„Ólympíudeild SamLíf“


Contact data

Country coordinator

Ólafur Patrick Ólafsson

Hosting institution

Háskóli Íslands
Sæmundargata 2, N-156
102, Reykjavík


Appointing institution

The Icelandic Biology Teachers' Association (SamLíf)

Borgartún 30

105 Reykjavík


Organization & structure

The Icelandic Biology Olympiad is organized on cooperation between The Icelandic Biology Teachers' Association (SamLíf) and the University of Iceland (UI), of which SamLíf is the official IBO member.

There are two rounds. The first round is organized by SamLíf, and the final round is organized by the University of Iceland's Faculty of life and environmental sciences.

Number of students in first round

All secondary school students in Iceland are invited to join the first round, regardless of school type, place or previous experience with biology. This is approx 14.000 students annually, with about 5000 of them studying biology in some form. Around 100-200 students join the first round every year.


The first round is produced and organized by the Icelandic Biology Teachers' Association (SamLíf) and is purely theoretical. The Association includes an Olympiad subcommittee devoted to the task (Ólympíudeild). The round consists of a 1-hour long multiple choice test with subjects and questions types in accordance with IBO guidelines. The Olympiad subcommittee distributes the test to all secondary schools where there is interest, and delegates the execution of the test to the schools. Students therefore take the test in their own school, supervised by their school. The test is executed simultaneously across all schools in Iceland (same day and time), usually in late autumn (October/November). The 20 highest scoring students nationwide are invited to the final round.

The final round is produced, hosted and executed by the University of Iceland. It is both theoretical and practical and takes place over one day in early spring (February/March) and the Faculty of life and environmental sciences campus in Reykjavík. The day begins with a 1-hour long written exam, which is essentially a simplified version of a previous theoretical IBO-exam. Three to four practical exams then follow. They vary between years, but include at least one botany or zoology exercise, and one cell biology or biochemistry exercise. Students are graded on their lab results, theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as their time-efficiency and workmanship. The 4 highest-scoring students throughout the day are invited to join the Icelandic IBO team.


Competitors receive no training before the first or final rounds of exams, outside of their usual biology lessons at their respective schools.

The four competitors who are chosen for the IBO team receive five weeks of low-intensity training, in the weeks leading up to the IBO. During these weeks, they participate in five days of lab exercises, and a few lectures from biology teachers at the University of Iceland. Outside of these exercises and lectures, the students prepare for competition in a self-directed manner.

Study materials

No special material has been developed or made available to students to prepare for national rounds.

Competitors in the IBO are instructed to read Campbell's Biology: A Global Approach.

Awards & prizes

The four team members of the Icelandic IBO-team receive books as their award. They are usually recent books on biological topics and are donated by publishers. Other awards and prizes are not given. Some schools also award the highest-achieving students within the school with books, independently of the NBO.


Type of students

All secondary school students in Iceland can participate in the NBO, regardless of school type, course of study, status og prior experience with biology.

School year

Most secondary schools in Iceland start their school year in late August and finish in late May or early June.

Biology hours/week

Most NBO-participants are students enrolled in science-oriented courses of study, and study biology for 3-5 hours a week. However, this varies greatly between schools and courses of study, with some schools offering up to 9 biology hours a week, and some as little as no biology.

Hours of Classes/week

Most secondary school students attend 30-35 classes per week.

Public Relations


The Icelandic Biology Teachers' Association (SamLíf) e-mails all secondary school science teachers in Iceland with the necessary information at the beginning of every school year. It is then up to individual teachers to recruit students in their school. In addition, we have a Facebook page ( , which runs targeted ads to secondary school students.

Promotion contact

Arnór Bjarki Svarfdal (

Statistics over the years
  • 2021: 75 students from 5 schools (16% of eligible schools)
  • 2020: 133 students from 10 schools (32% of eligible schools)
  • 2019: 292 students from 8 schools (26% of eligible schools)
  • 2018: 95 students from 9 schools (29% of eligible schools)
  • 2017: 174 students from 8 schools (26% of eligible schools)

2021 saw a marked drop in participation. This may have been because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as schools closed and decided to not host any extra-curricular events, such as the first rounds of national Olympiads.

Media coverage

We are unaware of any local or national media coverage. We use social media to connect with teachers. Schools advertise the competition and its results on their websites.


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