US Biology Olympiad Gets Rescheduled Last-Minute

Technical issues with the administration of the USABO exam led to the exam being rescheduled 45 minutes after the planned start time.

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By Chuer Zhong

Around 50 Stuyvesant students had registered to take the open section of the USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) for its 2024 edition. Yet when students showed up to take the exam on February 1, it was never administered due to a crash of the USABO’s exam hosting website, the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS). As a result, the competition was canceled and rescheduled to February 12, when it resumed without issue.

The USABO is an annual science competition that tests students on advanced biology concepts. “[It’s] essentially glorified test taking for the first two events. Students answer questions with a difficulty level of AP Bio and higher,” faculty advisor for StuyBio and USABO proctor Jessica Quenzer said. 

The USABO is divided into three phases, the first of which is the open exam. “The open exam itself consists of 50 multiple choice questions that revolve around ecology, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, genetics, biotechnology, cellular processes, [...] cell bio, etc. Ms. Quenzer, who is our USABO coordinator for Stuy, likes to call USABO ‘AP Bio +++’, just because the topics are substantially more advanced than your typical AP Bio curriculum,” junior and vice president of StuyBio Krystal Khine said.

Following the open exam are the semi-finals and finals exams. “[It is] a 120 minute multiple choice, select all that apply, and short response test for the semi-finals exam, and a 12 day program at a host university with one day dedicated to a six hour theoretical and three hour practical exam for the finals exam. To qualify for semifinals, your score must be in the top 10 percent of the country, and to qualify for the finals, your score from semis must be in the top 20 [percent] in the country,” sophomore and StuyBio board member Ting Ting Zhang said.

StuyBio is a biology club that hosts after-school biology lectures and serves as a resource for helping students study for the USABO. Quenzer, being the proctor for the USABO, coordinated with AoPS and arranged the exam at Stuyvesant. It is StuyBio alone that prepares students for the exam, helping them study. “The USABO open exam is the first stage and that is what we have been preparing for, some of us including me and the other executive leaders of StuyBio, [for] the past two years now,” Khine said. 

On the exam date, students taking the USABO found themselves unable to log onto the exam's website. “We met up in room 731, the students showed up on time, I gave out the computers from the cart,” Quenzer said.  “And the students tried to log in, and they could not. So the students are trying over and over again to log on, and 45 minutes have passed, and we don't know what to do. Finally we received an email that [the exam is] going to be rescheduled.”

The root of these struggles were technical issues with AoPS. “USABO utilizes the same platform as Math Team, which is AoPS. The website crashed that day because [the] Math Team had their AIME competition the same day as we did, which means the AoPS website was being bombarded with thousands of kids and it couldn’t keep up. USABO is online and on the AoPS website so, subsequently, we couldn’t take the exam. The people who wrote the exam [said so] on the USABO Discord before any official email arrived,” Khine said. 

The crashing of the AoPS website affected all schools administering the USABO, and there was nothing Stuyvesant could have done to prevent the issue. “This was nationwide, it wasn't specific to Stuyvesant,” Quenzer said. 

The exam wasn't rescheduled for another week, and it was very short notice. “[The exam writers] had to remake the entire Open because some people already took the exam in other regions. It took them an entire week. They told us at 1 PM on [Thursday] February 8. And the exam was supposed to be on [Monday the] 12,” Khine said.

The short notice of rescheduling posed some concerns for the administration of the exam. The new date interfered with students’ and Quenzer’s schedules. “Eight people couldn't pull up [to the rescheduled exam date],” Khine said.

Students were initially panicked when they failed to log in to the AoPS website because they didn't know how late they'd have to stay and whether they'd be able to. “We were all panicking. Are we gonna have to stay until 5:30? until 6:00? We didn't know,” Khine said.

Once students realized the exam was delayed, the opportunity to study a bit more excited many students. “Around 4:20 [p.m.] Ms. Quenzer said, ‘Okay guys, I don't think it’s gonna come anytime soon so you can go study,’ and everyone was so relieved. So everyone started grabbing your notebooks, taking out everything, looking through their notes,” Khine said.

Some students found the delay to be beneficial, but students disagreed on whether the extra time would help them learn more. “I feel like one week of extra prep wouldn’t really do much. You already know what you know, a week wouldn’t change that. But it definitely would have calmed the nerves of some students, since they could review the concepts that were more difficult for them,”  freshman and StuyBio member Ethan Zhang said.

However, other students found that the short notice of the cancellation hindered their ability to prepare for the USABO. “Four days is not a lot when you consider how much mental preparation you have to do again. [I was thinking to myself], how am I supposed to refamiliarize myself with everything in like four days?,” Khine said. 

Some even criticized the poor effort that AoPS put into the competition. "It's probably just that [AoPS] didn't really worry about it as much as they worry about their math contest. So that’s most likely why they didn't put enough effort in." freshman Shawn Fridlyand said. 

Ultimately, the party that seemed to be most negatively affected was Quenzer herself. “I don’t think any of us were majorly affected by the rescheduling [...]. We were all just worried about Ms. Quenzer’s sanity as she had to change around her schedule to accommodate USABO as she had to proctor,” Khine said.

The competitors for the semi-finals round, which follows the open exam, are determined using the scores from the open exam. “Those who score high enough on [the open exam] are invited to participate in the semi-finals [roughly 10 percent], which are usually held in March. [...] I wouldn't be surprised if there's a delay by a couple of weeks because the USABO open [exam] got rescheduled,” Quenzer said. 

Other than the mishap with the administration of the open exam, USABO has not seemed to have any issues with future exams. At the end of February, it was announced that Open exam grades would be released on March 6. The date for the semifinal exam has not been rescheduled. 

In the aftermath of the rescheduling, students were cheered up by a surprise Google Classroom post. “My dog is Pogacs the Puli, known as Po for short. And I posted on the USABO [Google Classroom], ‘Since USABO was USABUST, here is a USAPO to cheer you up.’ And I posted a picture of Po,” Quenzer said. 

Despite the sudden delay, Stuyvesant students kept studying hard and remained prepared for the USABO open exam. “The club officers have been working really hard to make sure everybody knows the content really well,” Quenzer said. “It's why I was so frustrated that the Open got delayed, because they were good.”