Behind the Scenes of the Montgomery Blair Math Tournament

by Shreeya Khurana and Shrujana Kunnam for Silver Quest

It’s 12 PM on a Saturday and middle schoolers start pouring into the Student Activity Center at Blair. These young math enthusiasts anxiously await the start of six hours of exciting learning and friendly competition. Everything seems so in place, except for one thing. What are middle schoolers doing in a high school? The Montgomery Blair Math Tournament, or MBMT, that’s what. Everyone settles down with their teams at the abundant circular tables of the SAC as test papers are passed out, faced down. The room goes silent as everyone anxiously awaits the commencement of the competition. “Turn your papers over, and start!” Over 380 students hurriedly flip over their papers and begin writing furiously as the timer ticks down.

Students come from schools all across the Washington metropolitan area to participate in this annual, student-run math competition. MBMT started four years ago as a way to share excitement for math and spark an interest in middle schoolers to pursue math in the future. The competition consists of three rounds, allowing for team members to present their skills in a variety of formats. First is the individual round. Each participant chooses two fields of math to compete in, with the options of Algebra, Geometry, Number Theory, and Counting and Probability. Next is the team round, where the team members come back together and work out a set of 15 questions, increasing in difficulty. To wrap up the competition is the renowned Guts round, in which teams must solve problem sets of increasing difficulty as fast as they can in 60 minutes. As soon as they are done with a problem set, they run to the nearest volunteer and acquire the next problem set, continuing to power through as the time limit nears. The scoreboard for this round is updated live, so teams can see their progress and rank in real time. These distinct aspects of the competition offer variety for participants of different expertise; participants who work well with others may prefer the Team Round, while participants who work well under a time-pressure may enjoy the intensity of the Guts Round.

Although the event itself is only six hours, planning for MBMT begins in August, seven months prior to the competition. The date is decided, the venue is booked, and the contacting of sponsors begins in the first few months. In the meantime, other Math Team captains and members begin writing the problems. By mid-January, a list of roughly 200 compiled problems is put together and carefully analyzed. Hours of online video conferences are filled with intense debates over the difficulty levels of problems and involve doing problems over and over again. By March 10, ten days before the competition, the problems for each of the rounds are at last finalized. Thousands of sheets of paper are printed, stapled, and organized, filling boxes and boxes stacked all around Mr. Schwartz’s room. At the end of the day, looking back at the months of preparation, the major success of the event is extremely rewarding. “My favorite part of the event is probably the moment when all the middle schoolers turn over their tests and begin working, and the entire SAC goes silent. That's when I realize wow, everything's going smoothly, and we did that,” Emmy Song (Class of ‘20), Math Team Captain, reflects.

Over the course of four years, the competition has grown from just 50 participants to over 380, the maximum thus far. This event, a college level competition run by high schoolers and designed for middle schoolers, “breaks the stigma that math competitions are for nerds,” as Jacob Stavrianos (Class of ‘19), Math Team Captain, explains. Already searching for more sponsors for the next year, the Math Team hopes to expand this wonderful event and reach out to more math enthusiasts in the upcoming year.