MIT Invitational Jan 2020

Here are the exam materials for the Astronomy C exam, which was written by Asher Noel, Antonio Frigo, Aditya Shah, and me. Teams performed about as expected with this difficult exam, with the mean score being 42 (out of 118) with a standard deviation of 18. Teams did pretty well on the multiple choice questions (mean score 27.5/40), but found the free response far less accessible (mean scores 5.5/30 and 9/48 for sections B and C respectively).

This exam was pretty challenging, but I’m glad that teams were able to rise to it. The co-ES’s and I struggled to find the proper balance in writing an exam that was challenging for top teams but not wholly discouraging for newer competitors. This is the result: an exam with a fairly straightforward section A, a challenging section B, and a much more difficult section C. Most teams attempted the JS9 questions, and many teams got credit. Hopefully this question offers more practice material. We emphasized cosmology pretty heavily in this exam – understanding dark energy (lambda), cosmic microwave background, early structure formation, and how the expansion of the universe (i.e. scale factor) affects those.Unfortunately, there aren’t many good online resources for cosmology, making it tricky to learn. Hopefully this exam gives a good starting point. For the dedicated learner, Ryden’s Introduction to Cosmology is the standard undergraduate text, but that’s probably overkill for scioly purposes. I’d recommend starting on Wikipedia’s article on physical cosmology and seeing where that takes you.

UT Invitational Oct 2019

For the first time in Astronomy C history, we’ve run the event with live Js9! :)

This year, I made the exam significantly easier. As a result, teams did pretty well on it; one team got close to a perfect score. According to a feedback form, the difficulty and length of the exam was about right for most teams. Keep in mind that more than 50% of competitors responded that they were first-time competitors in astronomy.

UT Regional Mar 2019

I finally trialled my computer science event: Algorithm Design! It’s a python-based event that emphasizes both theoretical and practical programming knowledge. The topics include Python syntax, basic programming concepts, Object oriented design, data structures, and the time and space complexity of operations/algorithms on those data structures. Teams are expected to complete both a written test, as well as write code (in a real IDE!) to solve coding challenges. Here are the event materials, minus the coding challenges.

MIT Invitational Jan 2019

This year I had the pleasure of supervising at the renowned MIT invitational (along with Donna and Aditya), where we got to see many talented teams from across the country compete. This year’s exam was, in my opinion, at least an order of magnitude harder than last year’s. This resulted in generally low scores across the board. In addition to the objective difficulty, the exam was also long. This meant that performing well was a matter of good (lucky?) time management as much as it was about actual skill. In my opinion, that’s not how an exam should be, and it’s my bad for underestimating the difficulty and length of the exam. It’s also only mid-season, so teams are not as prepared as they will be when they compete at state/nationals.

I do think that this exam can be used as a good guide to studying, both for teams that attended and teams that didn’t. However, I know that finding good resources and helpful information can be hard. I’ve written a walkthrough for section B (the section that I wrote) which explains each answer in depth, and refers you to links which contain more information. I hope you find this helpful and that it can guide your studying a little.

UT Invitational Oct 2018

These are the exams we used at the UT Invitational. Shout out to Aditya Shah for helping me put together these exams!

UT Regional Mar 2018

UT Invitational Oct 2017

In hindsight, I was a little overzealous about writing a challenging Astronomy test; I ended up with an exam which was beneficial to the most competitive teams, but impenetrable for most other teams. Of course, this is not what Science Olympiad is about – especially at the invitational level. I want to encourage new teams to pursue astronomy, not discourage them. I’m making an effort to write tests which are more accessible to newer teams, while still being challenging for more experienced teams.