What is…Science Olympiad?

As part of my bio, I mention that I’m on a Science Olympiad team, and quite a few people have questions as to what Science Olympiad is, especially recently, as the start of the school year looms and people have to choose their extracurricular activities.

It’s one of those things that doesn’t make any sense at all when you hear about it, but makes all the sense in the world once you get it. First off, it’s a competition that includes events that spans across almost all fields of science- Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, and all that. There are 23 different events, most with cool names such as “Mission Possible” (y’know, from Mission IMpossible?), “Wright Stuff (which, non-surprisingly, involves airplanes), or “Can’t Judge a Powder”.

For each of the 23 events, a pair of students from each team will represent their respective school.  So no student has to go into an event by themselves, which removes some (in my case, most) of the ‘test’ pressure.  Schools mix up the event pairings, so that the students work with a variety of event partners, trying to best utilize the students’ skills and interests for a good overall outcome.  

There are several different types of events. First of all, building events are where competitors design and construct a, well, thing, to achieve a specific goal in compliance with the building guidelines. These generally take the most time, since both the construction time and the calibration time need to be taken into account. In this upcoming 2015-2016 season, a couple of the building events include-

  • Air Trajectory- An event where competitors build a device designed to launch a projectile a certain (unknown) distance. They don’t know what the distance will be until the reach the competition, so they have to practice every distance possible.
  • Bridge Building- Where competitors design a bridge that is most efficient (that is, lightest), and holds the most weight.

Lab events are events that involve a lab. A few different lab events include Crime Busters (only for Middle School), where competitors attempt to identify substances in order to solve who committed the crime at a crime scene, or Can’t Judge a Powder (also in Middle School), where competitors attempt to make all the observations possible in a short amount of time about a certain powder, then complete a test based on the observations made.

Identification events, or ID events, are events where teammates learn to identify around 100 different types of specimens, in a specific topic. After learning how to identify them, they learn facts about the specimens and prepare to take a test based on their knowledge. This year, the ID events are Fossils and Invasive Species, both with 90+ different types of specimens to identify.

Lastly, there are simply study events, where teammates study a topic, such as Anatomy, Astronomy, or Simple Machines, and then take a test based on their knowledge.

All of these events take at least 100 hours of practice time EACH, so someone with 3 events needs to spend at least 300 hours on Science Olympiad in order to do well.

I’m not sure how different schools choose events, but for our school, we submit a list of events to our coach (who knows the schedule on competition day) and he places you in both events that you want and that most logically fits the schedule.

Each individual student usually competes in 3-5 events.  There are individual awards given for the top few placements in each of the 23 events, plus overall team awards.  The overall team ranking is based on the placement on each event, 1 point for 1st place, say, and 10 points for a 10th place…so low score wins for the overall team award.

For competitions, there is first a “Regionals” meet around mid/end of March. The qualifiers from Regionals will move on to States, usually around mid-March. If you do SUPER really well, then you get to move on to Nationals, which a different college hosts each year. There are also invitationals, which are small competitions that are held so that competitors can get the gist of the competition.

So one of my favorite parts is the cool social aspect about the whole thing. Now when people generally hear about SciOly, they go “Oh, is that some sort of nerdy thing that you do and is super hard?”…..but what I love is that there is an awesome social thing to the whole thing. (IDK about schools generally, but from what I’ve heard and experienced, both from my “school” and from others, it’s almost always a great social thing as well, unless you’re bound and determined to hate the program. :P)

Science Olympiad is really a big time drain (this is very much emphasized!!!!), especially during tournament season, which is about February/March/April. Before tournament season, our team spends at least 15 hours a week studying/in transit (for Science Olympiad causes, i.e. to partner’s houses, extra meetings, practice places, etc). During tournament season, it ups to about 20/25 hours. Of course, the people with more events have to spend more time on their events. ID events and building events generally take the most time, ID events because all the specimens have to be learned and identified, building events because the calibration takes, simply, a ridiculous amount of time.

I believe that most of the reason that I love Science Olympiad so much is because of my awesome coach. 😄 He coaches three teams altogether- a middle school team, a backup middle school team, and a high school team. He manages to take even preferences and schedules for three different teams (up to 45 people!!) combine them in the best way possible to make everyone happy. Other than that, he is just a great person that I love to work with and look up to. His entire family (and extended family!!) is great too. 🙂 

To close off, Science Olympiad is wonderful….and I totally recommend everyone doing it. However, it does take an outlandish amount of time….and is very frustrating at times. It’s totally awesome…and you make lots of friends while at it, while also learning a lot. It is SO much fun, I love it, and it is perfect for someone with too much time on their hands.

Some good links to check out are-

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