The International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is an annual biology competition for secondary school students. Competitors must be secondary school students selected by their country, often in national competitions. Participating countries send a team of four competitors.

Biology competitions between Czechoslovakia and Poland between 1985 and 1989 were the basis for the future IBO. In 1989, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Poland and the Soviet Union founded the IBO, and the first competition was held in the Czech Republic the following year. Since then the competition has grown greatly, with 50 countries competing in the 2005 IBO in Beijing.

The competition covers two days of testing. The first day involves six hours of practical examination, which test laboratory skills. The practical exam is generally broken into four segments that focus on specific subjects such as plant anatomy, biochemistry, ecology and cell biology. The second day is the theoretical test, which often lasts over five hours. The subjects for the theoretical test specified by the IBO committee are cell biology, plant anatomy and physiology, animal anatomy and physiology, ethology, genetics and evolution, ecology, and biosystematics.

Testing takes only a small amount of time that competitors spend at the IBO. The remaining days are spent touring the country and socializing while exams are scored. Competitors are taken to national landmarks of the host country and immersed in the local culture.

Despite countries sending teams, the IBO is an individual competition. Scores are tallied, various statistical tests are applied, and the competitors are ranked based on the results. The top 10% get gold medals, silver to the next 20%, and bronze for the next 30%.

Sample questions can be found at http://www.ibo-info.org/questions.htm

Having competed in the 2005 IBO, I must say the olympiads are a great program and an amazing opportunity for students. Anyone interested in competing can find information about their national olympiad at http://www.ibo-info.org/nat_bo.htm. If you are serious about competing, the best advice I can give is to become very good friends with the wonderful text Biology by Campbell.

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