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International Physics Competitions for High School Students

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If you are a high schooler with a particularly strong interest in physics, then entering an international physics competition is a great opportunity to put your theoretical knowledge and experimental skills to the test. Any high schooler who excelled in AP physics has the opportunity to succeed in any STEM competition within this article, each of which elevates the typical high school physics experiments to premier competition standards. Students who conduct physics research passion projects will also find these competitions interesting and informative. 

Participants in the international physics competitions listed below apply their physics skills to compete for international recognition, cash prizes, and awards. For more academic contests to enter, check out our full list of competitions for high school students here!

You may also be interested in physics internships or international science competitions for high school students. 

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Top 5 International Physics Competitions for High School Students

International Physics Olympiad (IPhO)

Overview and purpose of the competition: Founded in Poland in 1967, the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) is held each year in rotating countries. The competition dates for the 2024 edition will take place in Iran from July 21-29. In 2025, the competition will be held in France, and in 2026 it will take place in Colombia. The goal of the competition is to test secondary school students from around the world in theoretical and experimental physics. The theoretical and experimental portions of the exam each last five hours, for a total of ten hours of competition.

Eligibility criteria and application process: The competition is open to secondary school students around the world, including American high school students. To participate as part of their country’s five-person team, students must first enter and compete in their home country’s competition. In the United States, that competition is organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers. The USAPhO exam determines the members of the U.S. Physics Team. The British Physics Olympiad determines the British Physics Team. 

Benefits for participants: The top 8% of participants in the IPhO receive gold medals, the top 25% receive silver medals, and the top 50% receive bronze medals.

Asian Physics Olympiad (APhO)

Description of the competition: Separate from the IPhO but using the same testing model, the Asian Physics Olympiad (APhO) is open to students from Asia and Oceania. Like the IPhO, the APhO tests participants on theoretical physics for five hours and experimental physics for five hours. The test takes place about two months before the IPhO.

Entry requirements and judging criteria: Unlike the IPhO, countries may send up to eight participants to the APhO. Tests are scored by physics professors and graduate students selected by the competition.

Awards and recognition: Competitors may receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal or an honorable mention depending on their test performance.

European Physics Olympiad (EuPhO)

Overview of the program and its objectives: The European Physics Olympiad (EuPhO) is also technically unaffiliated with the IPhO, but follows an identical testing procedure: 5 hours of theoretical competition and 5 hours of practical (laboratory-based) competition. Several of the individual board members also serve both the EuPhO and the IPhO.

How to participate and what to expect: The competition is open to countries in Europe and beyond. Each participating country organizes its own qualifying exam to determine the team that will advance to the EuPhO. Keep an eye out for the competition date to ensure you register on time. 

Opportunities and benefits: Like the IPhO, the top 8% of competitors receive gold medals, the top 25% receive silver medals, and the top 50% receive bronze medals.

International Young Physicists' Tournament (IYPT)

Description of the IYPT and its objectives: The International Young Physicists’ Tournament (IYPT) is fundamentally different from the IPhO in that there is no exam. Rather than being tested on their physics problem-solving abilities, contestants have one year to work on 17 open-ended inquiries leading up to a simulation of a research defense, in which teams must present their findings to a jury of experts. Answering these physics problems well could result in receiving a gold, bronze, or silver medal.

Competition structure and entry requirements: Teams can work on the same problem in multiple ways and are judged on the depth of their investigation. The competition takes the form of multiple rounds of interviews, in which participants play the roles of Reporter, Opponent, and Reviewer. Teams consist of 3-5 students. National teams are selected based on the results of a domestic qualification tournament. Each participating country is responsible for organizing its own qualification tournament. The USIYPT organizes the qualifiers for American students.

Benefits of participating: The IYPT is an opportunity for secondary school students to develop their teamwork skills while bolstering their scientific knowledge and research abilities in an international framework.

International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition (IAAC)

Description of the competition: The International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition (IAAC) aims to encourage students from around the world with an interest in astronomy and astrophysics to apply their skills to challenging problems. 

How to participate and what to expect: The competition takes place over three rounds: the qualifying round, the pre-final round, and the final round. All students in high school or university can enter the online qualifying round. The competition is divided into two categories: junior (under 18 years old) and youth (over 18 years old). All participants take the same test but, depending on their age category, will need to score a different number of points to advance to the next round. 

Awards and recognition: In addition to competing for cash prizes, the top participants receive international recognition; the top participant from each country receives a prestigious National Award Certificate.

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How to Prepare for International Physics Competitions

Tips for effective preparation: Performing at a high level in any international competition for high school students requires months of preparation. International physics competitions are no exception to this rule. Here are four tips to help you get the most out of your competition experience:

  1. Start preparing early. It’s never too early to begin studying the material that might come up during the competition. But, before you get into the practice problems, the first step should be…

  2. Develop a study plan (and stick to it). Find a study partner and develop a joint plan to learn the material or complete the research project while helping each other stay on track.

  3. Find a mentor. Whether it’s a teacher, an older student, or a Polygence Program Mentor, having someone to guide you through the preparation process is an invaluable resource.

  4. Repeat the competition. Regardless of how you perform on the first go around, entering the same contest again the following year will give you a leg up next because you’ll be more experienced and will know exactly what to expect from the process.

Participate in other physics competitions for high school students or online competitions to further expand your knowledge.

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Next Steps with Polygence

International physics competitions are opportunities for high school students to improve their knowledge and research skills while gaining international recognition. If you are considering entering a competition and are looking for a mentor to guide you along the way, Polygence can match you with a dedicated mentor like Candice or Anirudh. All of our mentors are qualified experts in their fields who are also passionate about helping students through one-on-one mentorship sessions and project-based learning opportunities (like one of these Physics projects).

Contact us or apply online now to find your mentor!