Overview of Science Olympiad
|Preparing to Compete|
Science Olympiad is a team-based competition for grades K-12 based in the United States (though some International Teams may compete at specific tournaments). Competitors may participate in three different divisions based on grade level, with Division A serving grades K-6, Division B serving grades 6-9, and Division C serving grades 9-12. Science Olympiad was created with the intent "to increase K-12 student and teacher participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)". The program emphasizes teamwork as well as academic excellence.
For more information on the history of Science Olympiad, see National Science Olympiad History.
Each division has 23 events, consisting of a variety of different topics. There are multiple types of events including core knowledge, build, lab or hands-on, and hybrid. Core knowledge (also known as study) events revolve around content knowledge of a specific area, such as Anatomy and Physiology or Dynamic Planet. Build events require students to build a device such as a Mousetrap Vehicle, and lab events like Forensics mainly take the form of an experiment or heavily involve lab work. Hybrid events combine one or more of these types, such as Protein Modeling which involves both a building portion and a written test. Each of these events types can also be sorted into five different content areas: life, personal and social science; Earth and space science; physical science and chemistry, technology and engineering, or inquiry and nature of science. The current list of events is always available on soinc.org, as well as on the main page of the Scioly.org Wiki. Events rotate out every year, giving each competitor a chance to compete in something new.
Each event allows two to three students to participate, and no student is ever required to compete in an event on their own. Different resources such as binders, field guides, or notesheets may be allowed depending on the rules. Students are encouraged to work collaboratively with not only their event partners, but with professionals and other students in order to prepare for their events.
Forming a Team
In Division B and Division C, competition takes place using teams with a maximum of 15 students from the same school or organization (such as homeschool groups). While some teams may have less, they may not have more. Depending on the policies of individual competitions, schools may also send more than one team (typically a maximum of two but sometimes three). Teams must register with both their state and the national organization in order to attend competitions.
Rules exist to limit the participation of 9th graders in Division B and 12th graders in Division C - because some schools may not serve all grades, they would not have access to as many older students that have taken further science classes. Division C teams may only have seven 12th grade students. Division B teams may have a maximum of five 9th grade students or students who have graduated and were previously on the team. Each competitor can do any number of events, schedule-permitting. The schedule for the National Tournament is found in the yearly rules manual, having six event blocks where students can compete. However, a state schedule may differ from the national schedule, and competitors should always check with their state organization for their tournament's schedule.
- Main article: Division A
Division A (also known as Elementary Science Olympiad or ESO) slightly varies in format from Division B and Division C. There are no state or national competitions for Division A, and events may vary wildly depending on where they are held. Larger competitive events may be held for grades 3-6, but fun nights and events may be held for all ages.
- Main article: General Competition
Competitions may take place at four different levels: invitational, regional, state, and national. Invitational tournaments are typically hosted by area schools or colleges, and do not determine further advancement in the competition. Teams typically compete at these tournaments for fun or for additional practice, seeking to prepare for further competitions such as a regional or state tournament. Not all states hold regional tournaments, however. States that have very few teams such as West Virginia or Wyoming may only have a state tournament, though most states have both a regional and state tournament. A state tournament determines a team's advancement to the national tournament. A different national tournament is held every year at a designated location (typically a college or university). The highest placing team(s) from each state advance, with 60 teams competing in each division.
Tournaments typically begin with an "impound period", where competitors drop pre-built devices off so that event supervisors can score or inspect them. The impound requirements are different for each event, so reading the rules is important in order to score as many points as possible. Several events have scoring penalties if competitors do not impound a device or do not impound the required materials. Once the impound period is over, tournaments proceed using a block schedule. Certain events occur in each block, with some occurring in multiple blocks depending on the schedule. After each competitor has finished their events, there is typically a break before the awards ceremony begins. This is where individual placements are announced and medals are awarded to the highest placing competitors in each event.
- Main article: Scoring
Most Science Olympiad tournaments follow a lowest score wins format, similar to golf. Each team receives points for the placements that it gets in each event - first place awards one point, second place awards two, etc. Disqualifications award points for the number of competing teams at the tournament plus one, while teams that do not compete in an event are awarded one point for each competing team. Initially, Science Olympiad used a highest score wins format which is still used by some states today. However, it has largely fallen out of use in favor for the lowest score wins format.
Depending on a team's performance at a tournament, they may qualify to advance to the next level of competition. The qualifications for this depend on the tournament - many more teams advance to the state level from a regional tournament, with as many as a dozen teams advancing in some larger regions. At the state level, one or two teams advance to the national tournament, depending on the state. The amount of bids that a state receives to the national tournament is calculated based on the amount of teams it has - the states with the most teams will send two teams in a division to the national tournament, while smaller states will only send one.
- Main article: 2020-2021 Tournament Formats
As a result of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak, two new tournament formats were implemented for the 2021 season. These new formats allow competitors to compete virtually for the first time. While standard tournaments may still be held depending on the conditions in a given state, mini and satellite tournaments were implemented in order to make competition possible regardless of a state's restrictions. Mini SO tournaments are completely virtual, with tests being taken by the competitors online at home. Satellite tournaments take place at the competitor's school, and tests are administered by teachers.