What are the keywords in the biology olympiad?

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Biology olympiads compared to usual school biology tests and exams mainly differ in wording of the question. I bet you noticed that in olympiads, creators of the exam play with words and make the question confusing or convoluted.

So how can you go about this and answer the question correctly if everything in the question looks confusing? Well… this is where keywords come in handy. I have been a biology olympiad tutor for 5 years now and I always train my students to use a highlighter during the olympiad exam. Why? Because this is one of the tools that can help you:

  1. Keep focussed on what the question is actually asking
  2. Spot the key biological clues in the question which will guide you to the correct answer
Highlight, highlight, highlight

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But wait! What should I highlight? What is a key word in the biology olympiad question? Let’s start with a definition.

So the key word in the olympiad is any word that if you change it to something else, the meaning of the question will change dramatically. Let’s have a look at one example. This is a question from the USABO 2014 Semifinal exam.

First, think what you would highlight in this question. The most important words from the problem above are: “animal cells”, “very unhealthy”, “high”, “lactic acid”, “cause”. Without these key words, the meaning of the whole question would change.

In general, the key words include any species names, chemical names, names of techniques, numbers, adjectives that describe some kind of properties and verbs.

Just be careful, don’t overhighlight things as you will get loss easily when you read the question a second time.

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