Academic competitions play an important part in learning for highly gifted students. They are designed to inspire and enlighten, and can create enthusiasm and entice students to try their hardest, helping to maximize their abilities. Some require students to work on their own or as part of a team; some involve answering rapid-fire questions in front of an audience. Throughout the pandemic, many competitions have gone online for the first time, while others have always been online. Most importantly, academic competitions are a fun way to teach gifted students how to handle the pressures of real-life challenges.
Below are some of our community’s favorite academic competitions, listed in alphabetical order. If you know of a great one to add to our list, please contact us at email@example.com.
The Academic Decathlon is a 10-event scholastic competition for teams of high school students. Each high school enters a team of nine students: 3 “A” or Honor students, 3 “B” or Scholastic students, and 3 “C” or Varsity students.
Students have the chance to compete to be part of the USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) and Junior Mathematical Olympiad (USAJMO) or the American Invitational Mathematical Examination (AIME). The top-scoring students from across the nation are invited to the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. Then, six of those 12 students compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).
American Model United Nations International (AMUN) strives to create a simulation of the United Nations which is as realistic as possible, while still allowing the fulfillment of the educational goals.
In this contest, middle and high school students build a radio-controlled robot that can perform assigned tasks. Teams are placed geographically into “hubs,” which compete locally; champions are sent to regional tournaments, and regional winners advance to the national championship.
Over seven weeks, middle and high school students learn to program in C and use a kit to build and program a robot that can operate autonomously. Students compete regionally and internationally.
This worldwide online contest is held six times throughout the school year. On each of the contest days, five contests are offered, one for each of the grade levels 3 through 4 (free); 5 and 6; 7 and 8; 9 and 10; and 11 and 12. Grades 5 through 12 are $12 per student per year. Each student’s ranking in the Caribou Cup is determined by their performance in their best five of six contests through the school year. All previous contests are available for free online as practice tests.
The U.S. National Olympiad (USNCO) is a multi-tiered competition designed to stimulate and promote achievement in high school chemistry. The Goals of the USNCO and the schedule are set by a subcommittee of the ACS Society Committee on Education (SOCED).
This is a worldwide research and design challenge for pre-college youth. The program encourages scientific understanding of real-world issues and the integration of environmentally responsible energy sources. Each year, the Clean Tech Competition addresses an issue that is grounded in core technological competency areas and focuses on the next great engineering challenges.
The purpose of the poetry contest is to bring recognition to poets both young and old. In addition to the winning poems, other poems of high merit are accepted to be published in a hard bound anthology. There is no entry fee and no required purchase in order to become published.
This is an annual national video documentary competition that encourages students to think seriously about issues that affect our communities and our nation. Students are asked to create a short (5-8 minute) video documentary on a topic related to a specific theme. The competition is open to all students in grades 6 through 12.
This is the only global competition, offered at no cost, for students 11-18 years of age to design and propose experiments to launch into space or a near space environment on a NASA sounding rocket and zero-pressure scientific balloon.
Destination ImagiNation is an international organization for kindergarten through college students and community groups that teaches life skills and expanding imaginations through team-based creative problem solving. Teams of five to seven members work together to apply creativity, critical thinking and their particular talents to solve a Team Challenge.
For students in grades 5-8, this contest fosters the exploration, understanding and communication of science. More than 60,000 children from around the country enter science projects in one of the science and engineering fairs affiliated with Science Service. Between June (the deadline for entering) and early September, judges choose 400 semifinalists among the entries. In October, 40 finalists receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the competition finals, consisting of a series of team challenges and oral presentations. The winners receive scholarships and semifinalists receive prizes.
Available in some states, EconChallenge is an online competition for high school students during which winning teams can eventually compete at the national level.
eCyberMission is a web-based science, math and technology competition for 6th through 9th grade teams. Compete for regional and national awards while working to solve problems in your community.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a multinational non-profit organization that sponsors this competition, which teams professional and high school students to solve engineering problems. Get a hands-on, inside look at the engineering profession by designing, assembling and testing a robot.
This tournament is committed to providing opportunities to mathematically gifted students looking for a challenging experience, as well as meeting others interested in math from around the country and the world. There are two tournaments: 1) HMMT February is one of the most difficult math competitions in the United States for students who can comfortably and confidently solve at least 6 to 8 problems correctly on the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) and write mathematical proofs; 2) HMMT November provides a more approachable alternative for students to gain math tournament experience, such as those who have performed well on the AMC exams.
Held annually in May, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, providing an annual forum for more than 1,700 high school students from over 70 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their independent research and compete for about $5 million in awards in 17 categories.
The Junior Science and Humanities Symposia program seeks to encourage and recognize original research in the STEM fields done by Iowa high school students. Students in grades nine through 12, in the state of Iowa, can submit original research findings for a chance to win scholarships and participate in the Symposia.
This is an annual program designed to make philosophy fun and accessible to all kids, as well as to help promote critical thinking skills and encourage dialogue with other students and adults. The Philosophy Slam asks kids to answer a philosophical question such as “What is the Meaning of Life?” Depending on their age, kids can express themselves in words, artwork, poetry or song. Each grade level has its own national winner, and the top four high school students debate the question at the national finals.
In this competition, teams of students in grades 5 through college design and build remotely operated vehicles based on an annual theme and compete regionally or internationally depending on their level of sophistication.
The Math League is dedicated to bringing challenging mathematics materials to students. The Math League specializes in math contests, books, and computer software designed to stimulate interest and confidence in mathematics for students from 4th – 12th grade. More than 1 million students participate in Math League contests each year.
MATHCOUNTS is a national math coaching and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory. With over 20 years of experience, MATHCOUNTS is one of the country’s largest and most successful education partnerships involving volunteers, educators, industry sponsors and students.
This is a non-profit public foundation offering premier math contests for grades 4-6 and grades 7-8. Their goals include: To stimulate enthusiasm and a love for Mathematics; introduce important Mathematical concepts; teach major strategies for problem solving; develop Mathematical flexibility in solving problems; strengthen Mathematical intuition; foster Mathematical creativity and ingenuity; provide for the satisfaction, joy, and thrill of meeting challenges.
Every year, Meridian Stories offers 20 digital storytelling competitions in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and History for teams of students in middle and high schools. Schools register for the program by paying an annual subscription rate that provides access to all 20 challenges and the capacity to compete with other schools in the Meridian community.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) THINK Scholars is a student-run educational outreach program that makes STEM research and development accessible to high school students who reside in the United States. Using the existing THINK competition as a framework, this group has developed an application process for admission into this new program.
In this academic competition, teams of students in grades 9-12 design, construct, and test technologies for mobility devices to perform in different extraterrestrial environments. They then compete with other teams at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, where first-, second-, and third-place winning teams receive $3,000, $1,000, and $500, respectively.
Academic competition involves teams of students answering curriculum-based questions in an entertaining, fast-paced format. This competition generates the kind of publicity and attention for bright students that is normally reserved for star athletes.
Awarding achievement should not be limited to athletic abilities. Students of all academic and athletic levels should have the benefit of excelling in their own unique talents and passions. Academic sports motivate participants to compete for honors and awards while teaching them the skills of team work and discipline skills that sustain them to be productive and successful adults.
National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC, organizes the premier middle school, high school, community college, and college national quiz bowl championships in North America.
“Le Grand Concours, or National French Contest, is a French event in the form of a 60 minute national examination, designed, written, financed, and disseminated by the members of the American Association of Teachers of French. Its purpose is to help stimulate further interest in the teaching and learning of French and to help identify and reward achievement on the part of both students and teachers.”
The contest is designed to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark students interest in the subject, and increase public awareness about geography.
The national mock trial championship was initiated in 1984 in Des Moines, Iowa. After the success of the tournament in Iowa, more states became interested in participating and the tournament became billed as an “All-State” Tournament.
The National History Bee is a history competition for elementary and middle school students. Participating students progress from the school level to the regional level and finally to the national level until one student is crowned the National History Bee Champion.
The National History Day program is a year-long education program that culminates in a national contest every June.
The National Number Knockout (N2K) is an annual calculating competition. The goal of N2K is to improve the calculating speed and accuracy of students across the nation through an easy-to-learn game. Students 9 to 14 years old are invited to enter for a chance to for a monetary grand prize as well as a prize for their teacher.
The National Personal Finance Challenge is an opportunity for high school students to demonstrate their knowledge of Personal Finance by competing with other students across the nation in a three-round competition. The National Personal Finance Challenge is the culminating event to state challenges across the country.
This robotics competition allows students in grade 6 through graduate school to build robots to compete in challenges such as “Robot maze”, “Sumo Robot”, and “Robot Rescue”. Awards include trophies, plaques, and cash for schools.
This robotics competition allows teams of students in middle school and beyond design and build remote-controlled robots to face off in regional and national competitions.
The Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl® is a highly publicized academic competition among teams of high school students who answer questions on scientific topics in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, earth, computer and general science. The competition consists of a round robin followed by a double elimination final.
The Science Olympiad is an international nonprofit organization devoted to improving the quality of science education, increasing student interest in science and providing recognition for outstanding achievement in science education by both students and teachers.
This is a semi-annual math problem solving contest for elementary and middle school students. The goal of the competition is to encourage young students’ interest in math, to develop their problem solving skills, and to inspire them to excel in math. The contest is for students in grades 2-8.
The North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) is a contest in which high-school students solve linguistic puzzles. In solving the problems, students learn about the diversity and consistency of language, while exercising logic skills. The competition has attracted top students to study and work in those same fields. This high school olympiad in linguistics and computational linguistics leads up to the International Linguistics Olympiad (ILO).
This international, not-for-profit organization teaches students to learn creative problem-solving methods while having fun in the process. Students learn how to identify challenges and to think creatively to solve those problems. The creative problem-solving process rewards thinking “outside of the box.” Memberships are purchased by a school or community group and then teams compete at the regional level, and/or at the state/province/country level.
Ole Miss Math Contest is an educational web site that gives kids the chance to win calculators by competing in online math puzzles. The site features geometry, algebra, and middle school problems.
Perennial Math offers two types of competition. The first is an annual membership competition for grades 3-8 with separate levels. A team can register up to 30 students, or students may register individually if their school is not participating. The competition consists of 4 monthly tests beginning in November and ending in February. The second competition offered is Virtual Tournaments. These occur each month and are in a video conferencing format. Students may register for a team tournament (4 members) or for an individual student tournament.
This robotics competition allows teams of high school students to create projects for use in aviation and aeronautics, cybersecurity and technology, energy and environment, or health and nutrition.
Every April, approximately 10,000 students take a 40-question, 45-minute timed, multiple-choice test under their school’s supervision.
The American Scholastic Competition Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing teachers and students and to promoting academic excellence. This is a triple-elimination tournament, which provides maximum opportunity for student participation.
America’s oldest and most highly regarded pre-college science contest. Each year the STS helps the nation find and encourage especially talented high school seniors to pursue careers in science, math, engineering, and medicine.
This robotics competition allows students in high school through college work in teams at the local, regional, and then international level to build autonomous robots that complete a series of challenges.
In this international autonomous robotics program, teams of students in grades 4-12 build robots that participate in games, exhibitions, battles, and other events in local, regional, and world competitions.
This robotics competition allows teams of high school students use everyday materials to design and build machines that accomplish a given task as described in the annual challenge.
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. The International Challenge allows teams of middle and high school students to design and build remotely operated underwater vehicles to complete a variety of tasks.
The Solar Car Challenge is the top project-based STEM Initiative helping motivate students in Science, Engineering, and Alternative Energy. Teams of high school students design, engineer, build, and the race roadworthy solar cars on the open road and at the Texas Motor Speedway.
This is a national engineering competition in which participants create innovative workplace technologies for people with disabilities. The innovations enhance employment options and increase productivity in the work environment. There are two levels, one for high school and one for college.
This is the world’s largest student rocket contest and a key piece of the aerospace and defense industry’s strategy to build a stronger U.S. workforce in STEM.
This spelling bee is the nation’s largest and longest-running educational promotion, administered on a not-for-profit basis by The E.W. Scripps Company and 238 sponsors in the United States, Europe, Guam, Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, and American Samoa.
Thermo Fisher Scientific offers future science scholars an opportunity to win $10,000 in scholarship funding. This scholarship was created to help provide educational opportunities for the future generation of scientists. A pre-selected committee will award two $10,000 scholarships and four $5,000 scholarships among the candidates.
Teams of students in grades K-12 submit designs for new technology that benefits society. Member of first- and second- place teams each receive a $10,000 and $5,000 savings bond, respectively, and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC, for an awards ceremony.
This international event embraces and encourages the invention of autonomous, socially-relevant robots from enthusiasts of all ages. The goal of the contest weekend is to promote and inspire creativity and teamwork, with a central focus in understanding and applying STEM subjects while sharing ideas within the robotics community.
This premier competition, hosted by the Center for Excellence in Education, allows top biology students the opportunity to display their talents on a national and international level. Over 70 countries participate in this competition, which is open to any high school students nominated by their teachers. USABO awards individual achievement in theoretical and practical biology knowledge and understanding.
This is an exciting academic contest that uses the drama of competition to encourage grade 5‒8 students to explore important chemistry concepts, scientific theories, and laboratory safety. The Challenge operates on three competitive levels: local, state, and national. The top student from each state wins an expenses-paid trip to the National Challenge in Philadelphia in June.
Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station. The competition starts online where teams program the SPHERES to solve an annual challenge. After several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimics the real SPHERES, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS. An astronaut will conduct the championship competition in microgravity with a live broadcast.
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