For those interested in psychology, it is important for colleges to see you demonstrate your interest. A demonstration of your intellectual drive and commitment to your interests will allow you to stand out and give your application much more weight. Ways to further your interest might include conducting your own psychology research project, taking extra classes, or entering a competition. One such competition is the International Psychology Olympiad.
The International Psychology Olympiad (IPsyO) is a prestigious, psychology-focused competition for high school students. Known as the premier high school psychology student competition worldwide, IPsyO sees over 30 participating countries and hundreds of participating teams each year, with only a few winners.
This means it is highly competitive. To help you understand how to prepare effectively, we’ve put together this complete guide and 7 tips to help you win the IPsyO.
Before you dive in, you may want to read up on other competition in psychology, research opportunities, and internships in psychology open to high school students - supplementing these opportunities with competitive experience is what makes for a strong college application!
Who can participate in the IPsyO?
IPsyO is open to all high school students around the world.
How much does participation in the IPsyO cost?
Participation in IPsyO is free of charge, making it accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.
How can you enter the IPsyO?
Participants are expected to enter IPsyO as part of a team from a school or organization. All teams have to do is fill out registration forms found here.
What should you expect?
There are four sessions of the competition. Each session is an hour long and includes reading of background material, 15 multiple choice questions, and three free response questions. These four sessions are designed to test your understanding, originality, and creativity, and center around three broad problem types.
Concept understanding: students are asked to define and explain concepts, behavior, theories, and perspectives
Application and analysis: students are also asked to apply theories and perspectives they’ve learned, as well as analyze and evaluate research scenarios
Research design: students are asked to design their own experiments to tackle various problems
More on the rules of the competition can be found here.
Gold certificate awards are given to the top 5% of competitors. Silver certificate awards are given to the top 5%-20% of competitors, and bronze awards are given to the top 20-40% of competitors. These are based on the aggregate scores of the four sessions of the competition.
The top 5 performing schools are also announced and recognized. All competitors are given a certificate of achievement from the IPsyO.
While the schedule for this coming year has not come out yet, last year, the registration deadline was July 25, 2023. The international final round was August 12-13th, 2023. You can expect the schedule for the following year to roughly follow the timeline of last year’s.
7 tips to help you win
1. Go through sample questions
The IPsyO website provides a sample session test, with background reading, multiple choice, and three response questions. These questions can be found here. Practicing and understanding these questions is the best possible way to get a sense of what the real test is likely to look like and what the real test is likely to test you on. Go through these problems more than once. You want to familiarize yourself with each of the three question types: concept understanding, application and analysis, and research design. Even familiarizing yourself with the wording or format of their problems will be useful once you’re under the time-pressured environment of the actual competition.
2. Time your practice
You only have an hour to complete each session. Because each session will include careful reading of background information, 15 multiple choice questions, and 3 free-response questions, it will be important to master your time management skills. Keep practicing and make sure to time your practice, keeping everything under an hour. Learn what takes the most time for you: if you find that you struggle most with free-response questions, make sure you allot a significant amount of time for those questions. You might also want to allot time to check over your answers at the end. Keep an eye on the clock: you don’t want to waste precious time by dawdling with the reading in the beginning. By timing your practices you’ll get a sense of what the timing of the test feels like, where you take up the most time, and how you will want to use your hour efficiently.
3. Understand the format
You will want to make sure that you and your team understand the structure and rules of the competition. Familiarize yourself with the type of questions for each section. Know what the graders’ expectations are and what acceptable answer formats look like. Do they want full sentences for their written response questions? How much detail are they looking for? It would be terrible to prepare extensively for the content of the exam and then be taken aback by any unfamiliar rules. Try to avoid this situation as much as you can!
4. Drill concept understanding questions
Because Concept Understanding targeted questions make up more of the exam than the other two types of questions (45%), these are arguably the most important type of questions to practice and master. For Concept Understanding questions, students are asked to define and explain concepts, behavior, theories, and perspectives. Practice reading a concept and writing down your own explanation for the theory. Read up on different psychology theories and behaviors so that you’re prepared to define anything they might throw at you. Concept Understanding questions make up almost half of the entire exam—it’ll be important to pay particular attention to these questions during your preparation.
5. Read psychology papers in your free time
Keep yourself informed about the latest research and developments in psychology. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with a variety of concepts, as well as the language that these psychology papers will most often use. This will be very helpful when you are asked to quickly read a page of background information on the exam. The background material will most likely be written using language and style that psychology articles use: it is essential that you aren’t tripped up by any unfamiliar jargon or concepts. Ensuring a solid understanding of fundamental psychological concepts and principles will also give you a strong foundation for tackling more advanced questions. By learning how others apply psychological principles to various contexts, you’ll be better prepared to do the same.
6. Work as a team
The competition is not just about knowledge but also critical thinking and effective communication. It is important to foster good teamwork and effective communication with your teammates. In the weeks leading up to the competition, you should study with your team, working together to solve problems, share ideas, and build on each other’s strengths. Remember that you are each other’s resources. You might share a paper that interested you with a teammate; they might give you tips on how to move through problems faster. By building a strong team, you also build your own individual skills and confidence.
7. Stay composed and manage stress
The IPsyO can be a challenging competition. Remember that your nerves and stress will affect your performance. This means you might want to develop strategies to calm yourself down, such as breathing exercises or clearing your mind. This will help you stay focused and composed when tackling difficult situations.
If you are passionate about research in psychology, then you could consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, an online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
Amelia is a current senior at Harvard College studying art history with a minor in economics. She’s enthusiastic about music, movies, and writing, and is excited to help Veritas AIs students as much as she can!
Image Source: IPsyO logo