Preparing for Competition

Division C

Before we begin, it is important to note this is a partner event.  The national event test-writer (Donna Young in 2012, the Science Olympiad Webinar relating to Astronomy) emphasizes this, it is generally a 60-100 question event.  She says (paraphrasing) that the internet, a wagon of textbooks, or a laptop will not save you from the test, which is why she at least allows a laptop/binder for each teammate.  That said, both partners should get along since it always helps in having fun studying and be fairly good such that they cover eachother on troublesome topics.

1. Gain interest.

Most of all this is important.  Astronomy is a truly fascinating subject that relates to life, the universe, and everything.  But if you aren’t interested and having fun, it won’t mean as much.  Loving the subject will be a greater drive than anything else.

2. Read, read, read.

This means everything from articles, websites, or anything else.  Yes, even books, though one that is highly recommended is Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie which gives a masterful and extremely detailed description of the subject (however, beware of large quantities of math).

College websites sometimes also have information on Astronomy, and online courses like these can be very helpful since they are designed to teach people. There is also Wikipedia. Using a laptop, a variety of pages can be downloaded, but it is sometimes hard to navigate at the competition and can lead to those days of starting at Type Ia supernovae and ending up on Swiss Cheese (one of our friends reports that it takes only 4 clicks to achieve this), which would put a few holes in your plan to study.  But eventually, after a variety of researching and loving Astronomy, you start to pick up on key words and gain an understanding and linking behind what it all means to be in this grand universe.

3. Contacts/Overall.

Try to find people to help get started at first, perhaps use some old notes from someone, or just figure out what gets you working/prepared best, everyone is different.

4. Practice tests.

Obtain tests from invitationals/past competitions or get someone to write one for you. It may be beneficial to take practice tests with slightly less time than you will be given for the “real” test to simulate competition conditions — while some people do better under pressure, most of us don’t.

5. Deep Sky Objects.

Every year DSOs are on the rules.  A majority of the time they are on tests, and if you don’t see them it doesn’t matter.  One of us uses them to study for the event since they act as examples that relate to the topic.  For organizing them it is best to have a few websites copied for each one, but improving on that would be a quick cheat sheet.  This consists of the names of all the DSOs, some pictures, and qualities of each one.

6. Binder or laptop?

There’s no easy answer to this. It’s really up to personal preference — one of us likes to use a binder, the other prefers a laptop.  We will give the pros and cons in bullets.



  • Organizing it helps to remember information and where things are in the binder
  • Works better for a quick reference and reading multiple pages at once
  • Helps for practicing anywhere, showing what you don’t have as much information on.  You know, when you don’t have much else better to do on those rainy/tornado-filled/lightning taking away power/beach days, or a break from homework.


  • Can become very bulky very quickly
  • Spilling orange juice on it is bad (though, the same applies for a laptop)
  • Can become quite costly/require work with having to highlight pages (should be done before printing on the computer), print out a lot of paper (the one of us with a binder has 500 pages or so, 25-100 of which are mainly used for the quick reference), and having to buy and lug around a 3-5 inch binder everywhere (though, the one with the binder would recommend this as a fair form of exercise)



  • Can store vast amounts of information
  • Has the Ctrl+F function to look through this information
  • For organization, an index can be created which is hyperlinked to certain sections (this can be explained if requested).  Say you want to go to a section titled “Variable Stars” or “Supernovae.”  Alternatively files like docs and websites can be saved to a folder or dropbox and accessed.


  • Can be harder to organize
  • Not always as convenient/can’t look at multiple pages at once as easily (also, no added benefit of exercise)
  • Can malfunction at inopportune times (battery dies, something breaks, blue screen of death, etc.).

It is also good to consider using both since it is a partner event, and having a binder and a laptop allows to both have a quick reference  with the binder and another large amount of information that could be quickly looked through using Ctrl+F for those completely random questions you have no idea about.

Division B

Division B isn’t quite as torturous as Division C.  But this is still a partner event–you have to get to know your partner really well. You also get a lot less resources. You are allowed to have exactly 2 resource pages, front and back. So study as much as you possibly can, and then fill the sheets with constellation charts, pictures, and whatever else you don’t know.

But for this event, your partner is the most valuable resource you can have (other than your brain, of course), so make sure your partner (and yourself) is trained well.

Have fun!


One comment on “Preparing for Competition

  1. Lolz says:

    You can actually get from Type Ia Supernova to Swiss Cheese on Wikipedia in only 3 clicks! :D

    Type Ia Supernova –> Calcium –> Cheese –> Swiss Cheese

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