A Loudoun County eighth-grader won first place at the 26th annual National Geographic Bee Wednesday.

Akhil Rekulapelli, 13, claimed the top honor after he correctly answered this question:

The discovery of a major shale oil deposit in the Vaca Muerta formation in 2010 has led to an expansion of oil drilling in the Neuquén province in what country?

Answer: Argentina.

Akhil, from Stone Hill Middle School in Ashburn, said his “head was racing” when he heard the first part of the question, but then he recognized the name of the province.

“I feel like all my hard work has paid off,” he said.

Akhil redoubled his efforts to study for the contest after he came in fourth place last year.

He pored over the National Geographic Atlas of the World, and he used Wikipedia and other Web sites and books to learn about each country. In addition to studying mountain ranges and major lakes, rivers and tributaries, he also memorized each country’s main cities, as well as all of the provinces and their capitals.

He estimated that he spent three hours studying geography each weeknight and eight hours a day on the weekends.

He also had a study coach who gave him advice on how to stay calm and reminded him to take breaks.

“When you just study, I don’t think you can get so far, because you can just stress yourself out,” he said.

Akhil said he has been interested in geography as long as he can remember. When he was a toddler, his parents got him a puzzle of the United States that he liked to put together over and over again, he said. He took part in his first school wide geography bee when he was in fifth grade.

The first prize winner earns a $50,000 college scholarship and a trip for two to the Galápagos Islands as well as a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

The final round will air at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD.