Common Questions about Science Olympiad




What is Elementary Science Olympiad?


Science Olympiad is a competition for teams of up to 12 students that compete in 13 different events. The events cut across the scientific disciplines including earth space science, engineering, biology, chemistry and physics.


We have three divisions: A, Elementary B, Middle School and C, High School. Each compete independent of each other at two different tournaments.

What are the grade and team levels?


There are three divisions: A, B, C. Middle school is classified as a Division B Team, grade 6-9, high school is classified as a Division C team, grades 9-12 (yes there is an overlap in 9th grade). These two teams (B and C) compete in regional and state tournaments. Elementary school teams (K-5) are classified as A teams and currently only compete in small regional competitions. There is no statewide competition for elementary teams.

Who makes up a team?


Elementary Teams are comprised of up to 12 students, and it is allowable to have fewer. It is also required that an adult (often a teacher at the school, but it can be a parent) becomes the "coach" of the team. The coach acts as the official contact between Science Olympiad and the team.


We are often asked what is the smallest number that can be on a team and the answer is 1! We have found that teams that are well balanced with students across the grades are much more successful than those that load up on students in higher grades. However, even if your school has 6th graders, the elementary team is comprised of only grades K-5. If you want to form a team with 6th graders, they can join in with our middle competitions.

How do I form a team?


Its actually easy! A big suggestion though: The first year will be most difficult in selling the idea of Science Olympiad to your students. It is difficult to visualize what the competition is all about and how it differs from other science competitions they may have experienced in the past. We suggest showing this video that can help communicate the idea of Science Olympiad.


Then here are some ideas:

  • Have a meeting to gauge interest.

  • Show the list of events for the coming competition year.

  • Have students select the 2-3 events they would most interested be in doing.

  • Always try to give students their top pick.

  • If you have a lot of interest, set up mini-competitions for each event to determine who is the best at competing in the event. Form the team from the top performers in each event. Other students who come in 2nd or 3rd in the mini-competition can be put onto a second or third tier team.

  • Have parents help out and coach the team. Often parents can help with a single event and it reduces the amount of work on you, the coach.

  • Once your register, you will receive a rules manual. Make copies of the rules, distribute them to the students and have them practice practice practice! The rules are complex, but they have general guidelines to help with the preparation of the event.

  • Once the teams are formed, look at the schedule and determine which set of students will pair up to compete in each event. There will be conflicts, but this means that you will need to rework the students' schedule.

  • Don't overlook our rules clarifications, policies, and information throughout our website.

  • Check out our forum for ideas!

  • Finally, come to a workshop training! You will receive TONS of info. Its a great chance to ask lots of questions and network with others who have competed. Plus, your registration includes free registration for two people from your team.

What is a tournament?


A tournament is a competition in which teams of up to 12 students compete in 13 different events.

How many events are there?


There are 13 different events that are related to physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, inquiry, and earth space science. The events change every year, with 1-2 being completely new events, and 2-3 undergoing major revisions. This keeps our events fresh (and prevents successful teams from passing on their devices and knowledge to classmates and siblings!)

What types of events are there?


There are three basic types of events:

  • Lab based - events are those like Mystery Powders, which require students to complete a lab activity during the competition. 

  • Research based events - events are those events like Rocks and Minerals which encourage students to prepare research materials prior to the competition and use them in the event. 

  • Prebuilt events - are engineering events in which students build a device to accomplish a task or goal and the device is tested onsite at the competition.

Do I have to compete in all 23 events?


No. Scores accumulated by the teams are based on the performance of the indivdual student groups. The first year that a team competes, they will likely do many but not all of the events. However, to advance from regionals to a state tournament, it is difficult to do without competing in each event. Any event in which a team does not compete is considered to be a "Did Not Show" and will be given a score equivalent to the last place team + 1 point. (So if 20 teams compete in a tournament, and a team does not compete in Mystery Powders, they will be given 21 points for that event.) Lowest number of points determines the overall ranking of the team.

How many students can compete in each event? Can I send multiple sets of students to each event?


This is perhaps the most common question we get! With 12 students and13 events, you can imagine that there is a bit of chaos as students go from one event to the next. Each of the 13 events is designed to be an event for 2, 3 or 4 students (most of our events allow 2 students only). Each TEAM is allowed to compete in each EVENT only 1 time. So while you might have 4 students who desparately want to do Bottle Rockets, only 2 will be allowed (because Bottle Rockets is an event in which 2 students work together on a single bottle rocket device). If you have a great deal of interest, you can form a second team and then the second team, independent of the first, is allowed to enter another set of 13 events.


Finally, pairs of students do not have to remain connected at the hip throughout the entire day. They can switch partners with other students on the same team as often as needed. Student 1 can be with Student 2 in Mystery Powders, and then race off to do Bottle Rockets later in the day with Student 3.

Can students on my team get medals even though my team overall does poorly?


Yes! Event awards are based on the individual performance of the students, independent of the overall team. However, the team accumates points from the individual 13 events and this determines the rank of the team.

How are medals and team awards determined?


Each of the events are based on the rules and scored according to the guidelines found within the rules. Event supervisors design the event according to the rules and based on team performance the event supervisor ranks teams from first to last place. First place receives 1 point, second place 2 points and so on. The top three places in each event are awarded medals (and each student receives a medal in that event). We rank all places in each event. For example at the state, there are 42 teams in each division, so the rankings are designated as outilined here:


1st PlaceĀ  = 1 Point
2nd Place = 2 Points
3rd Place = 3 Points
4th Place = 4 Points
5th Place = 5 Points
6th Place = 6 Points
7th Place = 7 Points
8th Place = 8 Points
9th Place = 9 Points
10th Place = 10 Points
nth Place = n Points

Last Place = 42 points (ties allowed)
Did Not Show (DNS) = 43 points (ties allowed)
Disqualified for poor sportsmanship (DQ) = 44 points (ties allowed)


If there are 20 teams in a tournament, last place is equal to 20, no shows are equal to 21 and DQ's are equal to 22.


For the team award, we add up the points across all 13 events for a total team score. The lowest overall team score is awarded first place. Take a look at previous scores here and you get a sense of how it works. The ramification of this is that even if your team does well in every event, but does not go to 1 event out of the 13, it can remove a team from the ability to attend a state or national competition.

How do I get my team number?


The team number is assigned by the tournament director and you receive these after you register. You use this to plan your schedule. There are some events in which you are required to show up at an assigned time, and this based on your team number.

How are the events scheduled?


A state schedule is published online by September. Each team is given a team number. The team numbers are slotted into different time blocks during the competition day. The teams MUST compete in the hour in which they are assigned. We have some events that are self scheduled. We have a system online that will open up about 2 weeks before the competition to allow teams to login and self-select time blocks.


Since there are a large number of teams that compete, we can not allow a team to switch their assigned event slots.

What if there is a scheduling conflict?


Teams often contact us when this happens to ask if we can allow for a schedule change because they have an event conflict. Every team will have a scheduling conflict. We do not allow changes to team numbers or to event times prior to the competition. If a student has a conflict, they should be reassigned to a different event.

Can I have multiple teams a from a single school?


Yes. A school can have as many teams as they would like from a single school, but each team must have a coach (that is not coaching more than one team) and must pay a separate registration fee.

Can I form a team with students from other schools?


No. Superteam formation is not permitted. This is defined as a team in which students from multiple schools are placed onto a single team. National rules prohibit this.

Can Homeschools and Private Schools compete?


Yes! Homeschools must follow our homeschool policy that generally states that the students must not already be in a private or public school and all the students must live within two contiguous counties. In terms of our Science Olympiad competition, private and public schools are equivalent.


Note that organizations that are comprised of students from various schools are not permitted to compete as a team. Those students must be part of a team from their home school

How do I read the rules?


The rules are complex! Mystery Powders is an event that requires students to conduct a laboratory activity. The activity that the students will encounter in the event competition is not defined explicitly, but the general concepts that will be tested are written in the rules. The students should study and prepare materials based on the concepts outlined in the rules. The rules also define items that MUST be brought (these are required items, such as googles or aprons) and without them, the students are not allowed to compete. In some cases, the rules might define items that SHOULD or MAY be brought. These are items, such as a binder of information, pens, pencils, calculators, that are not required, but it will certainly impair the students' ability to perform at high levels should they not have them.


As you read the rules, you may notice that some words are bolded. The words are bolded to indicate that there is a change in wording from the previous year.


In every case, examine the scoring section. This section contains clues on what is important and what is not. It also contains the relative weight of items that will be scored. This will help you determine what is important and what is not.


In the case of the building events, there are often two sections: A Construction Section and a Competition Section. While we do everything they can to communicate construction parameters clearly, confusion does occur. At times, items in the competition section can impact how the device is built, even if a criteria is not specifcally listed in the construction section.


Finally, keep this rule in mind: "If it is not specifcally forbidden in the rules, it is allowable as long as it does not violate the spirit of the rules" Now this appears to be a "gotcha" rule doesn't it! But it is not really. It just means that you should use common sense in interpretting the rules. If it feels like it could violate a rule, contact the tournament director and discuss it so that students are not inadvertently disqualified.

What is an impound event?


This is found in the rules at the top and will show "Impound: Yes." Events that state they must be impounded require that a student from the team drop off the prebuilt device in the morning before all the event time blocks begin. The event supervisor will inspect the device for construction violations and then the students will return at their assigned time to compete with the device. This is designed to prevent teams from seeing what others have done and then make last minute modifications that would benefit a team that may be competing later in the day.