what it was like at the IBO, part 1

Due to popular demand (Grant asked!) & also because I’m still a bit muzzy with the flu I picked up on my travels & don’t want to attempt anything ‘heavy’, I thought I’d do a few posts about my experiences at the International Biology Olympiad. Overseas, this competition is a Really Big Thing – there’s a huge amount of time, energy & resources poured into ensuring the event is as good as possible, and a lot of prestige hangs on doing the best you can (& ideally bringing home medals).

The esteem in which the event is held is obvious when you see that the Vice-President of Taiwan was a key speaker at the opening ceremony.

taiwanese VP opens event.JPG

As a first-timer there I was particularly interested in seeing how the exams were set up, as this is something we’ll have to pay a lot of attention to, here at Waikato. We’ll definitely be using our standard lab classrooms, but for the Taipei event the campus gym had been transformed into four linked ‘labs’, each seating 60 students.

labs set up & ready to go.JPG

Students are ‘colour-coded’, with each group of 60 wearing a different coloured-lab coat, and their guides (local uni students) must ensure that they never come into contact with the other groups (or with jury observers) over the course of each exam day.

prac exam in progress.JPG

Both practical & theory exams covered 4 main areas of biology, with questions written at first/second-year undergraduate level & with a focus on problem-solving, not simply recall of information. The theory exams followed the practical papers (4-6 hours of exams each day) with a ‘rest’ day between them.

Well, it was a ‘rest’ day for the students. Before each set of exams the jury members spent long, intense days in a jury room (our hotel’s conference venue), finalising the actual papers. Questions are written in advance and a small sub-group pulls what will probably be the final paper together, immediately before the competitions begin, but all jurors have to agree on the final questions. Plus papers have to be translated into the students’ native languages. All this meant that for the theory exam. we began at 9am one morning & went through (with breaks for refreshment!) until 3am the morning of the exam! (Understandably quite a few of us decided not to go on the organised tours that day!) And after the theory exam, we met again on the Friday to finalise the medal tallies.

late night in jury room.JPG

 And here’s the New Zealand team 🙂 At this point I need to salute Angela Sharples – on my left – who’s been a simply outstanding committee chair & team leader; she’s absolutely inspirational & I’m rapt that we’re co-chairing the New Zealand event.

team nz.JPG

3 thoughts on “what it was like at the IBO, part 1”

  • I’m “popular demand”. I never knew I had such pulling power. Repeats to self: “Mustn’t let this get to my head.”
    Good grief – those exam rooms look Orwellian, like something out of a science fiction movie. I suppose no-one can argue that their booth is different, though!
    I can well imagine how big these events are, especially in Asia. The opening chapter of a book I recently reviewed (Geek Nation) emphasises how important the Science Olympiads are to India (the “geek nation” in question).

  • Alison Campbell says:

    I rather doubt that we’ll achieve the same look! There was an awful lot of money poured into this one; one of the organizers said they’d bought 200 new microscopes for the event, so all the students would have the same. Just the thought gave me conniptions!

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Meant to reply to this one sooner. The organising committee were very concerned that all students were treated exactly the same, in terms of the prac exam set-up. Which I suspect made it a very expensive exercise… (uttered in a voice full of trepidation)

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