USABO 2021 Open Exam Top Tips & Tricks

martyna p Tips and Tricks

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The USABO 2021 Open exam is coming up! This year’s biology olympiad will take place on February 11. According to the official USABO website, all exams will be online at one time and on one day administered by the Art of Problem Solving. This may pose some difficulties for many students as a paper-based exam tends to be easier to sit compared to an online exam.

So prepared a few top tips to help you master the Biology Olympiad this year and help you get into the Semifinals. Let’s get started!

Start the exam paper from the end

This a bottom-up test taking technique, which means you start with the HARDEST questions when your brain (and eyes) have still LOTs of ATP. If you start from the first questions, which are the easiest, by the end of the test you will be exhausted and everything will look very hard.

Apply this tip when you do the next practice exam since you need to (re)train yourself to start with the last page of the exam and move your way backwards to the first question.

If there are 2 opposing answers, pick one or the other

In the biology olympiad, there are many questions which contain two opposing answers. In such cases, usually all you have to do is just to pick one or the other (using your biology knowledge) and you may ignore other alternatives.

In these cases, one of the two opposing options will be correct as at the same time both cannot be correct or incorrect (unless the questions asks you to select all that apply).

Approach each statement as if it were true

During the test, approach each statement as if it were true and then determine if any part of the statement is false. Using your biology knowledge or information provided in the questions find evidence to reject the statement. Bear in mind that just one false part in a statement will make the entire statement false.

If you cannot find any evidence that the statement is false, then it’s the correct answer.

Save time

If the question is very long, start with the last sentence which usually has a question and read the answer options first.

Try rule out any illogical statements using your biology knowledge to narrow down your options. If you need evidence from the questions itself, only then go back and read the entire question to find supporting evidence for only those statements that you are left with.

This skill takes a lot of practice since in schools we are taught to first read and analyse the question carefully, and only then to move on to the answer options. But when you read the question first, you can become very biased, or even confused! When you see some words or concepts you don’t know, you become muddled and this in turn makes you waste a lot of time. So practice doing past papers at home with a timer, using the ANSWER → QUESTION order for long questions.

However, it must be stressed that this tip mainly applies to long questions. There is no need to read answers first for short questions – this will not save you much time.

Don’t pick the answer which is too simple or obvious

In past biology olympiad papers, there are many tricky questions that seem quite easy. Intuitively you may choose the simplest answer. However, before choosing the answer, remember that you are in the olympiad and you came there not to test your school curriculum knowledge, but to test your analytical and critical thinking skills. Usually, the simplest answer isn’t correct.

A longer statement may be false

Naturally, when sitting the biology olympiad paper you may think that the longer a statement, the greater the likelihood the statement will be correct. One of the most common ‘rules of thumb’ is to select the longest answer. This is not the case in the biology olympiad exams.

Remember, it only takes one part of a statement being false to make the entire statement false. The longer the statement, the more chance one part will be false. So don’t just select the longest answer. Use your biology knowledge!

Pay attention to “qualifiers”

Sometimes, biology olympiad questions are ridiculously easy, but many students fail to spot the correct answer because they do not pay attention to key words (see Tip 8). Be wary of such words as MUST, HAS TO, ALWAYS, NONE, NEVER, ONLY, ALL, ENTIRE, ENTIRELY, ABSOLUTELY, MOST, ANY, EVERY, COMPLETELY, BEST, WORST, etc. that indicate absence of any exceptions. Such strict qualifiers in many cases reflect a false statement.

Typically, correct answers contain such flexible words as FEW, MANY, SOMETIMES, FREQUENTLY, SELDOM, OFTEN, GENERALLY etc. Such words open up the possibilities of making accurate statements.

Bear in mind that biology is a subject that does not conform to conventional rules. It is filled with exceptions and unique characteristics, and everything rarely follows set laws!

So in the olympiad, carefully read the question and look for qualifiers that provide clues to the correct answer.

Reason statements usually are false

Questions that state a reason in the biology olympiad tend to be false. So beware of such words like BECAUSE, SINCE, REASON, DUE TO that indicate a “reason” statement.

To correctly answer such questions, you need to rely on your biology knowledge or find supporting evidence from the question itself.

Study math, chemistry and physics

Although you are about to take the biology olympiad, chemistry, math and physics are all important. Make sure to review school-level textbooks for these subjects.

Know your theory

Here is a folder with concise revision notes from all biology topics:

Master problem solving

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The course is divided into 3 modules:

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