My experience with Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

What even is Moody’s Mega Math Challenge? If you are not in advanced math classes, you probably have not heard about this event. To put it in short, Moody’s Mega Math Challenge is a 14-hour math modeling competition for juniors and seniors across the country. “Math modeling” means finding solutions to real world problems using math. The time constraints and limited resources, however, make it a rather difficult task.

Having taken AP Calculus my junior year, I was familiar with the event and the girls who participate in it, but I never thought myself to be the type of person to participate in something so math-oriented, especially after AP Calculus. The confidence I had in my mathematical abilities since fifth grade slowly left me after receiving the worst grades I had ever gotten during my junior year calculus class. This is why I was so surprised when at the end of junior year; I got an email from Mrs. Gniadek extending an invitation to be a part of one of the following year’s teams.

I accepted the invitation, but I was extremely nervous about doing so. As I mentioned earlier, that year in Calculus made me feel as if I could not do math, let alone model and find solutions to real world problems through research. At the beginning of this article, I also mentioned it was a 14-hour challenge… who honestly wants to spend 14 hours in a SHA classroom on a Saturday? Apparently, me.

This past weekend was the challenge, and I am actually very happy I participated. We spent the beginning of the year meeting after school on Fridays to prepare for it. As the captains informed us, and as we came to learn, there really is not a way to prepare for “The Problem.” This can be quite intimidating. You are given a math problem with several parts, and you can essentially use any math you want in order to solve it, as long as you defend it in the 20-page paper your team hands in by the end of the night.

Leading up to this event I was not too stressed out about it, I was distracted with a fall sport, applying to college, keeping my grades up, and so much more. Reality did not hit me until the day before the challenge, and it hit me like a truck. Although the captains reassured us that everything would be fine, I was having an internal crisis. I did not feel as if I had a strong enough math background to help the girls on my team compete. I did not think I would be able to contribute any good ideas to my group. Moreover, I certainly did not want to be at school from 7:30am to 10:00pm on a Saturday. Needless to say, that night I fell asleep with a pit in my stomach.

When I woke up, I realized this was something I had been committed to for several months now and I had to go in to try my best. I thought to myself that in the worst-case scenario, I could just go home.

After getting started, I realized I actually had a lot of equations and graphs in my toolbox to use, as well as my super smart teammates’ help. The five of us spent the entire day in room 251 throwing out ideas, getting frustrated together when certain equations would not work for the problem, laughing together, and a lot of peer-editing to ensure our paper would be presented in the best light for the judges. To my surprise, I was not as lost as I thought I would have been, and felt as if I contributed my fair share. It was a nice math retreat, in a sense. I found out that I was not as bad at math as I had previously thought, and dedicating my entire focus to the problem let me forget about the craziness going on in my life.

We finished the paper just in time, and I can speak for my team when I say we are very proud of the work we accomplished. We really hope we are able to place in the top 20%, so we would love everyone to keep our paper in your prayers!

The reason I tell you this story, though, is to teach you two things I learned from this math challenge, that are not even math related at all. The first is to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself to you, even if you do not think it is necessarily meant for you. Although I love science, I would not consider myself an especially math-oriented individual, and I ended up enjoying this experience. The second lesson is to be confident in your abilities, and what you can bring to the table. I have taken a lot of positive insights from this experience, even though I did not feel as if I was worthy to be a part of it, fortunately so, my captains were able to see in me something I wasn’t able to see in myself yet.