Rosa Mathcounts team hoping to outsmart the top minds in New Jersey

Four Rosa International Middle School students will compete in the Mathcounts state competition on March 11 at Rutgers University against some of the best middle school math students from around New Jersey.

“A, B, C, D and E in the decimal representations 0.ABC and 0.DE represent the digits 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, in some order. What is the least possible absolute difference between the numbers 0.ABC and 0.DE?”

This math problem above was just one of many in last year’s Mathcounts Foundation state competition. While many people may not have a clue how to figure out the answer, for a group of students at Rosa International Middle School, problems such as these aren’t so difficult.

This week, the team of sixth graders Jaimin Nam and Shruthika Padhy, seventh grader Youjin Park and eighth grader Daniel Kwon are preparing to compete in the Mathcounts state competition on March 11 at Rutgers University.

In Mathcounts competitions, teams of middle school students compete to solve as many math problems as they can. Many of the problems have a difficulty level beyond what typical middle school students learn in their regular classes.

Ann Saddel, teacher at Rosa International Middle School and coach for Rosa’s Mathcounts team, opened the school year by inviting any interested students to join the team. About 30 kids joined in October and spent their Mondays after school trying to solve difficult math problems. Prior to the regional competition, Saddel gave the students a qualifying test, with the highest scorers moving on to represent Rosa at regionals.

The Mathcounts competitions start with regionals in January. The top teams then move on to the state competition in March. The top four individual students in each state then move on to the national competition in May. At each level, the math problems get progressively harder.

“There’s geometry, there’s probability, there’s algebra,” Saddel said. “There’s a lot of different topics on them. Anything can be asked.”

The students on Rosa’s team love the challenge. Competing in Mathcounts allows them to compete at a high level in one of their favorite school subjects.

“I just like competing for something that I take interest in,” Kwon said.

To prepare for the state competition, the students spent about an hour after school on Mondays solving problems on a worksheet that contains problems similar to what they may see in competition. All schools competing in Mathcounts receive the same workbook.

“In the regional competition, they were a lot easier than these,” Park said, pointing to his worksheet. “These are almost national level.”

The students work both individually and as a team in the competition. In the individual round, students sit at their own tables and are challenged to complete a series of problems.

“For the individual ones, it’s quieter because you’re working by yourself,” Nam said.

The team portion of the competition allows each team to work together on the problems. In the regional competition, Kwon and Park worked on half of the problems as a pair, and Nam and Padhy worked on the other half together.

“They have 10 problems to do in 20 minutes,” Saddel said. “They can’t get stuck on something. They have to keep it moving.”

The top-10 individuals in the early rounds of the competition move on to compete, head-to-head, in a Jeopardy-style competition. The students must work on problems presented to them and buzz in with the answer. Park and Nam both competed in the finals at regionals, with Nam finishing in third place and Park in fourth place.

“You get very nervous because all of the people are watching you,” Park said. “But if you get (a problem) right, you feel very accomplished.”

All four students acknowledged states will be a much bigger challenge than regionals. However, Park said he knows the team will give its best effort on March 11 and try to boost the team to a solid finish.