator said. The same thing happened with the second question and the round was over. How can anyone be so fast? I knew that I didn’t stand a chance against this boy.
Still, part of me was hoping that I could answer at least one of the questions. When it was my turn, I went down the stairs to the seats. The first question appeared on the screen. This one was an equation that I had to solve. I started to write it down and solve it but then the boy pressed his buzzer. He was correct. I tried again for the second question but I wasn’t fast enough.
I lost at the countdown round but I didn’t really mind. It was fun anyway. As scary as it was, I enjoyed it. The same things that make it scary, the short amount of time to solve each problem and the huge room of people watching you, also make it exciting, an adventure. I would never choose not do it. Even though the competition was only a couple of weeks ago, I am already looking forward to next year’s countdown round.