The National Tournament is the highest level of competition in Science Olympiad. Currently, 60 teams in Division B and 60 teams in Division C qualify each year at various state tournaments around the nation. There is no national-level tournament for Division A teams.
The first National Tournament was held in 1985 at Michigan State University, after two prior years of a Michigan state tournament. 19 teams from Division B and 26 teams from Division C attended the first national tournament, with states represented including Delaware and North Carolina (both of which had run a version of Science Olympiad since the 1970s), Ohio, South Dakota, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Minnesota, and North Dakota, among others.
The National Tournament grew quickly, stabilizing near 50 teams per division in the late 1980s. The number of teams has increased occasionally, with a de facto standard of 54 teams per division in the late 1990s and early 2000s (with the exception of 2002 where there were 60 teams per division), and eventually settling at 60 teams per division in 2005, where it has remained ever since. In the first, year some states (including Michigan and Ohio) were allowed to send three teams per division - the current bid allocation system was implemented the following year.
- Main article: Scoring
The original scoring method at the national tournament was high-score-wins. The first place team in each event earned 11 points, the second place team 10 points, and so on - all teams ranking outside of the top ten in an event earned one point. This same scoring method was used at national tournaments through 2000, with successively lower cutoffs and increasing points - by the 2000 National Tournament, the first place team in an event earned 41 points. This accounts for the occasional jump in scores at the national tournament, such as in 1994 and 1998.
In 2001, the current low-score-wins method was implemented at the national tournament, with the first place team in each event earning 1 point, the second place team earning 2 points, and so on. Since 2001, no two teams in an event have been awarded the same number of points under normal circumstances (exceptions include cases of scoring errors, such as in 2013 when J.C. Booth Middle School's rank in Disease Detectives was corrected to 27th place from No Show, resulting in both them and Bearden Middle School earning 27 points).
Currently, the National Tournament allows 60 teams per division. Each state with an active state organization is allotted a single bid - as of 2018, all 50 states have an active organization. The remaining bids are distributed based on the number of registered teams in each state organization, with the largest states each being allotted one additional bid. In most cases, this second bid goes to the second place team at the state tournament, although other options are possible, depending on the inclination of the state organization (see North Dakota).
In the days prior to the tournament, especially Friday and Thursday evening, several science-related activities and presentations are planned. Trial events may be run on either Saturday or Friday, depending on the inclination of the host and the availability of rooms. Friday culminates with the Opening Ceremony in the evening, which involves the Parade of States and speeches by representatives of the host institution and sponsors, and a keynote speech by a scientist. The National Tournament proper occurs on Saturday, with the teams competing in seven timeslots (including an impound timeslot in which two events are held), with ten teams per timeslot. All teams in a division have the same conflicts for most events, with build events (and occasionally a few others) being self-scheduled. The Awards Ceremony is held at around 7-10 PM that night, typically with both divisions combined (dependent on space). Sunday and Monday morning are typically set aside for national organization and rules committee meetings, with most teams having left by the end of Sunday.
At the National Tournament, the top six teams in each of the national events receive medals, and the top three teams in each of the trial events. The top ten teams receive team trophies, with all members of the 1st-6th place teams, and the coaches and captains of the 7th-10th place, being called on stage. There are also special awards, such as the DuPont Team Enterprise Award and the Lockheed Martin Spirit Award.
- Main Article: Category:National tournaments
- For additional statistics regarding the winners of the national tournament, please see National Tournament Winners.
Also see the past National Tournament results pages on soinc.org