The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students conduct science experiments.

The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) program stands as a pinnacle in recognizing and fostering excellence in high school chemistry. This multi-tiered competition, proudly sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS) since its inception in 1984, serves as a platform to stimulate and celebrate achievements in the realm of high school chemistry.

At the grassroots level, the Local Chemistry Olympiad competitions, held annually in March, are open to high school students across the United States. These local events, conducted in collaboration with ACS Local Sections, provide an inclusive opportunity for budding chemists to showcase their skills on a broader stage.

Elevating the competition, top performers at the local level earn the privilege to participate in the National Chemistry Olympiad Exam. This rigorous examination, taken by over 1,000 students, is a crucible where exceptional talent rises to the surface.

Those who distinguish themselves in this challenging environment are invited to a two-week Study Camp, an intensive training ground where their chemistry prowess is further honed.

The culmination of this demanding process sees the selection of four outstanding students based on their performance at the Study Camp.

These chosen individuals then proudly represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). On this global stage, young minds from participating countries converge to showcase their mastery of the subject.

The IChO, hosted annually in July, epitomizes the international camaraderie that emerges from a shared passion for chemistry.

Participation in any stage of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad is not merely an academic endeavor but an opportunity for students to challenge and deepen their understanding of chemistry.

Moreover, it serves as a catalyst for forging lasting connections with peers, ACS Local Sections, and, in some instances, national or international chemistry communities. Those who engage in this Olympiad embark on a journey beyond academic achievement—a journey marked by the pursuit of knowledge, the thrill of competition, and the establishment of enduring connections that transcend borders.

Students collaborating on project on campus

Four Tiers of The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) program operates on a structured framework comprising four distinct tiers:

March: Local Chemistry Olympiad Exams

The inaugural stage of the USNCO unfolds in March, marked by Local Chemistry Olympiad Exams. High school students keen on participating can enroll through ACS, though registration doesn’t guarantee participation.

ACS Local Section Coordinators determine the nomination for the National Exam, who assess participants based on local competition results. This initial tier sets the stage for identifying and advancing promising talents.

April: National Chemistry Olympiad Exams

April heralds the second tier with the administration of the National Chemistry Olympiad Exams. This comprehensive three-part examination draws over 1,000 students annually. Local Sections of ACS often host these exams at universities and colleges, contributing to the nationwide reach of the competition.

The April phase is a crucible where participants demonstrate their proficiency on a broader scale, paving the way for the next stage.

June: Study Camp

The crème de la crème of the USNCO, the top 20 scorers from the National Exam converge at a Study Camp in June. This intensive two-week training program serves as a rigorous crucible, refining their chemical acumen. The performance of these students during the camp becomes the basis for the selection of four individuals who will proudly represent the United States at the pinnacle of international competition.

July: International Chemistry Olympiad Exams

The apex of the USNCO unfolds in July with the International Chemistry Olympiad Exams. The four chosen representatives are accompanied by mentors who are vital in facilitating the international event.

Mentors translate the tests and oversee the examination processes, ensuring fairness and accuracy in scoring. Beyond the academic rigor, students and mentors alike engage in cultural exchanges, fostering an environment where intellectual boundaries blur, and relationships transcend national borders.

The July phase is not just a culmination of academic prowess but an immersion into a global community united by a passion for chemistry and a thirst for knowledge.

Four cheerful students sitting together at the desk and studying while one man looking over shoulder and smiling

Essential Dates for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) in 2024

In the upcoming year, several vital dates define the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) trajectory. Please note that this schedule is subject to potential changes. Any modifications will be promptly communicated to USNCO Coordinators and made accessible on the official USNCO website.

December 15, 2023: Student Registration Closes

The registration window for students concludes on December 15, 2023. This deadline is crucial for individuals aspiring to participate in the USNCO, serving as a cutoff for formalizing their engagement in this challenging competition.

March 1-24, 2024: Local Exam

The Local Exam phase takes place from March 1 to March 24, 2024. High school students nationwide undergo rigorous assessments at the local level during this period. The results from this phase play a pivotal role in determining participants’ eligibility for advancing to subsequent tiers.

April 13-21, 2024: National Exam

The National Exam, spanning from April 13 to April 21, 2024, marks a critical juncture in the competition. This phase involves a three-part examination administered to a diverse pool of over 1,000 students. Participants showcase their proficiency nationally, influencing their potential progression in the competition.

June 2-14, 2024: Study Camp

From June 2 to June 14, 2024, the Study Camp assembles the top 20 performers from the National Exam. This intensive two-week training program becomes a crucible, refining participants’ skills and knowledge under expert guidance. The Study Camp is a pivotal step in shaping the finalists who will go on to represent the U.S. internationally.

July 22-31, 2024: International Chemistry Olympiad

The grand culmination of the USNCO occurs from July 22 to July 31, 2024, with the International Chemistry Olympiad. This global event brings together exceptional minds from participating countries.

Beyond the examination, it serves as a platform for cultural exchange and collaboration, embodying the spirit of international camaraderie fostered through a shared passion for chemistry. The July dates signify the apex of the USNCO, where selected representatives embark on a journey to showcase their excellence at the highest global level.

Goals of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

The objectives of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) are meticulously defined by a subcommittee within the Society Committee on Education. The Chemistry Olympiad program has a multifaceted set of goals designed to create a meaningful impact:

Stimulate Excellence in Chemistry

The foremost goal is to kindle a passion for excellence in chemistry among young individuals. The USNCO strives to inspire and motivate students to achieve high proficiency levels in this scientific discipline.

Recognize and Encourage Outstanding Students

A pivotal aim is to identify and acknowledge outstanding chemistry students. By doing so, the USNCO celebrates individual achievements and fosters an environment conducive to continued learning during a critical phase in students’ intellectual development.

Acknowledge Teacher Excellence and the School Environment

The USNCO recognizes educators’ pivotal role and the school environment’s significance. Outstanding achievements by teachers are acknowledged, emphasizing the broader impact of a supportive academic setting.

Facilitate Connections Between ACS Local Sections and Schools

An integral objective is establishing connections between ACS Local Sections and local schools. This interaction bridges the gap between professional chemists and educational institutions, creating a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties.

Challenge Students on an International Platform

The Chemistry Olympiad program aspires to be a catalyst for challenging young students’ chemical knowledge and skills on an international scale. This global arena allows participants to test their abilities against a diverse and competitive landscape.

Foster Cross-Cultural Experiences

Beyond the academic sphere, the USNCO aims to foster cross-cultural experiences. By bringing together students from different nations, the program encourages an understanding of both similarities and differences. This initiative promotes a broader perspective and cultural appreciation among the participants.

In essence, the goals of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad extend far beyond the confines of a traditional academic competition. They encompass a holistic approach, aiming to shape proficient chemists and well-rounded individuals with a global perspective and a passion for continuous learning.

USNCO Rules & Eligibility Criteria

Individuals must adhere to specific rules and eligibility criteria to participate in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO). These guidelines ensure a fair and competitive environment while promoting inclusivity.

Citizenship and Residency

Participation in the National Exam is reserved for U.S. citizens or legal, permanent residents (green card holders) of the United States.

Grade and Graduation Criteria

Eligible participants must be high school students ranging from 9th to 12th grade. Importantly, they should not graduate earlier than May 1 of the competition year.

Age Requirement

Participants must be under 20 years of age as of July 1 in the competition year.

Nomination Limit

Each high school local section can nominate a maximum of two students for the National Exam. For unique cases like magnet programs, split enrollment, or cyber students, the student’s school is determined by the high school granting the diploma.

Exemption for Study Camp Attendees

Students who have previously attended the study camp automatically qualify for the National Exam and do not contribute to the limit on the number of eligible students from their local section or school.

Ineligibility of Gold Medal Winners

Individuals who have won gold medals at the International Chemistry Olympiad cannot participate in subsequent National Exams, Study Camps, or International Chemistry Olympiad competitions.

Advanced Placement Courses

Students who have taken advanced placement courses in chemistry are eligible to participate.

Participation Based on Geographical Location

Participants can only compete in the section where their high school is located. Cyber students, despite the location of their cyber school, must participate in the local section where they are geographically located.

Exclusion from Other Olympiad Camps

Students attending study camps for Physics, Mathematics, or Biology Olympiads during the same summer are ineligible for the Chemistry Olympiad study camp.

Calculator Regulations

If utilized, only non-programmable calculators are permitted during the National Exam and ACS Local Section exam. Using programmable calculators, cell phones, or any device with internet access or photo-capturing capabilities during the exam is grounds for disqualification.

These stringent but necessary regulations ensure a level playing field and uphold the integrity of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, fostering fair competition among eligible participants.

Different students come from different countries.

Insurance Coverage for Chemistry Olympiad Participants

The American Chemical Society (ACS) extends basic excess accident insurance coverage to all activities supervised by ACS during the Chemistry Olympiad program. Coordinators are pivotal in ensuring proper coverage by submitting a comprehensive list of lab practical sites and participant names to the USNCO office.

U.S. Citizens Who are Living Abroad

For U.S. citizens residing abroad, the organization of local and national competitions falls under the jurisdiction of an ACS International Chemical Sciences Chapter.

Eligibility for high school students (9-12th grade) hinges on specific criteria. To qualify, students must be U.S. citizens or legal, permanent residents (green card holders). Additionally, they must be enrolled in an American school accredited by reputable associations such as the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACS), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and others listed. This enrollment should be for at least one year, and students must be under the age of 20.

For further details, inquiries can be directed to [email protected].

Attendees With Disabilities

While the USNCO is inherently a contest, accommodations are considered for disabled competitors, allowing them to participate within the established rules. However, accommodations that significantly alter the competitive nature or create undue hardship cannot be granted.

Time extensions, for instance, are generally challenging to accommodate due to their impact on the exam’s competitive nature and the associated burden on volunteers.

Competitors seeking accommodation must promptly submit documentation from a school official, confirming that the requested accommodation is already provided at the secondary school.

The USNCO reviews this documentation and, if necessary, contacts the competitor, their parent(s), or legal guardian to discuss the accommodation’s need, impact on competition rules, and potential alternative accommodations.

The USNCO may request additional medical information, with all received medical records treated as confidential and shared only with officials needing the information for accommodation-related decisions.

The USNCO aims to strike a balance between inclusivity and the integrity of the competition, considering reasonable accommodations that enable competitors with disabilities to participate effectively.

Registering for Your Local Chemistry Olympiad

For Students

Registration Process: Students keen on participating in the Chemistry Olympiad must complete the ACS registration form by the specified deadline of December 15, 2023.

No Guaranteed Participation: It’s important to note that registration does not automatically guarantee participation in the program.

Notification Process: USNCO Coordinators will communicate with students to confirm their participation status. Notifications will be sent to keep participants informed.

For Home-Schoolers

Registration Requirements: Home-schooled students with an interest in the competition must also register with ACS by completing the designated form before the December 15, 2023 deadline.

For Teachers

Student Information: Teachers play a crucial role in the process. They should inform students about the necessity of registering with ACS (refer to the information provided for students).

Support and Preparation: Teachers are encouraged to assist students in preparing for the exam. Additionally, they can contact the USNCO Coordinator to gain insights into the program within their ACS Local Section.

This comprehensive guide outlines the steps students and teachers need to follow to register for the local Chemistry Olympiad. From the registration process to the notification stage, clear communication and active participation are key to ensuring a smooth and successful registration experience.

Two young students communicate on the street, near the university

How to Prepare for the Chemistry Olympiad

Preparing for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) requires a comprehensive and focused approach. Here are specific and detailed steps that a student can take to prepare effectively:

1. Understand the Syllabus

Familiarize yourself with the USNCO syllabus. Understand the topics and subtopics that are covered in the competition. This will provide a clear roadmap for your study plan.

2. Master Fundamentals

Ensure a solid foundation in fundamental chemistry concepts, including inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. Focus on fundamental principles, theories, and chemical reactions.

3. Textbook Study

Utilize reputable chemistry textbooks, such as those recommended by the American Chemical Society (ACS) or other advanced chemistry textbooks. Cover the material thoroughly and solve practice problems to reinforce your understanding.

4. Problem Solving

Practice solving complex and diverse chemistry problems. This will not only enhance your problem-solving skills but also expose you to different types of questions that may appear in the Olympiad.

5. Previous Exam Papers

Review and solve previous years’ USNCO exam papers. This will give you insights into the format, difficulty level, and the types of questions commonly asked. Analyze your mistakes to identify areas that need improvement.

6. Laboratory Skills

Hone your laboratory skills. Familiarize yourself with common laboratory techniques and experimental procedures. Consider performing chemistry experiments to strengthen your practical knowledge.

7. Stay Updated

Stay informed about recent developments in the field of chemistry. Read scientific journals, articles, and publications to understand how theoretical concepts are applied in real-world scenarios.

8. Online Resources

Leverage online resources such as educational websites, video lectures, and interactive simulations. Online platforms like Khan Academy, ChemCollective, or ACS resources can provide additional learning opportunities.

9. Group Study

Collaborate with fellow students or join a study group. Discussing concepts with peers can offer different perspectives, reinforce learning, and provide a supportive environment for clarifying doubts.

10. Mock Exams

Simulate exam conditions by taking mock exams. Time yourself to improve your time management skills and get accustomed to the pressure of the actual exam setting.

11. Seek Guidance

If possible, seek guidance from experienced chemistry teachers, professors, or mentors. They can provide valuable insights, guidance on study strategies, and help clarify any doubts you may have.

12. Consistent Revision

Regularly review and revise your notes and key concepts. Consistent revision helps reinforce learning and ensures that you retain the information for the long term.

13. Stay Healthy

Don’t neglect your physical and mental well-being. Ensure you get adequate rest, exercise, and maintain a balanced diet. A healthy lifestyle contributes to improved focus and cognitive function.

Combining these strategies allows students to create a robust and effective preparation plan for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad. Consistency, dedication, and a proactive approach to learning will significantly enhance your chances of success in this challenging competition.

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