Princeton Herpetology Exam
I already posted in the Princeton Invitational forum, but I thought I would post some information here that may be helpful to those that took my exam and those that will take it in the future. I would encourage all of you to take it under the testing conditions described below.
Time per station: 2:15
Transition: 7 seconds
I was fairly lax on binders, but I did force some teams to give up their field guides that were not in binders.
Out of 398 (Changed from 400 due to answer sheet error):
I believe Princeton SO will be releasing histograms so I wont bother with that information.
By most alumni-ES standards, a test is successful if the high score is above 50%. I typically aim for 60%, but since the top 6 had such a nice point spread, Im pretty satisfied.
I consider this exam to be one of the most difficult ones out there right next to Joyce Gu's MIT exams. The ID portion of my exams is never meant to be tricky - if you know it, you know it. I dont see value in trying to "trick" teams by giving obscure/bad images. I did force teams to identify between similar-looking genus' because that is certainly a good skill to pinpoint.
I had a pretty fair mix of question difficulty, but it definitely leaned to the hard side. I really dislike writing multiple choice questions, so I usually opt for true/false (which also suck, but are better to write). I tried to tap into little anatomy, ecology, physics, and a few other disciplines because I always enjoyed those questions that I could use my intuition from other events to answer.
For most of the stations, I kinda just randomly picked a family/genus and started googling, wrote about 6-8 pts worth of questions from basic sources (wiki, other normal websites) and then started diving into the literature to look for interesting things. I typically start in google scholar and then branch out if I get fixated on a specific topic of interest. I also got some ideas from my old Invasives partner who is now in her senior year and a competitor in the event. This definitely was a huge help in getting inspiration for some of the wackier and more interesting stations that I would not have been able to come up with myself.
I noticed that many teams struggled to complete stations in the given amount of time. Although it certainly was a time crunch, I know there are definitely teams out there that could have done it, and I did not see very many teams practicing good ID event strategies so I thought I would discuss this a bit. Good strategies that I saw included:
Test Alternating: I characterize this as when partners alternate between writing on the answer sheet and looking in their binder/reading the questions on the stations. Typically, they start on opposite ends of the station and work towards each other. This is probably the most efficient method to answer all of the questions. When I was a competitor, my partner and I always used this method to answer all the questions. We typically would ID together and then I would start on the last question and she would start on the 2nd one.
Info feeding: This is basically when one partner is telling the other what to write and there is a "division of labor". I feel this is less effective than the above, but probably works better if one partner is significantly better-versed in the event than the other.
Far too many teams were relaxed during the exam. If you dont wish the test was over after the 10th station, you are probably not trying hard enough. ID events are a test of endurance and the teams that push themselves to continue answering questions as fast as they can for the entire 50 minutes are the teams that will do the best.
Comment on intuition:
Something that I think is particularly important is for teams to develop intuition in ID events rather than blindly relying on info from a binder. This is the reason I take the extra step of going into publications and incorporating information into my exams. I do not include extremely specific details - I present teams with data that was uncovered in the experiments and have them draw conclusions from it. I believe application questions like this are the heart and soul of science olympiad and are rarely seen in ID events. That is something I would like to help change.
Although I couldnt get real specimens for logistical reasons (I do not attend Princeton, and coordinating specimens would be rather difficult), I did the next best thing and got some rubber frogs to use for IDing amplexus. I hope teams got a kick out of it. They worked pretty well and the staples I used to hold them in position actually held throughout the day.
I hope you all enjoy the test and I do hope it helps you in preparation for regionals/states/nationals. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me!