As the premier biology competition for high school students (USABO) draws near, you’re probably wondering whether to register for the competition or not. The first step to making this decision is having sufficient information about the competition. Next, you need to know the right preparatory steps for it. That’s why we’ve put this article together to help you know everything you should about the competition before entering it. We’ll also review some helpful preparatory tips to prepare you for the different competition stages.
What Does USABO Mean?
Formally known as the USA Biology Olympiad, the USA Biolympiad (USABO) is a prestigious biology competition for high school students in the United States. The competition, launched in 2002, changed its name alongside some operating modalities in February 2022. The competition was started with a primary mission to recognize and empower young, talented life science students. The competition uses well-designed international networking opportunities and rigorous biology exams to achieve these aims.
The competition typically holds annually, so students from different parts of the United States can participate annually throughout their high school days as long as their school registers. Participating students will typically take a series of individual exams through different rounds of the competition.
The different rounds of the competition include:
- First round: the USABO online open exam
- Second round: the USABO online semifinal exam
- Third round: the USABO national finals exam
- Final round: international biology Olympiad (IBO)
The first round is open to all United States students of registered schools. The top 10 performers from the first round qualify for the second round (USABO semifinals), and the top 20 scorers from the USABO semifinals qualify for the National Finals.
How Does the US Bio Olympiad Competition Work?
As mentioned above, the body in charge of the USABO structures the competition into three stages culminating in a fourth and final round (International Biolympiad). Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved.
Register your school
Only students of registered US high schools are qualified for the competition. So you must be sure that your school is registered. Registered schools have access to the USABO open exams and are in charge of administering them to their students.
Register to participate
Beyond school registrations, students must register as individuals. You can register by logging in with your details on the registration page of the USABO official website.
Compete in the USABO open exam
Your initial registration qualifies you to participate in the first round of the competition, which is the USABO open exam. Thousands of registered students from different high schools around the US typically sit for this round, while the top 10% of scorers qualify for the next round.
Compete in the USABO semifinals
Like the first round, the USABO semifinals are administered online, and you won’t need to come to any physical location. The exam structure is typically different as this exam is almost double the length of the Open exam. Additionally, the questions here require short answers, unlike the open exam that’s multiple choice. This round’s top 20 scoring students qualify for the USABO National finals.
Compete in the USABO National finals
This round is usually more intense compared to the other two. Qualifying students are invited to participate in a 10-day training retreat at a university, after which they take the exams for two days. The two weeks of training will be anchored by experts and university professors, making it an opportunity to experience different learning structures.
The exam format here is also slightly different than the first two rounds. The round consists of theoretical and practical sections.
The top four scorers from this round would qualify to join the USA Biolympiad team. They’ll also compete in the IBO.
Compete in the IBO
Finally, all participants in the Biolympiad team qualify for the IBO. But before competing in the IBO, participants stay extra two or three days after the national exams for additional training and preparation before the IBO.
What Topics are Covered in the USABO Exams?
The format for each IBO exam is a bit different, and the questions typically become more complex as participants advance through different rounds. Throughout the exams, students would encounter different questions, including short answer questions, multiple choice, and hands-on practical questions. Let’s review the typical structure of USABO questions and what you should expect at each level.
Firstly, it’s important to note that the exam covers all domains of biology. The questions task students’ ability to apply their knowledge of biology concepts when analyzing and tackling advanced biological situations.
One of the first steps for effective studies is understanding the contents of the USABO. That said, here is the topic breakdown by percentage:
- Animal anatomy and physiology: 25%
- Genetics and Evolution: 20%
- Cell Biology: 20%
- Plant anatomy and physiology: 15%
- Ecology: 10%
- Biosystematics: 5%
- Ethology: 5%
Now that you know the content areas that USABO exams test, you’re probably wondering what the curriculum looks like. But there’s currently no curriculum or syllabus for preparing for the USABO exams. In other words, there’s no available list of topics or study areas that students can read or memorize to score high on the exam. But that doesn’t mean there are no benefits to hard work and adequate preparation. The next part of this article will review some preparatory tips you should know.
Still, the IBO follows set rules that dictate what content the exam tests. These rules were laid down to ensure consistency between different years of the IBO competition. They offer a sense of the exam’s typical design and what to expect.
How to Prepare for USABO: 5 Study Tips
Like most other competitive exams, the USABO exams are a lot to crack, and it takes more than a basic understanding of biology to do well in the exams. The first step to writing the exam is ensuring that your school registers for it. But beyond this, there’s so much to do. Here, we’ll review some essential tips to know when preparing for the USABO exams, including how to study for USABO. Let’s go!
Get a Teacher’s Support
One of the most efficient ways to prepare for the USABO is to get trusted guidance. If you intend to do well in the exam, you better get a trusted teacher in your corner from the start. Once you’re sure your school is registered to administer the exams, seek out a biology teacher that can guide you through preparations.
If you’ve chosen a teacher that’s not so familiar with USABO, you can help them get familiar with it. Simply walk them through the USABO site, where they’ll see everything they need to know about the exam, including the exam schedule, registration fees, etc. Of course, preparation starts a long time before you register, but a trusted teacher can help organize your studies and ensure that you’re physically and psychologically ready for the exam.
Use USABO’s Study Resources
Despite being an open exam, USABO exams are still typically complicated. The unavailability of any formal USABO curriculum makes it even more complicated. But don’t fret -. There are still many valuable resources that can help. For example, the body in charge of the contest typically provides links to several helpful resources on its website. You can always rely on these study materials to supplement your school-based biology learning.
While on the website, locate USABO’s students’ corner, from which you’ll find links to general study resources, recommended books, and past USABO questions. There’s no better way to get acquainted with the content and format of the USABO exams than through past exams.
Study the right materials and review past USABO questions
One tip to continually emphasize during preparations for the USABO exams is to use the correct study materials. Most past test takers recommend Campbell’s as the best preparation resource for the USABO. On our part, we recommend using the 8th edition or higher so you can get the most up-to-date knowledge. It’s important to thoroughly learn the concepts in Campbell.
This can help ensure the efficacy of your study while ensuring that you can retain information. The diagrams in these study materials are especially useful for detailed understanding and retention. While studying, keep a spiral-type notebook with plenty of room to write down key points and important details. Also, prioritize spending more time on chapters you find difficult.
On reviewing past questions, you’ll find a few in the textbook. However, the best place to find past USABO questions is on the Biolympiads website. While reviewing these USABO practice tests, ensure you understand the answers and how they were arrived at.
Master the right test-taking strategy
These days, there are many test-taking strategies online and offline. However, it makes sense to choose one that suits your study style and stick to it. Remember that the USABO Open exams have always been about problem-solving and the application of biology knowledge. Beyond knowing pure facts, you must understand how to use these facts. Thus, we typically advise test takers to check out available preparatory guides.
One of such guides is How to Prepare for the Biology Olympiad and Science Competitions by Martyna Petrulyte. The book features many test-taking strategies you can leverage to prepare better for the USABO exams.
Care about your well-being
While studying and preparing for the USABO exams, you don’t want to neglect the need to be physically and psychologically ready for it, and that’s why we always talk about caring for your well-being. You can’t deny the importance of having a good relaxation strategy. Managing your time goes beyond achieving all your goals. It’s also about being efficient and productive without any negative effects in the end. How long do you think you can last just focusing on studying? Isolating yourself from friends, eating junk foods, and ignoring physical exercise? Not very long.
For maximum performance, you need to find a balance in everything. Eat well enough, exercise regularly, and fund the time to rest from all the biology concepts you are bombarding your brain with. Once you get the USABO calendar, review what you intend to cover and break it into smaller chunks for more efficient preparation.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Study for USABO?
The USA Biolympiad is a prestigious competition, and making it to the final round of the competition is a thing of pride. However, the process begins with the open exam organized in participating schools, and you don’t want to take it lightly. Thus, the need to begin preparations long before the exam date. It’s not a coincidence that one of the most asked questions in USABO forums is, “how long should you spend studying for USABO.” The correct answer to this question is “as long as possible.”
Since there’s no official study guide for the USABO, finding efficient study materials is also key. In this article, we’ve reviewed some of the most effective preparatory tips to help ready you for challenging USABO questions. We’ve also provided all the information you should know about the exam before starting.