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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Success story: how to win USABO


Nikhil Buduma’s Talk, CEE Congressional Luncheon May 1, 2014
Almost precisely 3 years ago, I opened up an email that would completely change my life.  That email was an invitation to participate in the 2011 USA Biology Olympiad National Finals, a 2 week long camp where the top 20 high school students in the nation come together to explore the life sciences on an unbelievably deep level and compete for a spot on the 4-person Team USA at the International Olympiad. Now, if someone had told me back then that this would be the single most important email I would open during my high school career, my younger self probably would have dismissed them in disbelief. But in retrospect, being invited to the National Finals for the first time my sophomore year opened so many doors that it’s impossible for me to imagine what the past three years of my life would’ve been like otherwise.
I think one of the most valuable aspects of the biology Olympiad is the community built around it. Learning is never a purely individual pursuit, it’s highly cooperative, dynamic, and inter-disciplinary. At the national level, the Olympiad brings together people who are deeply passionate about biology, but at the same time come from vastly different cultural and academic backgrounds.  Surrounded by a team of world class peers, researchers, and mentors, I’ve learned more over the cumulative 6 weeks I spent at the National Finals than I learned in 4 years of school.  I can confidently say that the rigor of the Olympiad is unmatched by any other high school program in the country. And the fact that the U.S. team has brought home 4 gold medals not one, not two, but three years in a row is a testament to that fact. But, in addition to just helping me build a strong knowledge base, the program has also taught me to ask insightful questions and empowered me with the toolset necessary to design my own experiments and discover the answers. In fact, using everything I’ve learned through the Olympiad, I’ve been able to conduct independent research projects on topics ranging from low cost screening techniques for pharmaceutical products to improving the composition of the whooping cough vaccine.  And the beneficial effects of the Olympiad don’t just stop at the highest level of competition. Through my personal experiences, I’ve found that the community spirit trickles all the way down to the school level. After bringing the biology Olympiad to my high school, more and more people interested in biology began to study together, and as a result, the science program at my high school has strengthened significantly.
                On an even broader level, participating at the International level gave me an eye-opening glimpse of the world beyond my immediate community. I will never forget learning some basic Arabic from a boy representing the United Arab Emirates, discussing the issues of segregation and racial discrimination with the team from South Africa, and hearing the life story of a budding biologist from Iran, who had kept her love of science a secret from her family in fear that they would not accept her. I will never forget the nights we spent in the common area, passing around a Tupperware container of exotic plant specimen most of us had never seen before. And of course, I will never forget standing in front a huge crowd to announce my teammate's birthday the night after the practical exam and hearing the room burst into a surprisingly harmonious ensemble of the song "Happy Birthday" sung simultaneously in at least twenty different languages.
You see, for me, and for tens of thousands of students all over the nation, the U.S.A Biology Olympiad has been a life-changing experience. It’s programs like these that inspire students to take their education to the next level, tackle some of the society’s most important problems, and engage the world in ways as citizens of a global community. None of this would be possible without the Center for Excellence and Education, who have organized such an amazing program, Ms. Kathy Frame and Dr. Clark Gedney, who have made the USA Biology Olympiad the spectacular success it is today, and all of you whose support is crucial to the success of the Olympiad and its ability to foster the education of future generations of students.  Thank you.


What's new in the 2017 USABO?

Welcome to the 2017 USABO competition! The 2017 changes reflect the continued development and recognition of USABO where students who are passionate about biology find like-minded colleagues in the USA and abroad.
What is the USABO? page
This page is the landing site for the USABO. New to this page:
  • What is new in biology TODAY? Click on the photo and read the latest in biological research for that day.
  • Click on the Facebook icon at the bottom of the page and friend the USABO. New on the USABO Facebook page:
    • News and interesting facts in biology each day.
    • Opportunities for students at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level in biological research worldwide.
    • Celebration of a famous biologist's birthday with a link to information regarding his/her contributions to biology.
USABO Registration Site
CEE continues to work on providing a more user-friendly registration site tested for usability by USABO teachers. Once your school information has been entered, it will be permanently stored to ease registration in coming years. If you registered your school for the USABO in the years 2011 through 2015, you will find your school in the dropdown menu in the Test Administrator section on the USABO homepage. Although you will find your school in the dropdown menu, all teachers and students will still need to register for 2017.
USABO Exam Question Format
The 2013 International Biology OIympiad (IBO) Theoretical Exam changed the question format of the exam to the Multiple True/False Choice. This year in Denmark, this was the format used for Theoretical. Both the Theoretical and Practicals were all digital. The USABO  Semifinal and National Exams include the Multiple True/False question format.
Teacher Resource Center (TRC)
The TRC is a work in progress. Once your school has completed the registration process and payment has been received, please check the TRC for the latest resources and links to help you to prepare your students for the USABO. Content is arranged according to the seven IBO focus groups:
  • Cell Biology
  • Animal Anatomy and Physiology
  • Plant Anatomy and Physiology
  • Ethology
  • Genetics and Evolution
  • Ecology
  • Biosystematics
All Open Exams and the Semifinal Exams from 2003 to 2013 with keys are available online in the Teacher Resource Center (TRC). Test Administrators may use themwith their students in hard copy format only as they see fit. Under no circumstances is the URL to be provided to students or the exams to be linked to other web sites!
Student Corner (SC)
This area is open to ALL students whether they have registered for the USABO or not. It includes the following sections:
  • How to Start a USABO Club: Step by step information and guidance from USABO students who have formed USABO Clubs at their schools. Each year, this information is updated with input from USABO participants.
  • General Content: As the title implies, this has information on the areas of the IBO Curriculum.
  • Content: This area has been expanded to include:
    • Suggested sites.
    • Suggested texts for in-depth and supplemental study or reading.
    • Scientist of interest
    • USABO Finalists' Favorite Links
    • Introduction to the seven areas of the IBO curriculum resources where more indepth resources are found in the Student Resource Center.
Student Resource Center (SRC)
This page has information specifically for students who have registered for the USABO.
  • All seven areas of the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) have been updated with useful links, study problems, and other resources to prepare for the USABO.
  • The Biodiverisity area has an image of a common organism for each taxonomic representative prescribed by the IBO.
  • Tips for Studying for the USABO by former National Finalists will be available November 17.

Biology Resources Linked to IBO Curriculum

Animal Anatomy and Physiology 25%

Cell and Molecular Biology 20%

Cell Organelles

Organelles: Basic description of structure and functions of organelles of plant and animal cells. Drawings are elementary, but the information is valuable

Cell Processes


General Information: Molecular Biology

Genetics and Evolution (20%)

General Information: Genetics


Mendelian Inheritance: monohybrid, dihybrid, and polyhybrid crosses

Hardy-Weinberg Principle

General Information: Evolution

Mechanisms of Evolution

Plant Anatomy and Physiology (15%)

General Information

Structure and function of tissues and organs involved in photosynthesis:

Ecology: 10%

General Information

Individual Organisms : Journal article on Ecology with individual as basic unit of ecosystem.


Biotic Communities (Information is specific to community, such as Southwest Arizona)

Native Botany Classroom: Contains information on biotic communities.


Ecosystems: Terrestrial, Freshwater, and Marine from the USGS: Discussion of ecosystesms and current research in these ecosystems. Program to set a scientific basis for the improvement of the relationships between people and their environment globally.
Biosphere and Man: Man and the Biosphere Programme: Program to set a scientific basis for the improvement of the relationships between people and their environment globally.

Ethology: 5%

General Information


Applied Ethology: International Society of Applied Ethology education and resource links.
Readings and Resources for Ethology: Images, readings, videos, research and other resources courtship, predation, human behavior, parental behavior, and more.

Methodology of Ethology

Animal World's Communications Kings from BBC News: Article on animal communication among dogs, parrots, apes, and other animals.
The Animal Communication Project: Descriptions of various animals methods of communication.

Innate and Learned Behavior

  • Classical Conditioning: Episode of the Office that demonstrates classical conditioning in a humorous, effective manner.
  • Operant Conditioning: Episode of the Big Bang Theory that demonstrates operant conditioning with humor and effectiveness.
Elements of Behavior from North Carolina State University: Comparisons of learned, innate, and complex behaviors with tutorials.
Innate Behavior from Kimball Biology: Descriptions, diagrams, and animations of innate behavior.

Communication and Social Behavior

Animal Behavior Farm at Indiana University Farm is a learning environment. Sit contains descriptions and images of social behavior among birds.

Foraging Behavior

Defensive Behavior

Animal Adaptations—Animal Defense from the Utah Education Network: Overview of animal behavior and detailed information on several species.
Animals on Defense Mechanisms: Describes and provides images for defensive behaviors in animals.
Introduction to Animal Behavior from BioEd Online: Lectures and powerpoints on animal behavior.

Mating Systems and Parental Care

Spider courtship dance: A jumping spider tries out his fancy footwork (and coordinated vibrations!) on a prospective mate.

Biological Rhythms

Biological Rhythms from Neuroscience for Kids by Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D. Simple activities that focus on biological rhythms.
Biological Clocks from the Millar Lab: Descriptions, examples, videos, researchers, and links to resources.
Why Young Sunflowers Follow the Sun: YouTube describing the biological rhythm and hormonal responses of young sunflowers.

Biosystematics: 5%

General Readings

Gastropods: General site on gastropods.
Mealworms Description of mealworms and their care.
Ulothrix: Description and images of Ulothrix.
Horsetails: Good diagram of horsetail.










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