How to prepare for biology olympiad?

Bellow you can find my selected pieces of advice how to efficiently study for biology olympiads.


1. The most effective resources for studying are the ones you created yourself. So try to make notes! My personal advice is to draw as many diagrams, graphs, scientific drawings of plants and small invertebrates as you can because in this way you quickly memorize the main aspects of various biological concepts.

2. Highlight your textbooks, practice books, notebooks. Color code information to help you quickly find and notice key ideas.

3. During preparation practice using sample questions and answers from previous olympiads. I try to update all exam papers from previous English-speaking biology olympiads, so be sure you took a careful look at them. By doing this your eyes will start catching the most important things when you turn back to your textbooks. Moreover, some tasks are repeating over years so you will get an advantage if you already saw such problems.

4. When memorizing facts try associate it with something you already know or use mnemonics. For example:

All Have Calcerous Osscile Endoskeleton” reveals five classes of Echinoderms:

OR Holothuroidea
Crinoidea (Calcerous)
Ophiuroide (Ossicle)
Echinoidea (Endoskeleton)

At The Girl’s Club” reveals nucleotide base pairing: At The Girl’s Club = AT + GC


German MADE” reveals five major types of immunoglobulins: IgG, IgM, IgA, IgD, and IgE.

In one of my posts I will try to find best websites for biological mnemonics and share it with you.

5. Be sure to put your name or more probably number on the answer sheet. There are cases when students forget to do this and then they are disqualified. Also place your answers in the appropriate place on the answer sheet and if you need to provide a written answer be attentive to write it legibly.

6. Practice to work under competition conditions. Enter as many some kind of sports competition or any scientific competition as you can in order to gain experience in working under pressure and constrained by time limits. In olympiads you will have a pile of problem papers and only a few hours to complete them. So what I advise you to do during the exam is firstly to flick through all tasks inattentively but trying to answer as many questions as your knowledge allows you and then if you have still lots of time carefully come back to the first page and meticulously analyze the problems.

Very important point in olympiads is to put units (very often the task outlines which ones) after any measurements or calculations. This holds true not only for biology olympiads, but for mathematics, physics, chemistry and others, too. Also, work in a neat organized way and always show your work where partial credit is possible.

7. When you are sitting in examination room, carefully read all questions to determine exactly what is being asked. What I do in all exams is that I highlight the most important words in the question and enumerate them if there is more than one question.

8. Try to answer all questions. If you do not have time or you have no idea what it is all about, try to guess. Sometimes the luck may be on your side. Let’s take one example from IBO 2009:

IBO 2009, Theory Part A

Imagine that neither I nor you know what is oxidative phosphorylation. From my experience I can say that world is composed of billions of exceptions so in 98% of cases you can reject all answers that contain word ALL. So we are left with B, C and E. We can reject E because we know what essential components of mitochondria are: ribosomes, enzymes and DNA, so it would not be energetically favourable to transport DNA outside and import proteins inside. For the very same reason B would not be logical, too. So we choose C which is the right answer.

Lastly, find a volunteer research position in a local laboratory to get an indispensable research experience. Ask a senior researcher in your lab for protocols to get acquainted with basic lab techniques. Shortly I will upload a new section with practical exam past problems so you can print it and take with you to your new work place. What you need to do first is to send your email directly to a researcher who works in a field that interests you most, stating your interests in volunteering for some of your time to help out with his or her research and also prepare for biology olympiad practical part. Making a proper email request for a volunteer-position will not guarantee you will get a positive reply — or any reply at all — so you need to be patient and persistent. My advice is to contact as many labs as possible so that you increase your chances.

If you have anything to add, do not hesitate to leave a comment below.

Good luck and think logically!