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USA Biology Olympiad

2002   (in English)

Outreach is conducted in association with organizations such as the National Association of Biology Teachers, and state and county science coordinators throughout the U.S. The opening of the USABO registration is published on the USABO Homepage ( three months in advance and announced to teachers nationwide on local, state, and national science education websites, listservs, and e-blasts, approximately three months ahead.

The Center for Excellence in Education organizes the USABO.

There are four rounds of competition that are open to all US citizens and legal permanent residents.

Round 1: Open Exam conducted nationally from February 5 to 15, 2019.

Round 2: Semifinal Exam conducted March 18 to 22, 2019.

Round 3: National Exam conducted June 22 to July 6, 2019 at UC San Diego.

Round 4: International Biology Olympiad  in Szeged, Hungary from July 14 to 21, 2019.


Schools involved: public and private schools Grades 9 to 12.

The Final Round is 

  • Conducted at a host university over a 12-day period with 10 days of instruction and two days of testing.
  • Attended by students with the top 20 scores on the Semifinal Exam.
  • CEE recognizes that the National Finals’ dates may conflict with high school graduation. CEE does not discourage students from attending their graduation. Special arrangements may be made by the student for a 24-hour (maximum) return to home. The student is asked to be cognizant of the fact that experience has shown missing one full day of training may be extremely detrimental to the student’s scores on the National Finals Exam and Practicals.
  • Team USA will stay an additional two to three days for more training and preparation with personal instruction for the IBO Competition.
  • Instruction focuses on the laboratory and conceptual understanding for all 20 Finalists.
  • Activities led by university professors and experts with experience in research and undergraduate and graduate teaching assisted by former USABO Finalists.
  • Evenings will be free for study with tutorials from the Teaching Assistants (all former USABO medalists or Finalists) and other activities.
  • Practical is approximately 6 hours in duration and the Theoretical Exam is approximately three hours.
    • Practical: laboratory-based skills, techniques, data interpretation, and real-time laboratory competency exam involving conceptual understanding and problem solving.
    • Theoretical: multiple true/false choice questions and multiple choice involving interpretation of diagrams and graphs, integration of information, and data analysis.
    • Practical and Theoretical Exams MUST be taken on the scheduled day. No exceptions can be made.
  • Room and board are provided.
  • Students are responsible for transportation to and from the USABO National Finals. Students with financial need should contact CEE should assistance be required.
  • Each Finalist and his/her guardian is asked to sign an agreement to indicate support for the Finalist's advancement in the USABO competition to include full participation in Finals and the IBO competition. In addition, each Finalist and guardian signs an agreement that prohibits participation in any other national academic Olympiad or summer program, such as the Research Science Institute. In the spirit of the Olympiad, a student and his/her parent/guardian are expected to honor the commitment when they sign this agreement.
  • At Finals, each student signs an agreement to obey the USABO rules. If a student breaks any one of the rules made in the USABO agreement, the student will not receive a certificate of participation or a medal. Finalists will be re-ranked accordingly.

The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is a four-tiered competition open to all U.S. high school students. Tests are constructed under the guidance of the Center for Excellence in Education.

Round One: USABO Open Exam

The competition begins each February with a multiple-choice exam administered nationwide in class to all interested U.S. high school students nominated by their teachers. Students do not need to be currently enrolled in a biology class, nor have taken AP Biology, in order to participate in the USABO Open Exam. Certificates of participation are available online to teachers to provide to their students.

Round Two: USABO Semifinals

The top 10% of students take the Open Exam or the top 500 Open Exam participants are eligible to take the Semifinal Exam. The exam is two hours long, consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions and is administered in class.

Certificates are given to all Semifinalist participants. The USABO encourages recognition of the Semifinalists, their teachers, and their schools through local award ceremonies where student achievements are acknowledged.

Round Three: USABO National Finals

The top 20 Semifinalist participants are invited to attend the USABO National Finals at University. The top 10% of Semifinalists receive a "Recognition of Academic Excellence" certificate recognizing that these participants scored in the to 10% on the Semifinal Exam.

The National Finals consists of 12 days of intensive theoretical and practical tutorials, where the students work with leading biologists from across the United States. At the conclusion of the tutorials, the students take two exams - a six-hour practical and a three-hour theoretical - to compete for one of the four places on Team USA.

Round 4: International Biology Olympiad

The top four medalists will attend the 2018  IBO.

The 2019 International Biology Olympiad will be held Szeged, Hungary  from July 14 to 21, 2019.


Training and conducting practice tests and sessions varies by school district throughout the US. The Center for Excellence in Education has a Teachers' Resource Center (TRC) on the USABO website that has links to resources, previous exams, frequently asked questions and other useful information to prepare for the exams. There is also a Student Resource Center section with study guides, useful links from USABO Finalists, and information on how to organize a USABO Club.

Training for the International Biology Olympiad is conducted over a 12-day period with extensive practice in theoretical knowledge and lab practices finalized with a theoretical exam and a lab practical.

Biology (8th Edition) by Neil A. Campbell; Jane B. Reece; Lisa A. Urry; Michael L. Cain; Steven A. Wasserman; Peter V. Minorsky; Robert B. Jackson

  • Publisher: Benjamin Cummings
  • Copyright Year: 2008
  • Publishing Date: 2007/11/27
  • eText ISBN-10: 0-321-54844-2 eText ISBN-13: 978-0-321-54844-3
  • Print ISBN-10: 0-321-54325-4 Print ISBN-13: 978-0-321-54325-7
  • Course: Introductory Biology
  • Pages: 1393


Certificates of recognition are available for teachers to distribute to their students. There is no requirement that a teacher provide a certificate.


Certificates are given to all Semifinalist participants. In addition, students who scored in the the top 10% are given additional recognition with a Certificate of Recognition of Academic Excellence. The USABO encourages recognition of the Semifinalists, their teachers, and their schools through local award ceremonies where achievements are acknowledged.


Certificates are awarded to all participants. Each student receives a copy of Biology by Reece and Campbell, Hayden-McNeil Laboratory notebook, and lab coat from Psychemedics. Silver and bronze medals are awarded to the runners-up and gold medals are awarded to the four students who represent the USABO as Team USA at the International Biology Olympiad.

Press releases are sent through the Center for Excellence in Education to local and national news media for each of the 20 Finalists.

The USABO is sponsored with funding and in-kind support by the following organizations:
  • Gilead
  • Hayden McNeil
  • National Association of Biology Teachers
  • Novartis
  • Pearson
  • Psychemedics Corporation
  • Sanofi
  • Vanguard Research
  • VWR
  • UC San Diego


USABO 2019 Rules & Regulations

Documentation for Open and Semi-final Exam Security

  • USABO requires that all students sign and date their exam to certify their identity, acknowledge their participation in the USABO, and pledge that they have followed the rules of the competition.
  • A teacher will document that s/he administered the exam according to the rules of the completion and has verified the identity of those students taking the exam.
  • Without the documentation and signatures, the exams will not be scored.
  • Students must be a citizen or legal permanent resident of the U.S.
  • All students in each school must take the exam on the same day and at the same time and place. Students are given only one opportunity to take the exam.
  • The exam may be given on any day and time during the designated exam period (one of the ten exam dates). An alternative exam date may be arranged with the prior approval of CEE.


Identification and Security

  • USABO assigns each registered school a unique ID number.
  • All teachers within the same school use the same school ID number.
  • USABO assigns each registered student a unique ID number.Students are not allowed to take the exam(s) without registering.
  • Prior to the USABO Open Exam instructions are emailed to registered teachers. The email provides the  password to the Open Exam. Teachers access the exam with their unique ID number and password.
  • Semifinalist teachers receive a new password for the Semifinal Exam and can access the Semifinal Exam with their unique ID number and password online.
  • Teachers can view results only for their school.
  • Students may review their own individual scores.



Selection to the USABO National Finals is based upon the Semifinal Exam score. The top 20 are selected without regard to race, ethnicity, gender or religious affiliation. If a top-20 participant is unable to attend the National Finals, the next highest scoring student will be contacted and become a National Finalist.


National Finalists must affirm

  • Attendance at the International Biology Olympiad if a gold medalist.
  • No participation in any other 2019 International Olympiad or summer program that would conflict with National Finals or the International Biology Olympiad.
  • Adherence to all the rules and regulations governing the USABO and the International Biology Olympiad.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residency (green card).


International Biology Olympiad

Rules and regulations are found at The USA Biology Olympiad is in full conformity with International regulations.

If a gold medal winner fails to follow the rules affirmed above s/he will forfeit the gold medal. In the event that a National Finalist wins a gold medal and is unable to attend the International Biology Olympiad because of circumstances beyond the control of the medalist, the gold medal will be retained. In either instance the highest scoring silver medalist will become a member of team USA at the International Biology Olympiad.


~ 70% male and 30% female


~ 85% public and 15% private


Asian (could identify as Chinese or Korean) 68.52%

White                                                       18.52%

Cuban-American                                         1.85%

Native American                                         3.70%

Other                                                        7.41%

IBO Awards

49 Gold Medals

  9 Silver Medals

  2 Bronze Medals


from September to June.
minimum 2 hours with 40 minutes each, maximum 4 hours with 40 minutes each.

Kathy Frame

Center for Excellence in Education 8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 215 McLean, VA 22102
Center for Excellence in Education 8201 Greensboro Drive, Suie 215 McLean, VA 22102

Images and files:

Brochure and postcard are used to disseminate information about USABO at conferences and electronic mail.

Image for the poster PNG image — 1583 KB
File for the poster PDF document — 396 KB

Image for the leaflet PNG image — 548 KB
File for the leaflet PDF document — 823 KB
by Kathy Frame last modified Jan 29, 2019 09:50 AM