Monday, 14 May 2012

International Math and Science Olympiads Singapore Scene

April to June are typically the months when national team selection tests for the annual International Math and Science Olympiads (IMO, IPhO, IChO, IBO and IOI) are held, and then teams which represent Singapore will be formed. And in July, the international Math and Science Olympiads are held. Currently, IMO national team members have been selected. The results of the remaining teams will be unveiled pretty soon. I shall write about the various International Math and Science Olympiads selection process, Singapore’s performance in recent years, which are the top medal producing schools, and the possible dilemma faced by students who are capable in more than 1 olympiads. Note that for most these International olympiads, only Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents (PR) are eligible to represent Singapore. I think the exception is IChO, where only Singapore Citizens can take part.

International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO)

This is the oldest olympiad and it has the biggest participation with about 550+ participants and about 100 countries participating in recent years. Singapre’s selection usually starts with the Singapore Mathematical Olympiad (SMO) which has three sections: Junior, Senior and Open. The local competitions are held in May/June, with two rounds for each section: Round 1, and Special Round for top scorers from Round 1. SMO winners are inducted into the following Singapore IMO (SIMO) training teams: Junior team (50+ students), Senior (50+), National Team B (20+) and National Team A (10+). Trainings are held on Saturday mornings and are conducted by the NUS Math professors (for Junior team), volunteers and ex-IMO participants (for National teams). The national team is chosen from National Team A, after two rounds of selection tests which are held in April and May. This is one of the two olympiads that students can represent Singapore at any level/age (the youngest selected in Singapore’s history is a Sec 2), with the other being IOI.

The IMO competition consists of 2 days of 4.5 hours of papers, each having 3 problems. The type of questions set are in 4 broad categories: Geometry, Number Theory, Algebra and Combinatorics. About 50% of the participants will win a medal, with Gold:Silver:Bronze in the ratio of 1:2:3.  Among all the olympiads, it is arguably the hardest to get an IMO Gold, which is usually given to 1/12 (i.e. 8-9%) of the total number of participants.

Singapore’s performance at past IMO:
IMO 2014 (55th): 3 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze. Ranked 8th of 101 countries. 560 participants.
IMO 2013 (54th): 1 Gold (individual 3rd among 528 participants), 5 Silver. Ranked 6th among 97 countries.
IMO 2012 (53rd): 1 Gold (individual 1st among 548 participants), 3 Silver, 2 Bronze. Ranked 7th among 100 countries.
IMO 2011 (52nd): 4 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze. Ranked 3rd among 101 countries, obtained individual 2nd, 4th, 6th positions among 564 participants.
IMO 2010: 4 Silver, 1 Bronze, 1 HM. Ranked 22nd by country
IMO 2009: 2 Silver, 3 Bronze, 1 HM. Ranked 30th by country

International Physics Olympiad (IPhO)

Singapore’s IPhO national team selection starts with the Singapore Junior Physics Olympiad (SJPhO) – to select talented Sec 3 and 4 students for early training in the Singapore Physics Olympiad (SPhO). The SPhO is held in November for JC1/Year 5 students. Unlike SMO where there is no cap to the number of participants from each school, the SPhO limits the participation to about 15-20 students per school. Students will first take a 4-hr theory test, and the top 40+ will then make it to the practical round, which consists of a 2-hr experiment. About 20+ winners from SPhO will be selected to form the national training team. Trainings are held on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, and are conducted by JC/NUS/NIE trainers. There will be a selection test in March and 8 will be chosen to take part in the Asian Physics Olympiad (APhO), held in April/May. The APhO consists of a 5-hr theory test, and a 5-hr practical test. It serves as a training ground to sieve out the top 5 who will represent Singapore in the IPhO.

Topics tested in the IPhO include: Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, Waves and Oscillation, Thermodynamics, Optics, Special Relativity and some other random topics. The IPhO theoretical paper lasts 5 hours and consists of three questions, with a few parts for each question, whereas the practical examination may consist of one or two laboratory tests totalling 5 hours. About 12-15% will win Gold medals.

Singapore’s performance at past IPhO:
IPhO 2014 (45th): 3 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked 5th of 85 countries. 374 participants.
IPhO 2013 (44th): 4 Gold, 1 Silver. Ranked 3rd among 83 countries. Individual 4th. Total 381 participants.
IPhO 2012 (43rd): 4 Gold, 1 Silver. Ranked 3rd among 81 countries. Total 376 participants.
IPhO 2011 (42nd): 5 Gold. Ranked 3rd among 84 countries. Total 393 participants.
IPhO 2010: 1 Gold, 4 Silver. Ranked country 7th.
IPhO 2009: 2 Gold, 3 Silver. Ranked country 8th.

International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO)

Similar to Physics, Singapore’s selection starts with the Singapore Junior Chemistry Olympiad (SJChO), where students who demonstrate potential will be invited to join the Singapore Chemistry Olympiad (SChO) training team. The SChO is held in November for JC1/Year 5 students. It consists of 2 rounds, one 4-hr theory paper and one practical round. In the theory round, each school can send 15-20 students to participate and the top 60+  students are selected to take the practical round.  Medals are awarded based on the combined scores of both theory and practical rounds.

From SChO, about 20+ students will be selected to join the national training team. The training is conducted every Wednesday afternoon (same as SPhO training!), by JC teachers and NIE/NUS lecturers. The selection test is held in April/May, and it comprises a theory test and practical test. 4 will be selected to represent Singapore in IChO.

The syllabus of the IChO contains subjects from several areas of Chemistry, including Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Spectroscopy. IChO is 5-hour long with 9 theory questions, and 2-3 experiment tasks. About 8-10% of all participants are awarded Gold Medals.

Singapore’s performance at past IChO:
IChO 2014 (46th): 2 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked joint 2nd of 75 countries. Individual 1st, 4th of 291 participants.
IChO 2013 (45th): 3 Gold, 1 Bronze. Ranked 4th of 73 countries. 291 participants.
IChO 2012 (44th): 2 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked 5th among 72 countries. 283 participants.
IChO 2011 (43rd): 4 Silver. Ranked 17th among 70 countries. 273 participants.
IChO 2010: 2 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked country 4th.
IChO 2009: 2 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked country 5th.

International Biology Olympiad (IBO)

This is the youngest olympiad of the lot, and there is currently no SJBO (Junior verion of SBO) to prepare aspiring students early in their foray into IBO. The SBO consists of 2 rounds – 2-hr theory paper of 200 MCQ (four sets of 50 MCQs per half hour), and practical round (4 labs, each lab is about 1.5 hours long with 2-5 activities per lab). Similar to SPhO and SChO, only JC1/Year 5 students can participate.  Top winners of SBO (usually only about 6 students) will be shortlisted for national team training, once per week. The final national team comprising 4 members will be selected in May.

The IBO is composed of a theoretical and practical element, each weighing about 50% of the final score. The theory exams cover a wide range of Biology: Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Plant Anatomy and Physiology, Animal Anatomy and Physiology, Ethology, Genetics and Evolution, Ecology, and Biosystematics. Gold medals are awarded to the top 10% of students.
SBO/IBO questions are not released to students, but they’re all application-based questions of biology.

Singapore’s performance at past IBO:
IBO 2014 (25th): 3 Gold, 1 Silver. 2nd among 61 countries. Individual 2nd of 238 students.
IBO 2013 (24th): 4 Gold. Ranked 2nd among 62 countries. Individual 4th, 5th, 10th of 241 students.
IBO 2012 (23rd): 4 Gold. Ranked 1st among 59 countries. Individual 1st out of 236 students.
IBO 2011 (22nd): 3 Gold, 1 Silver. Ranked 3rd among 58 countries. 229 participants.
IBO 2010: 1 Gold 3 Silver. Ranked country 9th.
IBO 2009: 3 Gold 1 Silver. Ranked country 3rd.  Obtained Individual 1st and 3rd.

International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI)

The IOI does not have much publicity Among the olympiads, this is probably the most low profile and MOE does not even include it in her annual press release on performance of International Math and Science Olympiads. Selection of IOI participants is through the IOI Training Workshop conducted by NUS School of Computing. Typically, trainees are selected from the Silver and above medalists from the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI), which is held in March. There are about 10 mini-contests (which are done as part of the IOI workshop) and 3 selection tests (one of which, is the Asia Pacific Informatics Olympiad or APIO).  In 2013, NOI and APIO were considered selection tests. The top 4 participants will be selected to represent Singapore in the IOI.

Singapore’s performance at past IOI:
IOI 2014 (26th): 2 Gold, 2 Silver. Ranked joint 7th of 82 countries. Total 315 participants.
IOI 2013 (25th): 3 Silver, 1 Bronze. Ranked 17th out of 77 countries. Total 299 participants.
IOI 2012 (24th): 2 Silver, 1 Bronze
IOI 2011 (23rd): 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
IOI 2010:  1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
IOI 2009: 2 Silver, 2 Bronze.

International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA)

Among the Science olympiads, this is the newest (in its 6th year in 2012) and has the lowest profile. Selection of IOAA participants is through The Astrochallenge held in June of each year. The top 5 participants will be selected to represent Singapore in the IOAA.

Singapore’s performance at past IOAA:
IOAA 2013 (7th): 1 Gold (Individual 2nd), 1 Silver, 1 Bronze, 1 HM. 
IOAA 2012 (6th): 1 Gold, 3 Silver
IOAA 2011 (5th): 1 Silver, 2 HM

Singapore Schools’ Medal Tally at International Math and Science Olympiads

It is interesting to note that only 4 schools are feeding the participants to the International Olympiads, in the last 5 years. They are namely, Raffles Institution (RI), NUS High (NUSH), Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and ACS (Independent).  We could say that in terms of Math and Science competitions, these 4 schools  are considered the best performing high schools in Singapore.

The total number of medals (excluding HM) won by these 4 schools in IMO, IPhO, IChO and IBO (excluding IOI and IOAA) in the last 8 (updated 2014) years are as follows:

School ((Updated) 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007)
RI (11, 9, 12, 11, 7, 7, 6, 9)
NUSH (6, 7, 6, 5, 7, 5, 7, 1)
HCI (1, 3, 1, 1, 2, 5, 2, 4)
ACSI (1, 0, 0, 2, 2, 1, 2, 4)

In 2013, NUSH, RI and HCI won 6 Gold, 3 Gold and 3 Gold respectively in the International Math and Science Olympiads.

Olympiad Dilemma

In any one year, with the exception of IOI and IOAA which may be held in August or September, theoretically a student can only participate in one of the IMO, IPhO, IChO and IBO. This is because these 4 competitions are held in the same month of July, and also intensive training for each competition starts in May/June, all the way till the competition. It is not uncommon for students to be talented in two of the Math and Science olympiads, e.g. Math and Physics. Hence, students capable in olympiads often face the dilemma of selecting only one of these few. The decision has to be made early (before the national team is formed), since the national team training (as in Chemistry and Physics training), competitions and selection tests may clash. Even if there is no clash, it is important to focus on just one olympiad otherwise even if you are good, you may end up not be in either national teams.

Since students for IPhO, IChO and IBO are typically selected from the JC2/Year 6 students, students who eventually participate in 2 or more international olympiads are likely to take IMO or IOAA prior to JC2/Year 6, and one of the IPhO/IChO (IBO less likely, since it is non-Math related) in JC2/Year 6.

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