Arcadia Students Qualify for USA Biology Olympiad Semifinals


Annie Jiang, Staff Writer

The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is a national biology competition founded in 2002 by the Center for Excellence in Education. Every year, nearly 10,000 students from all over the United States participate in USABO, enriching their knowledge for life science education.

This year, Arcadia High School (AHS) had a representative group of 31 students participating in the premiere USABO, and nine of them–Aaron Fan, Brandon Ha, Heather Lam, Jenna Lam, Max Ma, Jeffrey Oo, Jason Soo, Jocelyn Soo and Janell Wang—were qualified to take the Semifinal test on Mar.16. This performance marks the record for both AHS USABO’s participation and qualifiers compared to previous years.

The competition is held in a testing format, which includes an Open Exam, Semifinals, and National Finals. Students who score in the top 10% on the Open Exam are qualified to advance to the USABO Semifinals, and the top 20 scorers on the Semifinal exam are eligible to compete in the National Finals. After competing against fellow students in all three national rounds, the top four students will be selected from each country to participate in the International Biology Olympiad.

The tests for USABO consist of multiple choice questions (MCQ), true or false, and short answer essays. Compared to the typical tests you would take at school, the USABO tests are a lot more challenging. For instance, some of the MCQ are known as more complex for a test taker since there may be more than one correct answer. The test also covers a wider range of topics in Biology and even AP Biology, which ultimately requires an immensely deep understanding of the material being tested.

Seeing how competitive and prestigious the USABO is, it is without a doubt that all AHS members who either participated or qualified as semifinalists have put in an immense amount of effort in their preparation.

Several team members who qualified for Semifinals shared their experience in competing in USABO.

“The experience was very challenging. It was hard to keep a steady pace through the whole thing since it was so easy to lose focus while reading the questions and answers,” said freshman Heather Lam. 

“Forget AP Bio, I don’t think I would be able to pass this exam if I got a BS [Bachelor’s degree] in biology. In the end, my brain is fried and I have a history essay to make up, so there’s that.”

 “I never thought that I would be able to make it to the semifinals, so being able to accomplish that is already very fulfilling,” AHS USABO Secretary Jocelyn Soo said. 

“USABO tests are infamous for their difficulty, so I definitely struggled with the content and timing of the semifinals exam even more than on the open exam. However, this is a learning experience and hopefully motivation to grind next year to make finals.”

“It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, USABO was struggling to pull more than 5 members every meeting. But this year, we’ve had so many people take the open exam and actually make it to the semifinals round that we broke records,” said AHS USABO President Jason Soo. 

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do since we changed from a club to an academic team. I look forward to great success in the coming years and have the utmost confidence that we’ll set more records soon!” 

Congratulations to all AHS students who competed and qualified for the USABO!