Due to technological failures during the administration of the Open Exam in early February, USA Biology Olympiad administrators have deemed all contestants eligible to partake in the April 9 Semifinal Exams as compensation.
Since the start of distance learning, the Diamond Bar High School USABO club has transitioned to a virtual format, educating peers about the Open Exam, a 50-minute test consisting of 50 multiple choice questions.
“For this year, USABO has been doing virtual lectures and presentations about different topics that could be tested on the open exam, like different human body systems, ecology, and other principles,” co-president senior Luke Zhou said via Instagram.
To prepare members, club officers have offered workshops and virtual lectures with biology teacher Eric Sorensen, in addition to the regular bi-weekly gatherings. Despite the abundance of resources, many members conducted their studies independently due to this year’s circumstances.
“My impression is that members have found it harder to adapt to the online setting,” Zhou said. “I find that teaching the material in the amount of time that we have and over this virtual platform is harder just because of that lack of feedback that we usually get from in-person lecturing [and] because of COVID, less people have joined the meetings, possibly due to a lack of incentives to enter a virtual meeting room.”
Contrary to the traditional paper and pencil format, this year’s exam was held on a website called Art of Problem Solving while supervisors proctored the test over Google Meets. Though test takers were initially granted a 20-minute extension due to the technical difficulties, many stated that it proved to be largely insufficient; between glitching questions and blank graphics, the difficulties persuaded the institution to allow a mass retake in the following month.
“The open exam this year bugged out for everyone, questions were not loading, there was constant refreshing, and it wasted a lot of time,” co-president junior Eileen Zu said via Instagram. “There were time resets but eventually some people weren’t even fully able to submit their tests.”
Refocusing their efforts, officers are now beginning to prepare its students for the upcoming test. Unlike the Open Exam, the semifinalist round consists of a three-part test, ranging from multi-part questions to short answer ones. Students scoring within the top twenty on this test receive national recognition.
“Most of us felt pretty anxious about competing with people from across the nation, as this test is fairly important for those who want to go into a biological science field,” Zhou said via Instagram. “[These difficulties] have affected us all greatly, but if this test has shown us one thing, it’s that we’re able to overcome these obstacles and to go forward in accomplishing something even greater.”