US National Chemistry Olympiad

The California Section encourages all high school chemistry teachers to have their students participate in the US National Chemistry Olympiad. The goals of this program are to stimulate interest and achievement in high school chemistry students throughout the United States and to provide recognition of outstanding young chemistry students, teachers, and schools.

Competition in the Local exam is open to all high school students in the California Section. Competition in the National exam is limited to US Citizens and Green Card holders based on performance in the Local exam with a limit of no more than two students per high school. Please see the list of counties in our Section here.

The Local exam is a 60-question multiple choice exam given in early March. Students attending schools that participate in the Olympiad must take the Local exam with their classmates. The Section will proctor the Local exam for homeschooled students and students at non-participating schools.

The National exam consists of three parts. Part 1 is a 60-question multiple choice exam, Part 2 consists of six word problems and Part 3 consists of two lab practicals. Copies of past exams are on the ACS website Both the Local and National exams test students on topics beyond normal high school chemistry classes.

The California and Silicon Valley Sections co-host the National Olympiad exam which will be held on a Saturday in April. In even years, it is held at Las Positas College in Livermore and in odd years, it is held at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.

The top twenty students in the United States who participated in the National Olympiad can attend the two-week Study Camp in June. Four students and two alternates will be selected to represent the United States at the International Olympiad which is held in July.

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California Section Rules for the National Chemistry Olympiad

The California Section selects students to participate in the National Olympiad exam is based on (1) eligibility under the ACS rules to take the National exam and (2) performance on the Local Section exam.

No more than two students from a high school are eligible to take the National exam.  In the event of a tie between two or more students at the same class or school, the teacher(s) at that school will determine which student will be eligible to take the National exam.  In the event of a tie between two or more students at different schools, the Section Olympiad Coordinator will make the selection as follows:

  • As between two or more students at different schools, the student(s) from the school(s) not represented for the National exam will be selected.
  • Alternatively, the names of the students with tie scores will be selected by the Olympiad Coordinator by a random method such as placing the names in a hat or by flipping a coin.

In addition to the eligibility rules for the National exam, no student will be admitted to take the exam if the student is not dressed appropriately to participate in the laboratory portion of the exam.  Students will not be allowed to take the National exam unless they are in compliance with the following:

  1. Tie any shoulder length hair back
  2. Wear long pants
  3. Wear closed toed shoes
  4. Wear a short or long sleeved shirt
  5. Wear safety glasses and gloves (the school will be providing these materials in the lab.)

ACS Rules for the National Chemistry Olympiad Competition

  1. Students must be U.S. citizens or legal, permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) to take the U.S. national examination.
  2. High school students who will graduate no earlier than spring of a year in which they participate in the competition are eligible.
  3. Students must be under the 20 years of age on the first of July of the year of the competition.
  4. No more than two students per high school per local section may be nominated to take the national exam. In the case of magnet programs, split enrollment, or cyber students, a student’s school is defined as the high school from which the student will receive his or her diploma.
  5. Eligible students who have previously attended the study camp automatically qualify for the national exam and do not count against the limit on the number of eligible students from their local section or school.
  6. Winners of gold medals at the International Chemistry Olympiad are not eligible to participate in subsequent International Chemistry Olympiad competitions or study camps.
  7. Students who have taken advanced placement courses in chemistry are eligible.
  8. A student may participate only in the competition of the section in which the student’s high school is located. In the case of a cyber-student, the student shall participate in the local section where he or she is geographically located, regardless of where the cyber school is located. If the section is not participating, the USNCO national office will assign the student to a section.
  9. A student who participates in the Physics Olympiad study camp, the Mathematics Olympiad study camp, or the Biology Olympiad study camp is not eligible to participate in the Chemistry Olympiad study camp during the same summer.

Only non-programmable calculators are to be used on the national exam and on the ACS local section exam, if used. The use of a programmable calculator, cell phone, or any other device that can access the internet or make copies or photographs during the exam is grounds for disqualification.