Program Blog

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids

Student Responsibilities

While the primary responsibility of students participating in a US Academic Triathlon Meet is to compete in the three events, there are additional responsibilities each student is held to for the sake of good sportsmanship and teamwork:

1. All team members, including alternates, must wear a name tag and a competition letter above the waist in a way that can easily be seen and read by facilitators and participants. This is to easily identify student participants throughout the Meet, and differentiate them from visitors and other students who might be involved in something else going on in the school.

2. All team members must keep problems and questions secret until the end of the Meet. If any student is found to be sharing questions or other information with members of other teams, their coaches, or volunteers before the end of a Meet, the student’s entire team will be disqualified and may be subject to further censure.

3. All team members must exhibit good sportsmanship and respect for all facilities and people before, during, and after the Meet. Teams who exhibit unsportsmanlike conduct of any kind are subject to loss of points and possible disqualification for serious infractions.

4. Theater etiquette during P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box presentations is expected, and that means full, silent attention during performances. No derogatory comments or other inappropriate behavior will be tolerated, as watching other teams’ P.A.R.T.Y. presentations is a privilege. It is appropriate – and appreciated – for students to laugh, clap, and enjoy other teams presentations. Additionally, students and coaches may not talk to or approach P.A.R.T.Y. judges regarding scoring questions. Student feedback should be limited to general and impersonal helpful hints and compliments.

5. Teams must strictly adhere to the schedule. If a team arrives late for an event after a Meet starts, they will be allotted only the remaining time allowed. If a late team prevents another team from having the full time allotted, the late team will be subject to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

6. Students may not bring anything into an event room, except the team’s Competition Kit as it is specifically described in the Program Manual. If a student requires any special equipment or item for health or mobility reasons, it must be checked in at the registration desk prior to a Meet.

NEW THIS YEAR: Students will not be allowed to have a smart device of any kind (phone, watch, tablet, etc.) on their person during a Meet. Any smart devices must be left in the student’s backpack or with their coach during a Meet. Failure to abide by this rule may be subject to penalties or disqualification (especially if a smart device is used during an event). If a facilitator sees a student using a smart device, even during passing time, it will be taken away for the duration of the Meet and may cause the team’s disqualification. This rule was instated to ensure no one can be suspected or accused of cheating, even if checking the time.

7. Teams must use appropriate language, humor, music, and gestures during Meets. No racism, sexism, profanity, etc. If a team member offers an inappropriate response, a facilitator will: a) ask for a more appropriate response; or b) assess a penalty; or c) disqualify a team member or team from a round or an entire Meet. If a student wonders whether something is an appropriate response, it is better to find a substitute answer just to be safe.

8. UPDATED: Students whose temporary or permanent physical impairment may prevent or hamper them from following physical instructions during a Meet must inform their coach at least a week prior to the upcoming Meet (when possible) so the coach can determine necessary accommodations and connect with the upcoming Meet’s Host/Facilitator in order to coordinate such accommodations.

9. Students must be aware of the meaning of these “Caution Comments”:

a. “Louder” – A student should repeat the answer, enunciating for the sake of the facilitator.
b. “Clarify” – A student must explain why an answer is pertinent to the question. (If the student says “Make a boat” as a use for the flyswatter, it may be necessary for the student to say, “Use the handle as a raft,” so the judge can score it.)
c. “Inappropriate” – A student is being given a chance to change a socially unacceptable or non sequitur answer, with or without loss of points, depending upon intent.
d. “Repeat” – A student has given a duplicate answer and must come up with another response.

If there are any questions about student expectations, contact Executive Director Sarah Sheldon at

Face-Off, For Hosts and Facilitators, Resources, Scoring

Face-Off Scoring and Special Cases

To continue with our series about the finer points of USAT scoring, this post is dedicated to the oral Face-Off! round and special cases that sometimes occur. We covered the way raw and ordinalized scoring for this event works in general in another post, but before anyone answers a single question, there are a few things that happen first.

Though some Mind Sprint challenges can easily be facilitated alone, Face-Off! needs two people for it to run smoothly. So, the facilitator/reader is assisted by a scorer/timer. Buzzer strips should be tested before each Meet starts, to make sure they’re working. (For what to do if there is no buzzer system, see below.) At the beginning of each Tri, the facilitator makes sure that the correct teams are competing by checking their team letters against the Meet schedule.

Next, the facilitator asks each team to identify a captain. Any team member may buzz in, but to keep things organized and easy to score, only one voice may answer. The team captain is in charge of giving a team’s official answer, or they may designate another team member by pointing at them before they answer. A team captain can designate a different person each question, if necessary. Only the first answer a team gives is considered; there is no such thing as multiple guesses.

Teams may have writing utensils and scratch paper out for this round, as well as their dictionaries. They gather around the buzzer system (also sometimes called “slap tapes”) so that everyone can reach. When all teams are ready, the challenge begins.

The facilitator reads the question, while the scorer/timer keeps an eye on who buzzes in and how long it takes. As soon as a team buzzes in, the scorer/timer signals the facilitator/reader to stop reading, even if they have not finished the question. (For what to do if the facilitator/reader misses the signal, or how to score Tris with only two teams, see Special Cases, below.)

The scorer/timer identifies which team is to answer, and they have 15 seconds to confer and give their answer.

  • If the 15 seconds ends and the captain or designee is still in the middle of giving their answer, they may finish, as long as they have begun an actual response rather than just saying “um,” etc.
  • If the 15 seconds ends and/or there is no correct answer given, but another team has also buzzed in, the scorer/timer identifies that team and they have 15 seconds to answer. The facilitator does not repeat the question.
  • If no other team has buzzed in, the facilitator repeats the question from the beginning for the remaining teams. As soon as the next team buzzes in, the facilitator stops reading again.
  • If the facilitator reads the question in full and no teams buzz in within 10 seconds, the scorer/timer calls “time.” The facilitator gives the answer and moves on to the next question.

An oral Face-Off! round ends when either all 40 questions have been answered, or when the time runs out, whichever comes first. If there is time remaining, a facilitator may ask the teams the alternate questions just for fun, but their answers do not count toward their raw score. Also, a facilitator could ask the teams to write their own Face-Off! questions and give them to the host/facilitator to read for parents and teams while the final scores are being calculated at the end of the Meet.

Special Cases

What can you do if there’s no buzzer system available?

If a buzzer system is not functioning or isn’t present at your Meet, you still may be able to use a computer to judge which team is first to answer. In some cases, multiple keyboards have been plugged in to the same monitor and each team is assigned a row of keys. The scorer/timer can have a Word document open and judge which team “buzzes in” first based on which letter appears first.

During power outages, creative facilitators have used everything from banging on empty apple cider jugs with rulers, to striking staplers as items that students use to “buzz in” to give Face-Off! answers. These methods are more subjective and tougher to score, but the bottom line is that the facilitator has the final say. As long as the scoring method is consistent across all teams, and the facilitator/reader and the scorer/timer are doing their best, that is the most that can be done in the case of a power outage.

What can you do if the reader makes a mistake?

If there is a buzzer system present, it usually makes a sound that will alert the reader to stop reading if a team buzzes in. However, it may be up to the scorer to alert the reader when a team has buzzed in during special cases. If the reader accidentally reads more of a question than they were supposed to, the question must be thrown out and replaced by an alternate question in the same category. The alternate questions are listed at the end of the regular questions.

When it comes to words that are difficult to pronounce, we provide a pronunciation guide in parentheses after the word. It may not be a technical phonetic pronunciation guide, but it will indicate where to put the emphasis of a word by using capital letters. For instance, you may see a question like: “What is agoraphobia (ah-GORE-ah-FOH-bee-ah) a fear of?” This indicates that the second and fourth syllables require emphasis for correct pronunciation. If our pronunciation guide isn’t clear, please double check online. There may also be differences between British English and American English pronunciations, such as the word “glacier.” In the UK, this word sounds like “glass-ee-er” and in the US, it is closer to “glay-sher.” Try to choose the American English pronunciation when possible because our teams are most likely to have heard that pronunciation before. The most important thing is to pronounce the word the same way each time a question is read.

Sometimes, readers may misinterpret the answer or disagree with what is on the answer sheet. When applicable, we try to include our reasoning in parentheses after any answer that may seem tricky. For math problems, we always include the equations. However, it is possible the the USAT writers made a mistake. If a facilitator/reader has an issue with a question or answer, they need to talk to the host/facilitator to resolve the issue before the Tri begins. In most cases, the answer can be checked against a reputable source or an alternate question can be substituted.

What do you do when only two teams compete in an oral Face-Off! Round?

Ideally, Meets have six or nine teams competing. However, we also try to respect travel time and expense for school districts, and may schedule Meets that have a different number of teams. The only event where this can make a difference is in the oral Face-Off! round. If a Tri has only two teams competing, proceed the same as you would in a three-team Tri.

However, this gives those teams an advantage because they only need to “out-buzz” one other opponent rather than two. To counteract this advantage, each team’s score should be multiplied by .67 (two-thirds) and rounded to the nearest whole number before being entered into the scoring spreadsheet and multiplied by 5. We do this because it gives all teams the opportunity to answer all of the same questions, but mathematically creates a “third team” to compete with.

For example, if only Team X and Team Y are competing, and Team X got 25 questions right, their score would be 25 x .67 = 16.75, rounded up to 17, and multiplied by 5 to get a raw oral Face-Off! score of 85. Though it is true that they answered 25 questions right, they also had a greater opportunity to answer all of the questions than teams competing in a three-team Tri. It may be possible that they would have gotten the same 25 questions right if they were in a three-team Tri, but there is no way of knowing that. Instead of speculating on what may have occurred, this process accounts for and eliminates the advantage we definitely know Team X had going into a two-team Tri.

Are there any special cases we missed? Have another question about how Face-Off! scoring works? Leave us a comment or contact

For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators, Scoring

How to Calculate a Tie-Breaker

In our last post, we went into detail about how ordinalized scoring works. This system allows for ranking of teams relative to the performance of the other teams at their Meet, but it is still possible to end up with a tie. If this occurs during a Round Robin Meet, the tie stands and the Host/Facilitator may request additional ribbons as appropriate. However, during Regionals, only the first place team at each Meet can advance to the State Meet.

In the event of a tie at the Regional Meet, these are the steps to break a tie:

1 – In case of tied ordinal score rankings, the team with the highest combined raw score wins.

For example: The top two teams each have an ordinalized score of 250. Team X received this score by getting ordinalized score of 100 + 70 + 80 for P.A.R.T.Y., Mind Sprints, and Face-Off!; and Team Y received this score by getting 50 + 100 + 100 in the same order. However, if Team X received a total raw score of 175 and Team Y’s raw score was 170, Team X would receive first place and Team Y would receive second place.

2 – If still tied, the team that did the best in the most events wins.

For example: In the case of Teams X and Y above, let’s assume instead that they received the same raw score of 175. In this case, Team Y came in first in two events and Team X came in first in one. Team Y would receive first place and Team X would receive second place.

3 – In the highly unlikely case the teams are still tied, the Host/Facilitator flips a coin.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators

How Does USAT Ordinalized Scoring Work?

During a Meet, teams compete in three different events, but some of these events have multiple parts and different scoring methods. Mind Sprint challenges, for instance, each have their own way of keeping score, but are counted as a single event. P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box uses the same basic rubric for each Meet. Oral Face-Off! always contains the same number of questions and they are each worth one point. However, written Face-Off! can vary from Meet to Meet. This all could become very complicated to score!

Face-Off!, Mind Sprints, and P.A.R.T.Y. in Box are each worth 100 points of the total 300 points  each team could receive each Meet. In order to give each of the three events the same weight, we use a method called ordinalized scoring. The good news is that when you use the scoring spreadsheet we provide, all the math is done for you to eliminate the guesswork. But as the new season begins, we thought it would be a good idea to explain how it works.

Calculating Raw Scores

The raw score is fairly straightforward. This is the total number of points teams earn in each event according to its rubric. In oral Face-Off!, this is the number of times a team answered correctly, then multiplied by 5 automatically the scoring spreadsheet. This makes the highest possible raw score 200 points, but this would mean one team buzzed in and got every single question right. This is highly unlikely, but technically possible. Only the oral Face-Off! score is multiplied by 5.

In written Face-Off!, there are 15 questions and the point value for each question is listed at the beginning of the question itself. Usually, they are worth a range of 1-6 points, depending on the complexity of the question. We do our best to make sure the expectations for how to score a question are clear in the questions itself. If a question asks the teams to list three rhyming words, for instance, the score will be out of 3 points (3 pts.). Correct spelling is always required in order to earn full points for an answer. There is no way to award a partial point, only whole numbers. There is no way to award “extra credit,” though any answers that strike a facilitator as particularly creative are eligible for a Mary Ann Berdan award. Written Face-Off! scores are not multiplied by 5, but are then added to the oral round raw score to get the total Face-Off! raw score.

If you are a facilitator for either oral or written Face-Off!, make sure to look over the questions before the round begins so you can consult with the Host/Facilitator if you have questions. It is possible for multiple teams to earn the full points on oral Face-Off! if they are in different Tris, and any team can earn the full points available on the written round.

In P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, we use the same base scoring rubric for each Meet. The minimum number of points awarded in each area is either 2 or 5, depending on the rubric. (For more information on why we don’t give zeroes, see this post [add link].) The highest total score possible in this event is 117 points. It is possible for more than one team to earn all of the points.

In the instruction sheet of each Mind Sprint challenge, there is a designated Scoring section. It is usually the last section, but in some cases the information would need to be concealed from students and it could appear earlier in the instructions. Mind Sprint Score Sheets are designed in a way to make it easy for you to score each challenge, but because the scoring will be different for each one, the rubrics will not always be laid out the same way. Usually, we provide a space for you to make hash marks as the challenge is occurring so you can count up the total points either after each team or at the end of the Meet.

Some teams may have much higher scores than others, especially in brainstorming and quick-answer challenges. Other times, you may see a challenge such as a graphing worksheet where the majority of teams earn all of the available points. Mind Sprint challenges vary the most from Meet to Meet, and even within a Meet. However, we do try to balance the types of challenges across the season to offer variety and fun for the teams. If you are facilitating a Mind Sprint challenge, be sure to look over both the instructions and the scoring rubric before the teams arrive so you can ask the Host/Facilitator any questions before the Meet begins.

In all cases, if penalties need to be assessed, the penalty comes off the raw score. In a future post, we’ll discuss penalties in greater depth, but this one simple rule is important to stress. A 5-point penalty can have a much greater impact on an ordinalized score than on a raw score.

Ordinalizing Scores

Ordinalizing scores allows us to give teams a ranking according to their scores. From here on out, only their rank relative to other teams is what matters.

Once the raw scores are tallied, they go into the scoring spreadsheet (ATSCORE97). Each raw score is converted to a new number starting with 100 for the top score and decreasing by 10 points for each subsequent score down to 20 points for the lowest raw score. Meets with fewer than nine teams will not use all of the numbers between 100 and 20.

All teams with the same highest raw score get an ordinalized score of 100, there is no tie-breaker at this stage. For example, if three teams all get the same high score, they each receive 100 as their ordinalized score. In this case, the team(s) with the second-highest raw score get an ordinalized score of 70.

Sometimes, we receive comments that this practice is not fair, and the second-highest scoring team(s) should always receive an ordinalized score of 90 no matter how many teams tie for the highest raw score. However, skipping over the ordinalized scores in between 100 and the appropriate lower tier is more representative of what actually occurred. If three teams tied for first place, there are three teams occupying the first, second, and third place tiers already. But none of them are being penalized for getting the same score as two other teams. To award the team(s) with the second-highest score (which can also be viewed as the fourth-highest scoring team) an ordinalized score of 90 would not reflect the number of teams who outscored them in that event. The team(s) with the second-highest score is still outranked by three other teams, and a score of 70 reflects that accurately.

Calculating Final Scores

Once each event’s ordinalized score is established, the final score for the whole Meet is calculated. To do this, the three ordinalized scores are added together. For example, a team could receive 60 for Face-Off!, 70 for P.A.R.T.Y. and 90 for Mind Sprints, and their total final score would be 220. The highest possible ordinalized score any team could receive is 300, meaning that they had the highest rank in each of the individual events. Because it is possible for teams to share the top 100 ordinal rank, it is also technically possible there could be a tie for first place.

At this point, teams are given their final rank for ease and understanding. First place (based on their total ordinalized scores) receives the rank of 100, second place 90, and so on.

Next time, we’ll discuss what to do in the case of a tie. But for now, we hope this post has helped to clarify how our ordinal scoring system works.


Elements of Storytelling Links

Over the past two seasons, we’ve provided several posts with tips for crafting P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skits. To make it simple to review them as this season begins, we’re putting links to them in one easy to find place.

The Theme

We always shape our P.A.R.T.Y. prompts around themes and make it easy to find (hint: it’s always #3 on the scoring rubric!). We think themes are so important, in fact, that it is also the area where students have the most potential to score points. Read more

The Protagonist(s)

Most often, protagonists are heroes, but that’s not always the case. Basically, the protagonist is the one in a story who has goals that need to be accomplished, and consequences if those goals aren’t reached. Read more

The Antagonist

This post is to help our Triathletes get a little insight into crafting the perfect villain for their P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skits to help the first two items really shine. Read more

The Beginning

Now, it’s time to take a look at how to structure a story and use the five minutes allotted to the skit to the best advantage. With so little time both to plan and to perform, it’s important to choose the right starting point. Read more

The Middle

If you’ve ever been a coach or judge for P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, you know that students rarely use their full five minutes. They end up rushing because they are afraid of the penalty for going over, or they didn’t plan a very long story to begin with. The middle is often sacrificed in the race to the end, but the middle is actually the “meat” of any story. Read more

The End

don’t jump straight to the big finish just yet; there’s still some important work to do. In fact, there was so much to say about constructing the end of a story, we decided to break this post into two parts. This post will cover everything between the Midpoint and the Finale. Read more

The Finale

Now is the time to put everything the protagonist has learned to the test. To keep the tension high throughout the final act, the plan of attack has to hit a snag. We also discuss the “Final Image” that is a mirror of the “Opening Image.” Read more

(Featured image is from