Top 7 Physics Contests for High School Students

Physics contests are a great way to challenge yourself, improve your problem solving skills, boost your resume, and learn physics all at the same time! In this post, I’ve listed the 7 best high school competitions for students in Canada and the United States.

The IPhO logo.

INTERNATIONAL PHYSICS OLYMPIAD (IPHO)

Date: Mid July

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: 5 students from each country

Prize: A great certificate plus a medal if you’re good

Difficulty: The hardest physics contest for high school students

The IPhO is the number one physics contest for students all over the world. Around 90 countries participate every year, and competition to be on the national team is usually pretty intense. It’s held in a different country every year, and the events usually last about a week in total. There’s only two exams: a 5 hour theoretical exam and a 5 hour experimental exam. The rest of the week is spent travelling the country and listening to cool lectures!

Practice past papers here.

USAPhO logo

USAPho

Date: March 16-22

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: Must get approximately 14 or 15 on the F = ma

Prize: If you’re a US citizen, then the USAPhO is the only way to go to the national camp, which is the only way to go to the IPhO. Otherwise, you don’t get anything except for a medal.

Difficulty: In the style of IPhO questions, but easier

Required Knowledge: Mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, and special relativity

This is the number one physics competition in the USA, but you don’t have to be a USA citizen to participate. You must get above the cutoff score on the F=ma exam in January in order to be selected for the USAPhO. It’s a really fun contest so you should definitely try it out.

Get practice here.

CAP logo

CAP

Date: mid April

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: Open to all students

Prize: First place: $500, second place: $300, third place: $200. If you do well, you get into the Canadian national physics camp and if you do well there, you go to the IPhO.

Difficulty: A relatively easy contest. Contains 25 multiple choice questions and 3 full answer problems.

Required knowledge: Mechanics, Waves, Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics, Optics. 

This is the physics contest you take in Canada to get accepted into the IPhO. It’s actually not too hard. You have 3 hours to answer 25 multiple choice questions and 3 full answer problems, so you won’t be in a rush. If you do well in the CAP, you will be invited to the Canadian National Camp where 5 contestants will be selected for the IPhO.

Past exams can be found here.

USAPhO logo

F=ma

Date: Jan 19-24

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: Open to all students

Prize: Acceptance into USAPhO

Difficulty: Relatively hard

Required knowledge: Only mechanics

This is a 25 question multiple choice contest that focuses solely on mechanics. The questions are tricky and you might be a little short on time (the contest is 75 min long). Doing well in the F=ma gives you a spot on the USAPhO.

Get practice here.

AAPT Logo

AAPT Physics bowl

Date: Between March 29 and April 14

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: Open to all students.

Prize: I got a textbook. I’m not sure what other people got.

Difficulty: Relatively hard

Required knowledge: Mechanics, Waves, Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics Optics + Past Nobel Prize Winners.

The physics bowl is probably the best contest to take if you’re just starting out in physics. They have a division I section for first year students only. If you’re not a first year student or you’re looking for a challenge, you’re on division II. The questions are generally introductory, but you have a very strict time limit. You only get 45 minutes for 40 questions! And they occasionally throw in some history of physics questions so you should study up on Nobel Prize Winners.

Find past exams here.

University of Waterloo Logo

Sir Isaac Newton (SIN)

Date: May 4

Grades: Open to all grades

Acceptance: Open to all students.

Prize: Books, plus up to $5000 dollars in scholarship money at the University of Waterloo!

Difficulty: Medium – hard

Required knowledge: Mainly mechanics, some electricity, optics, thermal, and relativity.

The SIN is a great contest organized by the University of Waterloo. It’s 2 hours long and the problems are always interesting (or so I’ve heard). Unfortunately, you have to buy their book to see past SIN exams, but they do give one practice test on their website!

OAPT Logo

OAPT

Date: May 24

Grades: Grade 11 or below

Acceptance: Open contest

Prize: The first prize is a 3-6 week internship at York University. My friend went and he said it was pretty cool.

Difficulty: Medium – hard

Required knowledge: Mainly mechanics, some electricity, optics, thermal, relativity + past Nobel Prize winners.

The OAPT is a one hour long 30 question multiple choice exam meant for grade 11 students. It is organized by the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers (OAPT) and the prize is a physics internship which I think is very interesting.

 

 

 

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