# International Science Olympiads

Photo by Makuahine Pa'i Ki'i [CC-BY-2.0],via Flickr

**Author: Sophia Luo**

After taking courses in math or science, how will you test your skills further? Passing the class does not necessarily mean that you are finished with developing your proficiency in STEM subjects. What can push you to continue learning more? What will further motivate you to do well and thus prepare yourself for your future?

A good way to become more skillful in STEM-related subjects as a high school student is to participate in competitions. There are many internationally recognized contests, also known as Olympiads, which can help beef up your resume when applying to college. Before becoming eligible for these international competitions, you must first qualify via a contest that is administered nationally. Depending on the Olympiad, you may have to overcome several qualifying competitions before being selected for the United States’ team. In this post, I will focus on some of the more popular Olympiads listed in alphabetical order below:

International Biology Olympiad (IBO)

International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO)

International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI)

International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL)

International Math Olympiad (IMO)

International Physics Olympiad (IPhO)

A Complete Listing of the International Science Olympiads

## International Biology Olympiad (IBO)

The International Biology Olympiad helps promote awareness and interest in biology. On the official website, it states that students’, “skills in tackling biological problems, and dealing with biological experiments are tested. Interest in biology, inventiveness, creativity, and perseverance are necessary.” Each country that supports and takes part in IBO selects four students based on the results from its national competition.

In the United States, that qualifying contest is called the USA Biology Olympiad (USABO). To participate, your school must be registered by a licensed teacher or test administrator. This is to ensure that the contest is being administered fairly nationwide. If your school is not affiliated with USABO, do not worry. You can always take the initiative and request the school administration to register. The fee is only $75.

In the USABO, there are two rounds of exams. You must pass the first one in order to take the second one. As stated on the contest’s official website, the top twenty students “are invited to a residential training program where they learn advanced biological concepts and exacting lab skills at Purdue University. Ultimately, four students earn the right to represent the USA at the International Biology Olympiad (IBO), a worldwide competition involving student teams from roughly six countries.” Talk about fierce competition! Don’t worry though – there are winners every year, and with hard work and perseverance it could be you.

To prepare for the multiple exams, you should first take at least one year of high school biology. This way, you have a foundation from which you can further develop your skills. If you search online, you may also be able to find previous USABO tests that you can use as diagnostic exams and practice questions.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

IBO: http://www.ibo-info.org/

USABO: http://www.cee.org/usa-biology-olympiad-usabo

## International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO)

The International Chemistry Olympiad was founded on the basis that its contests, “should promote friendship and co-operation among the pupils, closer contacts among the young scientific workers, exchange of pedagogical and scientific experience,” as stated on the official website. To qualify for this international competition in the USA, students must first compete in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO). Afterwards, four participants are chosen to represent the United States internationally.

In order to compete in the USNCO, students must first compete in their local chemistry Olympiad that is open to everyone. Students are nominated to attend the national Olympiad by their high schools based on their scores in the local competition. From the roughly 1000 national competitors, the top 20 students are invited to attend a two-week camp to demonstrate their skills. Finally, four students are chosen to be on the U.S. team to take part in the International Chemistry Olympiad, which consists of a five-hour laboratory practical and a five-hour written theoretical exam.

Though this process is tough, there are plenty of resources that you can utilize. On the USNCO website, there are many past exams, starting from 1999, with which you can use to practice and test yourself. You will want to have at least taken one year of high school chemistry so that you can handle the information-intensive content tested in the exams.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

IChO: http://www.icho.sk/

USNCO: http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/highschool/olympiad.html

## International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI)

According to the official website, “the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) is one of the most recognized computer science competitions in the world.” The topics that are tested include problem analysis, algorithmic programming, and the manipulation of data structures. Countries that participate in the competition send four students and two adult representatives. The students take the contest individually and solve as many problems as possible to increase their score. In order to qualify for this prestigious level of competition in the United States, students must first qualify via the USA Computing Olympiad (USACO).

There are three divisions in USACO: The Bronze level is for those who are novices in programming and have learned the beginnings of problem-solving techniques. Silver is for students who are learning “standard” algorithmic skills, and gold is for advanced students who have mastered the two previous levels and who have a firm understanding of computing and problem solving. All participants begin at the bronze level. After each competition a fraction of the competitors in each level, with the exception of gold, advance to the next division. About sixteen to twenty four students are invited to a summer camp where the final four students are chosen to represent the United States at the IOI.

The process of moving up the divisions and doing well in the competitions is challenging, but USACO’s website offers the questions and solutions to contests from previous years. Referring to these and using them to gauge your skill level may be helpful. Additionally, USACO has a specific training page where you can solve many problems and run your code against a multitude of test cases. This is extremely beneficial if you want to know how the real USACO contests work and for practice in general. To compete, you must be able to program in Java, C++, or Python since they are the programming languages that the contest can process and have test cases for.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

IOI: http://www.ioinformatics.org/index.shtml

USACO: http://usaco.org/

## International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL)

The International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) is a contest that tests students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. No prior knowledge of languages or linguistics is actually necessary to compete. The official website states that “even the hardest problems require only your logical ability, patient work, and willingness to think around corners.” To qualify for the IOL in the United States, students must first take the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO).

The NACLO is administered at a multitude of colleges and universities across the nation. Some high schools are registered test centers as well. The official website states that “the format is a written test with linguistic puzzles which you solve and then explain your reasoning...” After taking the first competition, which is available to everyone, you must be invited to take the second round based on your preliminary ranking. Given that linguistics is not a popular course to take in high schools, you will probably want to refer to both the NACLO and IOL websites for resources you can use to develop your skills. Virtually all past exams and solutions of all the rounds are posted. Moreover, on the NACLO website, there are hyperlinks that lead you to additional resources, such as more practice problems and recommended textbooks.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

IOL: http://www.ioling.org/

NACLO: http://www.naclo.cs.cmu.edu/

## International Math Olympiad (IMO)

As “the World Championship Mathematics Competition for High School Students,” the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is one of the most popular Olympiads on an international level. With more than 100 participating countries, it is hosted in a different nation every year. To represent the United States in this prestigious competition, students must first qualify via the American Mathematics Competition (AMC).

There are three AMC exams to take: the AMC 8, AMC 10 and AMC 12. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the organization that runs these exams, suggests that students in grades 6, 7, and 8 participate in the AMC 8, while high school freshmen and sophomores take the AMC 10, andstudents in grades 11 and 12 take the AMC 12. This is not to say that younger students cannot take exams that are above their grade level. The AMC 8 is a 40-minute multiple choice exam consisting of 25 questions and designed to test students’ understanding of middle school mathematics. It is held annually in November, and many intramural awards are given to those who do wellincluding a Certificate of Distinction, an AMC 8 Winner Pin, and a Certificate for Outstanding Achievement. The AMC 10 and 12 are both 75 minute multiple choice exams of 25 questions. Students can use concepts from algebra and geometry to solve problems from the AMC 10, while an understanding of pre-calculus concepts is required for the AMC 12. Each AMC test “is one in a series of examinations that culminate in participation in the international Mathematical Olympiad.” Though many students may not qualify for the next exam after the AMC 10/12, they may earn other awards as distributed by the Mathematical Association of America.

Qualifying for the IMO is an extensive process, and taking the AMC is only one of the stepping stones. Despite the arduous process, there are plenty of available materials you can use to prepare yourself. On the MAA’s website, there is a link to the AMC store which will direct youto a collection of useful math textbooks and workbooks.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

IMO: http://www.imo-official.org/

AMC: http://www.maa.org/math-competitions

## International Physics Olympiad (IPhO)

The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) allows high school students from all over the world to compete in physics. Like the other Olympiads, in order to compete internationally and represent their countries, students must first pass qualifying exams. In the United States, pupils must take the preliminary exam (also known as the F_net = ma exam), a quarterfinal exam, and a semifinal exam. The last two are sometimes collectively known as the USA Physics Olympics (USAPhO).

The F_net = ma exam has a total of 140 possible points and is 100 minutes long. It consists of 25 multiple choice questions that should be completed within 75 minutes, and the remaining time is used for free-response questions. Each problem is worth one point. However, each wrong answer results in a 0.25-point penalty from your overall score. The 400 students with the highest scores in the nation are invited to take the semifinal exam, a 200-point 3-hour-long Test that is entirely made up of free-response problems. The semifinal exam is split into two parts. The first one is comprised of 4 problems that are 25 points eachand must be completed within 90 minutes. The second section is also 90 minutes long and has only two problems that are worth 50 points each. The 20 students who score the highest in this semifinal exam are invited to the US training camp. From there, the top 5 students are chosen to be on the US team.

As with the other Olympiads, USAPhO and the IPhO both maintain websites that offer previous years’ problems and solutions. You will need a basic foundation in physics so onegood way to start would be to take an AP Physics course whose curriculum is set by the Collegeboard.

**For more information check out the official websites:**

USAPhO: http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Wiki/index.php/United_States_Physics_Olympics

IPhO: http://ipho.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/ipho-history.html

## A Complete Listing of the International Science Olympiads

- International Mathematical Olympiad
- International Physics Olympiad
- International Philosophy Olympiad
- International Environmental Project Olympiad
- International Astronomy Olympiad
- International Geography Olympiad
- International Junior Science Olympiad
- International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics
- International Earth Science Olympiad
- International Young Investors Project Olympiad

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