A Complete Guide To The Science Olympiad

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Man offer stem word sign on virtual screen.

A Complete Guide To The Science Olympiad

If you’re trying to figure out where you want to go to college, engaging in various Science Olympiad games is the perfect activity to get your brain tingling as you compete in school locations throughout the country.

The Science Olympiad is one of the largest K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) organizations in the United States. They host 450 tournaments every single year on various university campuses based on your region.

In this blog, we discuss the most important elements of the organization that you need to know if you plan to participate in one of its activities.

What is the Science Olympiad?

The Science Olympiad is an international non-profit organization committed to improving science education in and outside of the country by promoting student interest in science and recognizing the outstanding achievements of both students and teachers. This mission is fulfilled through classroom activities, research initiatives, and training workshops, as well as promoting competitions at various levels—from school to national.

Science Olympiad tournaments are intensive academic contests consisting of team-based events prepared for throughout the academic year. These events are designed to be challenging and engaging, covering different disciplines such as biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, and technology, and they balance scientific knowledge with practical applications.

Additionally, during tournaments, hosting institutions offer open-house activities that include science and math demos and career counseling sessions led by professors and professionals in the field.

Group of asian student talking in a library.

While many individual competitions in physics, biology, or chemistry exist, it’s uncommon to see a contest that combines all these disciplines into a single, comprehensive Science Olympiad. A key goal of the Science Olympiad is to elevate the status of science education to match the enthusiasm and recognition typically given to varsity sports.

Moreover, the Science Olympiad manages professional workshops to help students develop their STEM skills. Students from 8,000 teams compete in standards-based challenges. The Science Olympiad National Tournament is held at a different university every year, giving cooperating students the chance to visit parts of the United States as they play.

How does the Science Olympiad work?

Science Olympiad provides various competition formats for different educational levels.  The competitions themselves are like academic track meets, with each division—Division B for middle school and Division C for high school—featuring 23 team events. These events are rotated annually to cover new and relevant topics across genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering, and technology.

By including a range of disciplines, the Science Olympiad appeals to a wide spectrum of students. The focus is on active, hands-on group participation. Science Olympiad fosters community and collaboration among students, teachers, parents, school leaders, and industry professionals, all working towards a shared goal.

Divisions and Age Groups

The competition is divided into three divisions based on the participants’ grade levels:

  • Division A: Elementary school students in grades K-6.
  • Division B: Middle school students in grades 6-9.
  • Division C: High school students in grades 9-12.

Each division offers a variety of events tailored to the respective age groups, ensuring that students are challenged at an appropriate level while still fostering their passion for science.

Team Composition and Dynamics

Up to fifteen students can participate in a Science Olympiad team for Divisions B and C. Coaches should carefully read the event rules before selecting the team, and each team member should also review them to ensure a clear understanding.

Building a Science Olympiad team with seniors can be beneficial since they likely have experience in subjects like biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics. However, incorporating sophomores or juniors can also be advantageous as their knowledge of these sciences may be fresher. Additionally, selecting younger students allows a coach to plan for future competitions, creating a more seasoned team over time.

During the competition, team members must strategically decide which events they will participate in, as each student is allowed to compete in a limited number of events.

State Chapters

If you want to join, you can create a team via your State Chapter or find where your local tournament is located. The 50 participating states each have their own unique organization, so Hawaii has the Hawaii State Science Olympiad, Idaho has the Idaho Science Olympiad, and so on.

To find the website of your local chapter and organization, visit the Science Olympiad State Websites page, which allows you to hover over their interactive map for the link to your state website.

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Each state Science Olympiad website may contain unique information about your area, including the divisions and grades that it offers. Not all locations will offer the same options. You must check your particular state so you understand how you can compete on the national level.

If your school isn’t an active participant, you can potentially register online to create a school team or inquire with a teacher or coach about how you can do so.

You can participate in professional development opportunities to benefit your future job searches. You’ll need to check with your local Science Olympiad webpage for the updated listing near you. These types of opportunities will look good on a resume as well as your college applications, especially if you’re looking for Ivy League options. Extracurricular activities can make you look like a fantastic candidate. The dates are updated on the local chapter page.

Elementary Science Olympiad

There is the Elementary Science Olympiad (ESO) program for those children in kindergarten through sixth-grade levels. While this K-6 program is a similar type of competitive tournament environment as the older kid’s version, there’s also a Fun Day for hands-on science amusement or an expert-filled Science Olympiad Fun Night.

Since this branch of the Olympiad is for the younger crowd, there are more games and fun-filled activities versus rigorous experiments and testing the older kids face. While the organization normally caters to the college admissions crowd, if you have younger siblings as well, it doesn’t hurt to get them started in the ESO program.

6th Through 12th Grade

Once students reach 6th through 12th grade, they have the opportunity to participate in other Science Olympiad functions, such as a football or soccer team. These activities are created to help children understand the elements of commitment, teamwork, and preparation while practicing for an extended period throughout the year.

Depending on your school grade, you could win a trophy at your state tournament if your team places an award. This is a fantastic enrichment activity for you leading up to the university admissions process because some of these teams could have up to and over 75 members to help with apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities. Students can attend these practice events with others in a similar academic or career track.

Urban Schools Initiative

The Urban Schools Initiative, created by the Science Olympiad Executive Board, established programs for schools with underserved populations. The district or region usually undergoes a three-year starting plan to get on its feet as it establishes itself.

Now, there are programs in schools around the US, such as Baltimore, Maryland; Los Angeles, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; and several more cities. This type of initiative allows a citywide STEM outreach where it might not have had a chance to flourish. STEM is working toward being more accessible than ever. We believe in a world where STEM is reachable to all.


The Science Olympiad tries to mix up events to reflect current news and changes when it comes to genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering, and technology. The challenges are broken down into the following categories:

  • Life, Personal and Social Science
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Technology and Engineering
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Physical Science and Chemistry

There are various classes of challenges, such as B Events and C Events. Each category has a range of subcategories that it covers. For example, the Earth and Space Science B Event can cover the subjects of Dynamic Planets, Fossils, Meteorology, Road Scholars, and the Solar System, while the C Event covers Astronomy, Dynamic Planets, Fossils, and Geologic Mapping. These events or challenges may develop each year as STEM remains ever-changing.

group of students studying

Each event has a webpage full of resources and links, as well as problem-solving tips and practice problems. Teams can take a sample test and go over the answers to ensure correct answers.

The convenient information allows students to get a feel of what the events and testing will be like during the game without the added stress of being in a competing atmosphere. We highly recommend using this feature since we believe that practice is always a good idea.

Workshop Sessions

The workshop is not only meant for students but also to help the volunteers, educators, supervisors, coaches, and even the parents involved. If you can participate in the local workshop, it’s a great hands-on experience before facing the stress of a real tournament. Teachers have the latest information on Science Olympiad events. Plus, they have educational tools such as CDs and other resources the average parent or student might not have access to.

These workshops and professional development sessions are hosted by state and national Event Supervisors who have the background to assist students with the expectations of each event. These people know what they are doing and have the tools to really help you excel.

These sessions are meant to help you understand what is expected during the competitive experience without going to an official Science Olympiad event blindly. Ask your regional director about the specific events in your area.


Tournaments are where the games become the real deal. Tournaments vary by state, so you have to check your individual state’s Science Olympiad tournament website for official dates, goals, pictures from tournaments, background on directors and advisory committees, etc.

Your state website will often include a schedule of the tournament day, driving directions, different types of eye protection rules or letters from the coach regarding the team structure.

There are invitational tournaments, regional tournaments, and state tournaments. After the tournament finishes, the head coach of each team is provided one and only one copy of the final scores. Regardless of your team’s wins, you must celebrate your achievements as they come. Even being a part of the Science Olympiad is a great sign. Browse your state’s website for information about local events.

The Science Olympiad 2024 National Tournament

The Science Olympiad National Tournament is the ultimate goal for 120 of the top Science Olympiad teams across the nation, along with their Global Ambassador Team from Japan, which encompasses over 2,000 students. For its 40th anniversary, the National Tournament will return to Michigan State University, the location of the inaugural event. This prestigious event is scheduled for May 24-25, 2024, in Lansing, Michigan.

National Tournament Awards and Prizes

The Science Olympiad has a quite comprehensive list of awards, scholarships, and prizes that they give out every year making the experience more fulfilling and exciting. Here is the list of prizes they give out during the national tournament:

2024 Science Olympiad $50K Founders’ Scholarships

In 2024, the Science Olympiad USA Foundation will award five $10,000 college scholarships to outstanding seniors as a tribute to the founders of Science Olympiad.

The 2024 scholarship application is open only to graduating seniors from the Class of 2024 who participated on a registered Division C Science Olympiad team during the 2023-2024 season. Coaches may be contacted to verify participation.

Applicants should prepare answers to three provided questions in advance, with each response limited to 1,000 characters. Each student is allowed only one submission, and once submitted, the entry is considered final. No third-party submissions are allowed. The application period began on February 12, 2024, and closed at midnight CST on April 8, 2024.

a teeacher teaching a student

The five scholarship winners will be announced on May 9, 2024. All information provided will be verified, and winners will receive final confirmation via email by June 15, 2024. Science Olympiad’s decisions are final and binding. Scholarship funds will be paid directly to the college of the winner’s choice after their enrollment post-October 1, 2024, and will be held in escrow by Science Olympiad until then.

2024 Spirit Awards

The Science Olympiad Spirit Awards are prestigious honors given to teams that showed an outstanding attitude, teamwork, respect for rules and competitors, and sportsmanship. Every year, one Division B team and one Division C team at the National Tournament will each receive $2,000 to support their school’s Science Olympiad efforts.

Teams are selected based on their demonstration of the 3C’s of Science Olympiad—Character, Citizenship, and Community—throughout the academic year and their behavior during the tournament. Teams, coaches, and state directors are encouraged to use the hashtag #SO2024MSU in their social media posts for consideration. The winners will be announced live at the Awards Ceremony on May 25, 2024, with the awards sponsored by the Science Olympiad USA Foundation.

2024 Coaching Excellence Award

The Coaching Excellence Award will be given to six coaches. Two winners will receive free registration for the 2024 Science Olympiad Event Build Clinic in Illinois, and four winners will receive free entry to the 2024 Virtual Event Bootcamp. Both events provide coaches with the latest updates and detailed insights on the 46 Division B and C events for the 2025 season directly from the Science Olympiad National Rules Committee Chairs and top event supervisors.

Coaches can be nominated by others or themselves, provided they are faculty coaches of a registered Division B or C team in the US for the 2023-2024 season. Nominations opened on March 13, 2024, and closed on April 16, 2024. Winners will be announced on May 14.

Should I join the Science Olympiad?

The short answer is a resounding YES. However, the answer depends on your long-term goals and what you want to get from the experience.

Participating in the Science Olympiad offers students a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of various scientific disciplines through active, hands-on problem-solving and experimentation.

This platform allows participants to participate in a wide range of events covering key scientific fields such as biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and engineering, broadening their scientific knowledge and practical skills.

You are encouraged to think critically and creatively, devising solutions to complex problems, which enhances your analytical and research skills. Moreover, the experience gained in handling laboratory equipment and conducting experiments is incomparable and is something you don’t typically experience inside the classroom.

Participating in the Science Olympiad also offers advantages for college admissions, as it showcases your commitment and passion for science. Many universities recognize the dedication required for these competitions and regard them favorably during the admissions process. Additionally, the opportunity to win scholarships and awards can provide financial support and recognition.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Science Olympiad

1. Where do I find the dates for regional and state tournaments and events?

The dates for local tournaments by state are located on the State Websites page here. Additionally, the website has a complete list of invitational practice tournaments.

School students extract electricity from apples, use of the energy of a chemical reaction

2. Can a team member participate in the state competition if they are unable to participate in the regional competition?

Each tournament operates independently. You can form your team with any students who meet the eligibility requirements; they do not need to be the same individuals who participated in earlier tournaments.

3. Can a 9th grader compete in both Division B and Division C simultaneously?

No, students cannot be on two rosters in the same tournament. For more information on team size and grade level requirements, please check this page.

4. When are tournament schedules posted?

The release of tournament schedules varies based on the timeline set by each Tournament Director. Typically, you can find the schedule on the State Chapter website prior to the event. Additionally, a tentative national schedule is included in the Rules Manual, and many states adhere to a similar schedule.

The Science Olympiad plays an important role in advancing STEM education by motivating future scientists, engineers, and innovators. With fast changing technology, the demand for skilled STEM professionals also increases at the moment. The Olympiad nurtures these young talents, providing students with a solid foundation for success in their future careers.

Additionally, the competition encourages schools to focus more on STEM education. As schools strive to succeed in these competitions, they invest more in STEM programs, enhancing educational quality for all students. This leads to a society that is better informed about science and more equipped to handle the complexities of the modern world.


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