ScioVirtual Resources

Free resources for enterprising students hoping to learn about STEM competitions such as Science Olympiad or simply expand their scientific knowledge, also featuring a ScioVirtual blog posting important updates, events, and various articles.

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1/8/2022

Guides

Become an Expert Crime Buster with These Tips

By

Victoria Li

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

Introduction


     Hello! If you’re on this article then you’re most likely planning to compete in the Division B event Crime Busters (CB) and hopefully continue on with this glorious topic into Division C Forensics. This event is unique in that you don’t really need to have a strong foundation in any topic. CB is technically under the “Chemistry” category, but let’s be honest, you’re more likely to see bio-based questions about DNA testing than you are actual chem calculations. 

     In that sense, the event is easy to get into, but difficult to progress higher past that point. Every single test will be structured around a crime case: Division B will usually be some sort of theft or vandalism, but I’ve found that Division C is just full of murders. Therefore, the first thing you should always do is skim through the crime scene and suspect descriptions and underline important information. 

     Crime Busters (when in-person) can be generally split into a lab portion and a test portion. The lab consists of powder, and sometimes liquid, identification. It would definitely be helpful to have a comprehensive chart of how each substance reacts and behaves to aid you during the lab. Do not just have a flowchart in which some of the substances will be identified by process of elimination (i.e identifying a substance because it reacted with nothing)— you’re going to be screwed for certain competitions in which not all reactants will be available (i.e. iodine, hydrochloric acid, etc.). Especially since a lot of competitions have been virtual lately, so you’ll just be given descriptions instead, which often will not include things like visual and smell but have “mistakes” in the descriptions they offer. For example, if they give you a chart with 5 reactions for each powder and ask you to identify, 1-2 of the reactions will be incorrect and you’ll have to list out the mistakes as well. 

     *Ignore for virtual competitions* There are often other smaller labs throughout the room, usually chromatography. It takes a good 10-15 minutes for chromatography to develop, so if you notice your test having one, it’s a good idea to get one set up first. Chromatography itself is not hard but it’s easy to mess up. Make sure to:

  • Label each sample (with pencil) if there are multiple 
  • Keep the sides of the beaker where you are performing the chromatography dry 
  • Try to keep an eye on the clock → letting a chromatography sit there for 50 minutes isn’t a good idea
  • Keep an eye on the beaker → don’t let paper fall over (it may be a good idea to just skewer a pencil or stick through the paper and rest it on top of the beaker)
  • Listen carefully to the instructions your proctors give. Stations may be set up for each team or as communal ones for every team. Pay attention to which stations are available and where they are. Because sometimes if you ask your proctor where the chromatography paper is, they’ll just answer with “Everything you need is in this room.”


     Overall just know which partner is going to do which section (the person who does lab will likely finish early and help with sections of the test). Keep an eye on the clock so you’ll have time to discuss, choose a suspect, and write out your reasoning. Also try to keep a mental checklist on who the most likely perpetrator is based on your evidence so you won’t have to go back later. 


Resources


     Crime Busters Scioly Wiki is always a good place to start with learning the basic info and adding it all to a cheatsheet. The rest of the info you can find online → make sure to get a detailed list of uses for all substances (powders/liquids/fibers/plastics). Sometimes the suspect description will give you the use for a substance instead of the actual name: for example, a suspect that wears glasses can match with polycarbonate. 

     In my opinion, the best way to study for CB is to get hands-on practice, whether that’s taking an entire mock test or doing some lab work. If you don't have the powders or liquids available, it’s easy to go onto YouTube and search for things like “Iodine and Cornstarch Reaction”. 

     For hairs and fibers, http://www.microlabgallery.com/hair.aspx is a good source with tons of pictures of all different types of hairs. 

Some Other Tips

     If the test writer list is released ahead of time, try to look for previous tests that they have written. If not, look at a test from the same invitational from the year before. This’ll give you a good idea of what the test might contain, whether it’ll just be repeated info from old tests, or be styled like an Among Us game where there’s a chat log instead of a suspect description. For example, I remember there was one specific test writer that always wrote scenarios where there were two perpetrators that worked together. 

     Color code your cheat sheet. If you’ve read ScioVirtual’s Create your cheatsheet with tips from pros article, you’ll already be aware of the benefits. For CB especially → since it’s split into different sections with plastics, fibers, and powders, color coding will make it much easier to find information. 

     Continuously add to your cheat sheet. There will always be random trivia that you don’t know for forensics, and sometimes they’ll constitute a pretty decent chunk of the test. After all, there’s only so much information you can add through Google.  Go back through after a competition and note down the problems that were marked incorrect to update the cheat sheet. 


Conclusion


     Hopefully you now have a better idea or what to look out for and expect when competing in CB. 

     Good luck!

Hello! If you’re on this article then you’re most likely planning to compete in the Division B event Crime Busters (CB) and hopefully continue on with this glorious topic into Division C Forensics. This event is unique in that you don’t really need to have a strong foundation in any topic. CB is technically under the “Chemistry” category, but let’s be honest, you’re more likely to see bio-based questions about DNA testing than you are actual chem calculations.

Read

1/6/22

Guides

3 Study Methods to Succeed in Solar System

By

Vy Le

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

Shreyash Singh

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

Amir Akbar

ScioVirtual Instructor

Getting Started 

Hello there! If you’re here on this document, you’re probably looking for ways to prepare for Solar System for Science Olympiad, and fortunately you’re in luck! This event is a pretty niche topic, but as we begin to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, it becomes more important that we look for exoplanets and understand how they’re related to our own Solar System!


One of the bigger challenges with this event is the lack of close-up investigations that we can do with astronomical bodies besides Earth. Sure, there’s rovers and satellites that take photos, but we are still left with making theories as to what exactly goes on in these bodies. Thus, your answers will usually be based on well-supported evidence that you should know and understand.


As with many of the other events in Science Olympiad, these are not just facts to know. The statistics and fun facts about planets are going to be things to put on notes, but this event really calls for you to connect how planet formations/structures are not all that different from each other. The ultimate goal, here, is to develop a baseline understanding where you can use what you understand about the formation of our Sun and Solar System and apply it to systems beyond that (hence the topic of exoplanets).

Resources to Look For


If you’re a middle schooler, I’m fairly certain that you have some familiarity with the internet and the variety of websites that are available. This vast amount of information available to us is very useful for Science Olympiad, because it allows us to research specific topics easily, without the need to purchase a textbook. For Solar System, you can expect a large majority of your study time to be spent scouring the internet and taking notes. Of course, textbooks are always an option to supplement your learning, however I’d suggest against using textbooks for the Solar System event, as most textbooks go far beyond the scope of the event.


Of course, with the expanse of the internet available to us, it’s important to make sure the websites used are accurate and of high quality. It’s important to be able to understand the content and be sure that the content is actually true. 


Whenever you are considering the quality of a website as a resource, ask yourself the following questions:


  • Do I understand the majority of what the website is saying?
  • Does this content seem relevant to the Solar System event?
  • Does the website seem credible?


If you answer “yes” to all three questions, then you’re all set! If not, then you may want to reassess whether the website is worth using or not.


With a topic as broad as Solar System, there are many aspects of space that don’t appear in the event. This year’s topic focuses on planet formation and exoplanets, so an article about galaxy formation probably won’t be super helpful. Many websites go beyond the middle school level as well, so it’s important to make sure that the content isn’t too advanced for a middle school level competition.


Lastly, it’s always important to ensure that the information on the website is actually true. Content from well-known organizations and telescopes such as NASA and Chandra is most likely to be accurate, whereas information from a random website with no sources might be questionable. Also, Wikipedia can be very helpful, but only use it once you’ve exhausted more credible sources. Additionally, cross check information from Wikipedia with other sources to ensure its accuracy.


Here are some good resources to get you started:


  1. scioly.org
  2. https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/
  3. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/
  4. http://www.astronoo.com/en/articles/characteristics-of-planets.html
  5. https://www.space.com/35526-solar-system-formation.html 

More Active Learning


Learning is not as straightforward as it seems. If you’re just listening to your teacher monotonously talk for 50 minutes or reading off of an overwhelmingly wordy textbook while not thinking about all the information being thrown at you, then you’re not actually going to learn that much. There’s tons of more active ways to learn new information, you just need to make sure you know what options are available.


While this is the most time-consuming, one powerful method is note-taking, provided you are not copying everything down word-for-word. All that does is help you remember the statement, but not the meaning of the statement. If you want to prove to yourself that you understand what this all means, rephrase it so that it still has the same meaning, but show that you understand it in your own way. Sure, information ultimately has the same meaning, but people have different ways to understand something.


How do you go about studying images? Knowing to identify features, planets, systems, etc. are all important to Solar System. For this, you would have to memorize it, but as always, there are memorization strategies you can find online. Quizlet is an extremely useful resource to memorize these things if you use the “Learn” feature for a set of flashcards, but you can also create your own slideshow and mimic what Quizlet does.


As for the math, you should understand the principles as well as any basic level math that appears with them. This will make it easier to apply the qualitative aspects of these concepts. Not much more to be said really, math is awful but at least straightforward.


Now, how can you actively learn in more efficient manners after getting the basics? Practice problems or reading checks are vital to understanding. You want to gauge what topic areas you are and aren’t strong at by looking for problems that test these areas. Start off simple and do just factual recall so that you at least know some things exist. Good places for this include…


  1. SciOly Practice Tests
  2. SOINC Practice Tests
  3. Asking to trade invitational questions/tests with other schools. Yes, talking is important!


Only use the note sheet for really obscure facts that have little connection to any other content areas, statistics and numbers that you can’t remember, and any other images/graphs/charts that you may deem important to classify and/or know!

Applying this Knowledge


Now that you have a good base of knowledge in your studies of astronomy, it’s time to apply some of the general concepts you’ve learned to the more specific elements of the rules manual (see page 48). 


The easiest place to begin are with the year specific celestial bodies listed in the manual. This year, they are: HL Tauri, HR 8799, Kepler 138, K2-18b, K2-33b, and TOI-561. Similarly, the manual details a few important planetary missions: Magellan, Cassini, Galileo, Juno, Voyager 2, New Horizons, ALMA, Kepler, and TESS. Information on these can be found in the same way you accumulated general Solar System knowledge. Much of the information on these objects and missions will have to do with statistics such as orbital period or launch date, and thus, your cheat sheet (the 4 pages of allotted paper) is the perfect place to dump information like this. 4 pages may seem like plenty of space, but as the season goes on and you take more tests, that space will fill very quickly, so make sure that you are efficient with your space. Here is a sample Solar System cheat sheet which placed 2nd in the 2018 season. 


Aside from the celestial bodies and missions, this year’s rules manual focuses particularly on exoplanets. Again: the research skills you previously applied will be very helpful here. We suggest splitting which area of study you are researching, instead of doing all of them at once. For example, you could start by learning about the formation and structure of exoplanets, and then once you have gained an ample amount of knowledge, you can pivot to researching the atmospheres of these objects, and then later detection techniques and specific subsets of exoplanets.


In general, just make sure to stick with the good studying habits you’ve learned, and the more year-specific parts of the event won’t be difficult to learn.

Conclusion


This has been a pretty long read, but hopefully it gave you really good insight as to how to better prepare yourself for the event and all that our Universe has to offer! Again, the key is to make good use of the websites, note-taking strategies, and study habits and learn to apply the concepts beyond just knowing facts. Making those individual connections to find general relationships helps a lot in understanding images, graphs, and other features/structure of astronomical bodies.


Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you’ll go out of this world with Solar System!

For any questions, you can contact any of us three here:


Amir Akbar: amirjamalakbar@gmail.com

Vy Le: origamiking2000@gmail.com

Shreyash Singh: shreyash.r.singh@gmail.com

Hello there! If you’re here on this document, you’re probably looking for ways to prepare for Solar System for Science Olympiad, and fortunately you’re in luck! This event is a pretty niche topic, but as we begin to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, it becomes more important that we look for exoplanets and understand how they’re related to our own Solar System!

Read

1/6/22

Guides

5 Essential Websites to Master Codebusters

By

William Lee

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

Michelle Li

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

Here's the ultimate guide to all the amazing cryptography resources!

I have the links that were the most helpful for me last season in bold. However, don’t underestimate the other ones! There’s a lot left out there that I haven’t yet made much use of.

Your Bread and Butter (The Holy Grail)

https://cryptograms.puzzlebaron.com/ - an online source for basic aristocrats; don’t underestimate how much this website can help you (it’s basically all I did last season)

  • Create an account and hit the “play” option to participate in the monthly competitions for accuracy, speed, or total points.


By the National Supervisors

https://toebes.com/codebusters/index.html - all the practice tests you could ever want. You can also create your own tests or look at step-by-step walkthroughs on some of the sample questions. John Toebes is also a pretty nice guy, and if you want to win him over just mention that you’ve used his website before.

  • https://toebes.com/codebusters/TestGuidance.html - When making a test, be sure to make good use of this guide. It also gives you a sense of the point value spread you’ll need to get used to in order to find out which ciphers you’ll prioritize.

http://www.gregorybard.com/cryptogram.html - has a good amount of information to digest and goes very in-depth with different helpful links, books, and various examples waiting for you at the bottom of the page. Unlike John Toebes, this guy is a weirdo. Do not talk to him about zebra skeletons.


General

https://scioly.org/wiki/index.php/Codebusters - a good introduction to the different cipher types and strategies 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1orxg1_WwpUYa33pdfXweEYa9mmm0SSo73XAHUWP3fdk/edit?usp=sharing - common word patterns! 


For Studying

http://practicalcryptography.com/ - has good readings and practice for many ciphers; peruse the entirety of website as this link will really help you become more knowledgeable and competitive

https://crypto.interactive-maths.com/ - Practical Cryptography and Crypto Corner are the most helpful study links I came across last year


Frequencies

https://www3.nd.edu/~busiforc/handouts/cryptography/cryptography%20hints.html - basic frequencies

http://practicalcryptography.com/cryptanalysis/letter-frequencies-various-languages/english-letter-frequencies/ - English letter/n-gram frequencies

http://practicalcryptography.com/cryptanalysis/letter-frequencies-various-languages/spanish-letter-frequencies/ - Spanish letter/n-gram frequencies

https://www.wordfrequency.info/free.asp?s=y - don’t get too overwhelmed

https://www.vistawide.com/spanish/top_100_spanish_words.htm - same deal in Spanish




Further Reading

https://math.ucsd.edu/~crypto/java/EARLYCIPHERS/Monoalphabetic.html - plaintext attack (monosubs)

https://www.khanacademy.org/computing/computer-science/cryptography - use this entire playlist (even what seems unneeded). It’ll help you later on with the mathematical side of Code (especially Hill and RSA)


Cipher Specific

Vigenere:

http://www.martani.net/2011/04/cracking-vigenere.html 

https://pages.mtu.edu/~shene/NSF-4/Tutorial/VIG/Vig-Kasiski.html

  • Both dedicated to solving Vigenere ciphers without a given key (the most popular technique being Kasiski’s Method)


Pollux/Morbit: 

Fractionating Ciphers - Crypto Corner

fractionated morse cipher

Morbit Cipher - Decoder, Encoder, Solver, Translator


RSA: (use the Khan Academy videos provided above first for a better understanding)

https://brilliant.org/wiki/rsa-encryption/ (explanation)

https://people.csail.mit.edu/rivest/RivestKaliski-RSAProblem.pdf (reading)

https://www.cs.drexel.edu/~jpopyack/IntroCS/HW/RSAWorksheet.html (tutorial and calculator)

https://www.cs.drexel.edu/~introcs/Fa11/notes/10.1_Cryptography/RSA_Express_EncryptDecrypt.html (calculator)


Tools

http://www.cryptogram.org/ - not to be confused with the first link way up there. Under the “Resources” tab you will find a cipher solver when you are stuck, explanations of various ciphers (way more than you’ll ever need to understand), and word lists in a ton of languages.

https://www.dcode.fr/en - decoder

https://cryptii.com/ - decoder with a cleaner user interface

http://rumkin.com/tools/cipher/substitution.php - substitution encoder

https://www.cryptoclub.org/ - interactive learning through games



Here's the ultimate guide to all the amazing cryptography resources! Your bread and butter, or the holy grail, of cryptography resources is...

Read

1/6/2022

Guides

How to Get a Head Start in Learning Biology

By

Arunima Jasiwal

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

Monica Tschang

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

Hello! Welcome to the whimsical and wonderful world of the science of life. We are the Biology Fundamentals Teachers for the spring semester of ScioVirtual 2022: Monica Tschang and Arunima Jaiswal,.


Our course will explore many different facets of biology, coupled with fun games for you to play along the way! We’ll start small by looking at the molecules necessary for life and then slowly zoom out to learn about cells: their structure, function, along with how they move stuff around (cell transport), and how they chit-chat (cell communication).


Once we’ve covered the building blocks of life, we can ask how biology influences who we are. Have you ever wondered why your eyes are the color they are? Or why you look similar to your parents? You’ll understand the answers to those questions when we go over genetics and hereditary! 


After that, we expand our lens to study biology as a whole, looking at animals and plants for our seventh and ninth classes. We also look at how animals and plants stay alive through processes like cellular respiration and photosynthesis. 


Eventually we’ll trade in our microscopes and look at biology from an ecological perspective and investigate how different organisms interact with each other. We’ll wrap everything up with a review day filled with games! 


Want to get ahead or need some extra help? Feel free to contact any of us through email—we’re happy to answer any questions you have. 


Arunima: nimajais@gmail.com 

Monica: matschang@gmail.com


If you enjoy a good YouTube video, feel free to check out Amoeba Sisters, Crash Course, TED-Ed, Bozeman Science, and Kurzgesagt!

Hello! Welcome to the whimsical and wonderful world of the science of life. We are the Biology Fundamentals Teachers for the spring semester of ScioVirtual 2022: Monica Tschang and Arunima Jaiswal.

Read

1/6/22

Guides

How to Study for Meteorology, from a National Medalist

By

Sehej Bindra

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

Objective: Provide a comprehensive guide in developing a deeper understanding of Meteorology. 


Through ScioVirtual, I have taught nearly 100 students. By teaching experience and competing in Meteorology myself, here are some thoughts on preparing for the competition!


Meteorology relies on thinking critically about the real world


I am going to elaborate on this below, but if you’ve taken meteorology tests, you might’ve realized there are two types of questions you will run into:


  1. Knowing stuff
  2. Thinking about the stuff you know


Within those two categories, you will find a rich diversity of question types: data interpretation, analysis, conclusions, definitions, graph construction, and even math sometimes. 


That’s why I like meteorology. Some people get meteorology wrong and mistake it for simply memorizing random facts. Although there is some memory involved (like in any field of science), I believe the core of meteorology is applying knowledge to explain what we see in the sky: an inquisitive process that forces students to think deeply and critically.


This idea of “deep thinking” might not make much sense or seem intimidating. So, here are two steps to guide your learning journey.


Step 1: Know stuff


This step is the most straightforward: just learn the topics listed in the event sheet


To do this, you’re probably going to have to learn the concepts yourself, and you’re probably going to just be searching for websites online (I wouldn’t recommend textbooks for Meteorology).


The hard parts, however, are:

  1. Actually finding good resources online
  2. Even if you find a good resource, how much information is enough?
  3. Even if you know enough of some content, how are you going to remember it?


These are three questions that no one has an easy answer to. Rather, I believe that being able to have strategies to answer these questions is not only going to be important for competitions and academics, but literally everything you will do for the rest of your life. 


Open the event sheet, create a list of each topic in the event sheet, and then spend around one hour on each topic. 


In middle school, tests are mostly just knowing things. For example, the first bullet point on the event sheet is just knowing the difference between “weather” and “climate”.


If you don’t know the difference, I would Google “weather or climate”, and then read up at least two articles. Next, I would figure out what note-taking system works best for you.


I personally use a different Google Doc for each bigger topic, and review the docs periodically. As I’m reviewing the docs, I reprocess information by representing the topics through drawings in my notebook. 


To know whether a website is good, I would:


  1. Make sure you actually understand what is being said. Sometimes Meteorology can get overly “technical” with deep information on atmospheric chemistry and physics. Unless you have studied pure chemistry and physics for years, these overly technical websites are probably useless for you.


  1. Make sure the information present is accurate. Usually websites from government organizations (e.g. NOAA and NASA) are good as well as universities (e.g. berkeley.edu and wisc.edu). Also, Wikipedia isn’t that bad… but only use that if you can’t find good .gov or .edu websites.


  1. Make sure there is decent content. Not all websites are made equally. Some websites just have a lot more information than others. 


For instance, this website from NASA is good because the diagrams are simple and it has a strong diversity of information. 


However, this website from UW Madison, is not as helpful, as it is mainly just on the chemical process of ozone depletion and may include concepts that are too specific in chemistry. 


Here is one exercise to practice online research. 


Overall, some websites that I would recommend that meet the three points above:

Step 1.5: Know stuff deeply


As you are studying, remember that the goal of learning all this content is not to simply become a walking encyclopedia of dispersed meteorology factoids. Rather, your goal should be to become a critical thinker by obtaining a deeper knowledge of meteorology concepts. 


How do you know if you have a deeper understanding?


Hard to say… but you are in good shape if you can:

  1. Explain why these facts are true
  2. Draw connections and find patterns between different topics on the rule sheet
  3. Be able to apply the information into new contexts
  4. Go up to a random person on the street and teach them what you know and confidently answer their questions


Although you don’t need to go up to people and teach them, it is helpful to put yourselves in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about meteorology, like perhaps your parents, a friend, or Darth Vader. Here is an exercise to practice thinking deeply on a meteorology topic.


Remember, that learning is not passive. You won’t learn anything if you just listen or read. You have to engage with the material: ask questions, take notes, find other resources on the same topic, draw what you are reading, and solve practice problems!


Assuming you are confident with the information on the event sheet, I would focus on deeper concepts (not the basics). For example, a “superficial” concept would be knowing that 21% of the atmosphere is composed of oxygen. A “deeper” concept would be explaining why oxygen is only 21% and why that percentage has changed throughout the history of the earth! 


Here are some other questions to ponder:

  • Which greenhouse gas is the most “important”. Water vapor? Carbon dioxide? 
  • Why is stratospheric ozone “good”, but tropospheric ozone “bad”? In other words, why does the atmospheric layer that is present matter that much? What prevents it from leaking into the other layer?
  • How are aerosol particles different in their environmental impact and physical mechanism from greenhouse gases?


A lot of middle school students miss this opportunity of critical thinking, and I really think if you regularly practice and master this form of scientific reasoning, their raw skill would be leagues above any other middle school team and they will have a heavy edge in high school. 


Step 2: Apply stuff


This step is less straightforward. From my experience, middle school students can easily learn a lot of information if they are just motivated and have the time.


Thus, many students can do well in fact-based True/False and Multiple Choice questions, which can be ~75% of the test. 


However, if you want to move to the next level, you will need to improve your ability to problem solve through applying your knowledge. 


Most of these application questions will provide you new information, whether it is a data set, a new concept, a hypothetical area of land with different climate conditions, or a formula. You have to use your knowledge to then answer the question.


The best way to develop your skills is to just keep practicing and taking notes of your weak points. 


Some good practice test websites:


The last step of finding questions online can be extremely powerful and is probably the number one piece of advice I give to students who ask how to do well in meteorology competitions. In fact, I attribute my own success to finding a couple practice problems on constructing and analyzing meteorological graphs that ended up being quite similar to the real national exam.


Conclusion


The most important thing about learning meteorology is learning how to think. 


Overall, some of this information might seem like common sense. But as Taylor Swift once said… “common sense is not always common practice”.


Just being able to put in the time to comfortably understand meteorology topics is the first step that will get you really far. However, finding practice problems and tests will get you even farther. 


If you have questions, email me at sehej@sciovirtual.org.

Through ScioVirtual, I have taught nearly 100 students. By teaching experience and competing in Meteorology myself, here are some thoughts on preparing for the competition!

Read

December 30, 2021

Blog

Create Your Cheatsheet with Tips from Pros

By

Michelle Li

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

So, you want to make a cheatsheet, but don’t know how to begin. Fret not, because here are some foolproof tips from real competitors to help you get started. While reading, please keep in mind that while these tips work well for us here on the ScioVirtual team, you may find something completely different works for you — take the time to explore and get to know your personal cheatsheeting style. Making a cheatsheet is a laborious process, but remember that at the end you’ll get a beautiful, 10,000-word, knowledge-packed baby that is your main tool to succeed in competition. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

THE LAYOUT

  1. If you have access to Microsoft Word, use it. Specific reasons for this choice will be explained later, but suffice to say it’s superior in terms of both formatting and functionality. You can, however, still make great cheatsheets with Google Docs.
  2. Some schools provide Microsoft Word to students for free; reach out to your coach or teachers to see if this applies to you.
  3. Make all margins as small as possible while still being printable; this is usually 0.13-0.25 inches. Write additional information in the margins after you print.
  4. Try to find a printer with narrow margins, whether it be your printer, a friend’s, a school printer, etc. You may need to test print a couple of times to see how big the margins are.
  5. Use columns for organization. A cheatsheet can have anywhere from 3-8 columns depending on picture sizes and other factors.
  6. You can make, at most, three columns in Google Docs; this is one of the reasons Microsoft Word is better.
  7. Make the amount of space between columns as little as possible. I usually go for around 0.10.
  8. Do not do anything, formatting-wise, that wastes space; it is a precious commodity. For example, don't indent your paragraphs (for obvious reasons).
  9. Avoid using bullet points or numbered lists; these indent your text and in general are a pain to deal with. Instead, hold the ALT key and type 0149 to get •, a single bullet point. On a Mac, use Option → 8, in Google Docs, try Insert → Special Characters. You can also look up ALT codes and shortcuts for various other symbols: ◘♦♣○. 
  10. Tables can be great for organization, but use them sparingly (again, for the sake of space). Make cell margins and borders as small as possible. You can also fill the cells with different colors for organization.

THE CONTENT

  1. Don’t add things you can memorize to your cheatsheet. For example, if you’re doing Anatomy, you might want to memorize the regional and directional terms because they appear in the event every year and are fairly easy to remember. Then, you won’t need to take up space on your cheatsheet with that information.
  2. The content of your cheatsheet is not restricted to what’s on the rules; in fact, you should have more. Ask your ScioVirtual instructor, refer to our Ultimate Guides, ask your captains or coaches, etc. for advice on what additional information you should study for each event.
  3. Be familiar with all the content on your cheatsheet. Do not just copy-paste information from the Internet onto your cheatsheet and call it a day; you should truly be familiar with and understand every bit of information on your cheatsheet. It is a tool to help you remember information that is difficult to memorize, but should not take the place of studying and grasping concepts.
  4. Add a lot of images and diagrams while conserving space by adhering to the following: Crop the images so they are as small as possible while still containing all of the information you need. Keep in mind you can write captions and labels on top of your images or in the margins of your cheatsheet after you print. Rotate the images so they fit together better.

FONTS AND COLORS

  1. Use font sizes 2-5 (and get used to reading small text).
  2. Shorten and abbreviate whenever possible; do not write in complete sentences. A lot of conjunctions can easily be abbreviated. For example, “and” can become “&” or “+” and “because” can become “b/c.” Avoid, however, being overly ambiguous in your abbreviations. The most important thing is that you understand what the cheatsheet says.
  3. The following fonts are best for conserving space while remaining legible: EB Garamond, Arial Narrow, Times New Roman, Calibri, Stint Ultra Condensed.
  4. Color code your text! You can use different colored highlighting in place of making new paragraphs or sections to save space. For example, if I were making a Dynamic Planet cheatsheet and wanted to format a section on coastal features, I might highlight erosional features blue and depositional features green. If you’re making a glossary, you can highlight each “letter” a new color. For example, all words that start with the letter A could be red, all words that start with B could be blue, etc.
  5. Yet another reason Microsoft Word is superior: the fill button. In addition to selecting multiple words to highlight, you can select the entire paragraph and shade the entire background. You can also highlight over a filled paragraph, which adds yet another level of organization.
  6. Use light colors when highlighting; it will still show up in print.
  7. Make “banners” for major headings with bold text and brightly colored highlighting so that each topic is easy to find. Refrain from excessive bolding or underlining unless it's for headers or banners.
  8. Make sure that you are familiar with the cheatsheet’s structure and that it makes sense to you. You should be able to find any piece of information on your cheatsheet very quickly, because on a timed test speed is often what differentiates competitors.
  9. Italicize anything that you feel like you won’t use often but don’t want to take off of the cheatsheet. Italicized font is harder to read but takes up much less space.
The beauty of the fill button.

There you have it: everything you need to know to get started on your very own cheatsheet. Keep in mind that while you will need to finish this cheatsheet pretty early in the school year — in fact, it should be one of your first priorities when it comes to studying, it will remain a work-in-progress all season long. This means you should continue updating and improving your cheatsheet as you go. And as long as you keep trying, I can guarantee you’ll end up with a beautiful cheatsheet baby that you’re more than proud of.

With that, thanks for reading, and happy studying!

So, you want to make a cheatsheet, but don’t know how to begin. Fret not, because here are some foolproof tips from real competitors to help you get started. While reading, please keep in mind that while these tips work well for us here on the ScioVirtual team, you may find something completely different works for you — take the time to explore and get to know your personal cheatsheeting style...

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December 30, 2021

Blog

ScioVirtual's Origins

By

Victoria Li

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

        It was during Sciocamp 2021, when I was a camp counselor for the RedFoxes (the best team by the way)*, that I was asked about the beginnings of ScioVirtual. There seemed to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the organization, such as the founding date, ScioVirtual’s internal workings, and how the person who made a dedicated  superlative— ‘ the most satanic’— just for his aptly named camp team could be the co-founder. 

        As Sehej Bindra’s high school years drew to a close  in 2020, the number one thing he looked forward to was getting to teach at a local Science Olympiad-based summer camp. He explains that “Genuinely, I didn’t really care about stuff like Prom or [the] Disney [senior class trip].” Instead, it was the camp that held a strong importance for Bindra as “[his] whole experience of getting into science was due to attending the camp as a middle schooler [himself]. I really just wanted to round off my career in highschool, in WWPHSN, in science, by teaching at this camp again.” Unfortunately, Covid-19 was in full swing that summer, causing most in-person camps, including this one, to be shut down. 

        

        At first Binda was at a loss for what to do—“I remember going to my mom and telling her what happened and you know what she said? She asked me ‘Why don’t you make your own camp?’” It would be an exaggeration to call that question a major turning point, but it did sow the seeds  of an idea. As someone who was kind of a nerd with limited business and leadership experience, it was a completely unfathomable idea for Bindra at the time. But later during the night, he recalls that “I just remember laying in bed, the idea having been in the back of my head for most of the day, and I just could not sleep. I remember I kept thinking about this camp, and at 3 am I just took out a notebook, and sketched out, hypothetically, what this camp could be.” 

        

        The plan itself was actually incredibly thorough, including specific talents to recruit, ideas for advertising, and building legitimacy, and by morning, Bindra had a strong sense of motivation to carry his vision out. “The first thing I did upon waking up was I messaged Arvyn De (current Executive Director and co-founder of ScioVirtual), and he was just like ‘bet let’s do this.’” And with that authentic Gen Z response, ScioCamp took off. 

        One of the first things done after this point was to reach out to Josephine Wang (current Head of Design) to develop a website, logo, and advertisements. Something that must be kept in mind is that the ScioCamp of back then is incomparable to the ScioVirtual of now. Bindra elaborates that “The whole idea of Sciocamp was I’m graduating, I’m leaving, this was just a cool way to give back to the community.” As even after a successful first run of the camp, there were no plans to continue. It was only due to Wang and De’s insistence that ScioVirtual, an organization that ran year long instead of just in the summer, was born. ”Let’s make this thing big,” they had said, and numerous ideas and plans flowed from that point on, some more successful than others. 

        Of all of the ideas, “about 50% were implemented and only about 10% actually worked out.” Wang explains. Even with the foundation from ScioCamp, there were still a lot of aspects that needed to be laid out. With the camp, there was only nine days of each course, which limited how comprehensive they could be. That, and the issue of student to teacher ratio were the two main focuses when restructuring for ScioVirtual. De explains that “For year round we decided to make it 11 weeks instead and also because during camp, some classes reached 40 or 50 and expectedly we saw that it was harder to give individual attention. That prompted us to push for more 1 on 1 teaching.” 

        “There were also a lot of attemps for expansion,” says Wang. The marketing team started off emailing various organizations, any and every that they could think of to advertise and expand the reach of ScioVirtual. In the beginning, it was unclear what the best template or wording would be to acquire such partnership, so many variations of emails were drafted up and sent in an AB testing fashion. Most of the emails however, were completely ignored, even though it was very clear through Gmass that they had been opened and seen. “It was a little disheartening at first,” says De, “but we got used to it and just moved on to other things.”

        Perhaps this is when the lack of experience of the founding members in leading organizations can be most clearly seen. Bindra has mentioned that during ScioVirtual’s expansion “I was super focused on the numbers... like I’d check every day to see if there were new registrations, if so, how many, if there were any new teacher applications, the like.” That, coupled with the lack of structured processes that ScioVirtual had, such as a clear interview process for new teachers, lead to a loss of old students and dissatisfaction from previous patrons. Wang expands that “ScioCamp instructors were people we knew personally and could trust to run a good course and this was the first time we started accepting instructors we didn't personally know.” There were teachers with no credentials, who missed classes and showed up late, and since there was no quality check put into place, the executive directors were not privy to this fact until they received complaints from the parents and course reviews from the students. Wang adds that despite creating a “domain course manager role,” the ones who managed were also a “hit or miss” that often “didn’t do their job.” 

        “It was the worst feeling ever,” says Bindra “when we had so many students who said ‘you guys started off well but just couldn’t keep it up.’” It was a rookie mistake, for ScioVirtual to prematurely scale before getting a sturdy foundation. The consequences of focusing too heavily on marketing instead of improving the quality of the product was that there were those few teachers who didn’t do their job properly, costing ScioVirtual time, effort, and the reputation that was built up from camp. That’s why “the biggest thing about 2021 is that we’re not focusing on numbers at all,” proclaims Bindra, “but instead number one thing is that even if we only get 20 kids, we want to get all 20 of those kids to love what they’ve experienced.”

        ScioVirtual has come a long way from just being a temporary summer camp. The national reach, the numerous activities outside of clases and multitude of courses has created a misconception for many students about ScioVirtual’s existence. In actuality it’s only been a little more than a year since its founding, and hopefully those reading this will stick around for much more of the journey.

*editor's note: Spawns of Satan > RedFoxes

It was during Sciocamp 2021, when I was a camp counselor for the RedFoxes (the best team by the way)*, that I was asked about the beginnings of ScioVirtual. There seemed to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the organization, such as the founding date, ScioVirtual’s internal workings, and how the person who made a dedicated superlative— ‘ the most satanic’— just for his aptly named camp team could be the co-founder....

Read