Top ranked Academic Decathlon team prepares for state

By Henriikka Niemi
Staff Writer

Senior Cejay Zhu, like many of the students on the Coppell High School Academic Decathlon team, juggles 15 hours of work, his leadership position at Teen Court and homework for several AP classes all while mastering material over 10 different subjects.

Senior Blake Simon studies for the upcoming Academic Decathlon state competition in San Antonio, which begins on Feb. 21. Photo by Sandy Iyer

Senior Blake Simon studies for the upcoming Academic Decathlon state competition in San Antonio, which begins on Feb. 21. Photo by Sandy Iyer

Academic Decathlon is a competition between various high schools over 10 subjects ranging from math, art, literature, science, social science, economics and music to interview, speech and essay writing. Each school has separate divisions that reflect the grades students make; A students compete in the Honors division, B students in the Scholastic division, and C students in the Varsity division. Only three students can compete in each division, and scores for each school are taken from the top two individual competitors.

On Jan. 24-25, the CHS Academic Decathlon team competed in the Regional-State meet held at Lewisville High School, securing second place and a spot at the state competition beginning on Feb. 21 in San Antonio. The team is currently ranked ninth, an eight spot improvement over their finish at last year’s state meet.

“Holding the team together is important, because at our school kids are very GPA aware and anytime they spend a lot of time on something like AcDec, they have to weigh how much time they will study,” Academic Decathlon coach Tim Dixon said. “We’ve had teams that are highly talented but the competition wasn’t there, and then we’ve had teams that didn’t have as much talent but were very competitive. This year we have a nice balance of both.”

The Regional-State meet lasted almost the entire weekend, with interviews, speeches and essays on Jan. 24 and the last seven objective tests on Jan. 25. Each test is 50 questions with the exception of math, which has 35.  For many contestants, the exciting part of the competition takes place on Saturday afternoon, when each member of the team answers six questions as part of a relay in front of an audience.

“AP classes are challenging but AcDec is a whole different type of challenge,” senior Blake Simon said. “I like it because it’s introduced me to subjects that I haven’t been exposed to before. We study music, art and literature, stuff that I haven’t ever had an interest in.”

Notable competitors from Coppell at the regional meet were seniors Blake Simon, Zhu and George Tang, who finished first, second and third in the Honors division respectively.

“If you don’t put in the effort to learn each section’s material, you won’t get very far no matter how smart you are,” Zhu said. “You can’t just know the information, so it’s a combination of your effort, intelligence, your dedication to AcDec and your studying techniques.”

While hard work and intelligence certainly go a long way, an organized studying structure is an equally important component of the process. Simon prefers to make his own flashcards and flip through them before the competitions, while other AcDec students utilize the Resource Guide and take tests during class.

Background knowledge in music theory, art history, literary devices and math is useful, as these are all difficult subjects to teach in AcDec. For math specifically, students are at different levels depending on their grade; a senior might have completed all levels of math available while a sophomore is still in Algebra II.

“It’s like preparing for an AP test, but for seven different subjects,” Tang said. “AcDec is really the epitome of academic excellence.”

Other successful students at the regional competition were junior Michael Hall, who placed fifth in the Scholastic division, and sophomore Sashwath Murthy, who placed fifth in the Varsity division.

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