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.
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.
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.
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.
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.