Hundreds of high school students from all over North Texas gathered in Denton last weekend to practice for the state’s biggest academic competition. They took tests, wrote stories, and performed monologues—all in the hopes of becoming the best at their favorite school subject.
At 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday, the cafeteria at Ryan High School was packed. Four hundred students either checked the batteries in their calculators for math tests, reviewed the news for current events tests, or practiced their lines for poetry readings.
“There are always those certain few in your math classes that are just really good,” said Julia Chang, an 11th grader at Plano West High School. “It’s cool to see all those kids who are here today competing.”
Chung is on her school math team, and wants to go to the state UIL, or University Interscholastic League, competition in Austin. Like everyone else here.
Her Saturday morning involved taking three math tests. One test allowed calculators, one test had 80 problems to do in 10 minutes, and one test covered everything from geometry to calculus.
“The problems are definitely weird -- they’re not what you do in school,” she said.
Doing mathematics in a competition setting with hundreds of other students is exciting and nerve-wracking, she said.
“But you’re supposed to just have fun and enjoy it," she said.
Spelling Bees, Social Studies Tests, Poetry Readings
Texas’ system for getting high schoolers together for athletic and academic competitions is the largest in the world. The football championships are legendary, of course, but the academic meets around the state are also well-run and well-attended. Half a million Texas students compete in some academic event hosted by the UIL each year.
For this practice tournament, the first math test was in the band room. An enormous clock counted down from 10 minutes as hundreds of students furiously tried to compute as many of the 80 problems as they could.
When the test administrator finally called stop, the entire room let out a huge exhale.
“There’s definitely more preparing to do,” Chung admitted. “It is the first one, so you’re getting used to how much time you have and how it’s run.”
Was it fun?
“It was interesting,” she said.
No time to relax. The calculator test started five minutes later.
Bragging Rights Are Bigger Here
The winners of all these contests don’t just earn bragging rights. Students who place at district and go to regional get a letter jacket. A student could letter in social studies, debate, or journalism in high school.
An even greater incentive is that everyone who gets to the state meet in academics can apply for a UIL scholarship to any Texas college.
Odds of a statewide win may be long for these young Texans, but for many students the chance to meet like-minded peers from other high schools more than makes up for it.
The season starts next month with the first district meets.