USA Biology Olympiad

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The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is a national competition sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education to select the competitors for the International Biology Olympiad. Each year, twenty National Finalists gather at a nationally recognized institution for a two-week training camp. From the program's inception through 2009, the camp was held at George Mason University; from 2010 through 2015, the camp was held at Purdue University. It was then hosted at Marymount University for 2016 and 2017. As of 2018, it is being held at University of California, San Diego. At the end of the two weeks, four students are selected to represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad.[1]


The USA Biology Olympiad was first started in 2002, with nearly 10,000 students competing annually. Ever since the CEE (Center for Excellence in Education) started to administer the USABO exam, all four members of the Team USA in the years 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017 were awarded gold medals in the International Biology Olympiad, with the US National Team able to accrue the most medals and subsequently win the IBO in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017, partly due to the rigorous selection process students undergo to compete in the IBO for the US.

Organization and examination structure[edit]

USABO finalists are selected in two rounds of tests. The open exam is a 50 minute long and challenging multiple-choice (and free response) exam open to all high school students which take Biology as a course and are registered by a school or by a select authorized USABO center. This exam is normally administered at registered schools or at a USABO test center (a location designated as such by the CEE) during the first week of February, though the exact test time may vary from year to year. During this round, there is no penalty for wrong answers, but students may only select one of the four or five choices for each question.

The top 500 students on the open exam, or roughly 10% of all participating students, advance to the semi-final round, which will be administered in March. This second exam consists of a 120-minute long test, subdivided into two multiple-choice sections and one free response section. Part A of the exam is primarily multiple choice questions with one answer. Part B has more complex, sequenced multiple choice questions that may have several correct answers and may require calculations or extensive interpretation of graphs and multiple true/false choice questions, while Part C normally takes the form of short answers or an extended essay.

The final round of the USABO takes place as a national finals round, attended by the 20 top-scoring students on the Semifinal Exam. Students may take a 24-hour leave to return home for graduation purposes, as the CEE recognizes that the dates of the National Finals may conflict with high school graduation.

During the first ten days of instruction, university professors and experts in research and undergraduate/graduate teaching will be assisted by former USABO Finalists in teaching laboratory techniques and conceptual understanding to the finalists. After the ten days of instruction, a 9-hour long exam occurs, with students required to take the exams on the scheduled dates. This exam is divided into two sections: a 6 hour long practical exam and a 3-hour theoretical exam containing true/false questions and multiple choice questions. The scores from the two exams are combined to form a comprehensive ranking, with the 9th-12th placed finalists receiving a bronze medal, the 5th-8th placed finalists receiving a Silver medal, and the 1st-4th placed medalists receiving a Gold medal, and the chance to compete on the US national team in the IBO.

Participant numbers[edit]

USABO Participants over the Years
Year of Competition Participant Numbers Percentage Growth
2011 1700 students N/A
2012 2850 students 67.64%
2013 4200 students 47.43%
2014 5056 students 20.38%
2015 6000 students 18.67%
2016 7020 students 17.00%
2017 7500 students 6.83%


  1. ^ "USA Biology Olympiad". Center for Excellence in Education. Retrieved 8 January 2013.

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