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The Beginner's Guide to Science Olympiad


Victoria Li

ScioVirtual Instructor



ScioVirtual Instructor



ScioVirtual Instructor


There are technically 4 divisions in Scioly, but only 3 actually compete:

  • Div A → 5th grade and younger. Not all school districts have Div A teams and available competitions aren’t the most abundant. Most of the events in Div A are very generalized and broad, as compared to the much more specialized ones in Div B and Div C. Nonetheless, it’s still an excellent introduction to the competition.
  • Div B → 6th-8th graders. 9th graders from the corresponding highschool can also come to compete but it’s limited to 5 per team. The 23 events are split up into the sections of biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, build and inquiry. Many of the events in Div B directly parallel those in Div C, so joining the competition at this level allows students to figure out their interests and strengths before advancing on to a higher difficulty. 
  • Div C → 9th-12th graders. There’s a limit of 7 seniors per competing team. So you can have as many seniors as you want on a Scioly team, but there can’t be more than 7 per 23 events at one competition. Events that are the same general topic as those in Div B are broadened to contain more testing topics. For example, the Div B event Crime Busters becomes Forensics in the high school division and now includes additional plastics, entomology, mass spectroscopy, etc. All the events, except for Write it Do it, Experimental Design, Disease Detectives and Forensics will rotate either the topics tested under the event, or the entire event itself. For example, events like Anatomy and Physiology rotates the systems it tests and events like Rocks and Minerals and Ornithology are on 2 year rotational schedules. 
  • Div D → There is technically no age limit, but it’s mostly composed of university students. There are no competitions for the people in this division as they are the test writers and proctors that volunteer their time.


Let’s take a look at the Div B events from the 2021-2022 season. 

There are roughly 6 domains that the 23 events can be split up into, but Physics and Chem are often grouped together and severely underappreciated. :( 

Many of the names listed below are abbreviated versions; that’s mostly just for formatting purposes. 

2021-22 Division B events by domain

Not including inquiry (cause those are just a whole other deal), events can also be split up into the categories of study and build events, with study then further split into cheat sheet, binder, lab, and hybrid. 

Cheat sheets events are those like Food Science and Meteorology where competitors are allowed a few sheets a paper, usually one sheet that’s double sided, to record however much information can be fit on it during tests. 

Binder events, like Ornithology and Rocks and Minerals, allow entire binders full of information with a very liberal standard on what it means for a binder to be “closed”. These events are identification based and have a list of specimens that students can expect on every test. Binder events will often have stations that competitors cycle through in a limited time frame.

Lab events are usually chemistry based and will require partners to split up to complete the lab and test portion separately. Though of course with Covid running rampant right now, most labs are dry labs, where the results are given and competitors will answer questions with these results.

Hybrid events are usually physics based and have both a test and build portion. For example, Sounds (Sounds of Music) requires competitors to build an instrument as well as complete a written test. 

Build events are exactly what they sound like, competitors will build a structure within the parameters and requirements and test it. With many competitions now becoming virtual, many build events instead require a submitted video or a digital structure made through an online program. 

Inquiry…and I do hesitate to refer to some of these as science based. Code Busters, which is basically cryptography, is reasonable enough, but an event like ExDesi that requires competitors to complete an entire experiment from beginning to end encourages quite a lot of “extrapolation” of data. Meanwhile Write it Do it (WIDI) is more like a grade school activity as it tests the partnership of two people by having one describe an abstract structure and having the other one rebuild it. 

Most people have 2-4 main events that they’ll spend all their time learning and refining their knowledge in. These events are usually under the same domain or a combination of a domain and various inquiry events. This way, competitors only need a strong base in one domain and specialized knowledge as per their events. Every once in a while, due to previous commitments or conflicts between scheduling, students may need to become a filler for a certain event. This is always a fun opportunity to try something new with low stakes of messing up since no one’s really going to have expectations for you to do well anyway.


Scioly Wiki is always a good place to start regardless of the event. Textbooks can be used for memory heavy domains like biology but other domains like chemistry or physics require lots of practice problems to advance in skill. After a certain point however, the main way to improve is going to become test taking, whether from your team’s test archive, available tests online, or tests from competitions. 

It’s a good idea to figure out what exactly you need to study before you dive in head first. Looking at the rules sheet will save you time and effort. Don’t focus too much on trivia, like the years and dates discoveries were made, that’s what your cheat sheet/binder is for. 


Overall, good luck, no matter what event you choose!

Hopefully it’s chem :)

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