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MIT Invitational 2020

Science Olympiad1 min read


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. I know Asher especially is a big fan of cosmology, and I also think it's pretty cool. 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.

As always, get in touch if you have any questions!

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