A

mathematics club for students in

American high schools and

junior colleges.

Mu Alpha Theta (the name spells M-A-TH) runs contests which challenge students to solve problems, both individually and in teams, and encourage them to broaden their knowledge of mathematics.

A typical Florida Mu Alpha Theta competition from my years in high school would begin with boarding a bus at 4 AM on a Saturday to travel from Miami to Tampa, a trip of about five hours.

At the registration desk, the school's sponsor would get a packet containing maps, schedules, lunch information, and often an interschool test. We would go off to our individual exams, which consisted of 30 difficult multiple choice questions to be completed in 60 to 90 minutes, in one of the following categories:

After finishing the test, we would go to check our answers against the answers posted in the hallway. We got 5 points for a right answer, 1 point for leaving it blank, and 0 points for a wrong answer. Obviously, if we could eliminate one or two distractor answers, we'd be better off guessing. At this point, we could challenge any answer if we found a creative interpretation of the question.

Then it was time for the team rounds. Four students per school sat together at a table; the questions were placed face-down in the center of the table. When the signal was given, we'd take the question packet (four identical copies and an answer sheet) and begin working. The questions were often designed to be solved in parallel parts. When the team had its answer written on the sheet, we'd hold the sheet up to be collected. The proctor wrote on the sheet to show which minute we'd answered in; you'd get 60, 45, 30 or 15 points for a correct answer, depending on which of the four allotted minutes your answer was given in. This continued for fifteen rounds.

At lunch, we rejoined the teachers, who had been working on the interschool test (*q.v.*). We'd do what we could to help figure out the answers, although there were always questions that seemed impossible.

In the afternoon, we'd sit in the bleachers and watch kids -- mostly from other schools -- collect trophies and medals for high scores on individual and team competitions, and usually the interschool test trophies would be given out at the same time.

Then we rode the bus back home, exhausted and bitching about difficult questions, ready to do it all again next week.

Mu Alpha Theta kids sometimes went on to compete in the AHSME (American High School Mathematics Examination) and, later, the International Mathematics Olympiad, where there would often be only three problems to solve in six hours -- and of course no multiple choice.