Below we’ve listed some Frequently Asked Questions, grouped under five major headings. Hopefully, the information below, as well as on the other pages of this website will answer most of your questions about how the United States Geography Olympiad works. If you are still confused about something, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll not only respond to you, but add your question to the FAQ page if it something that would apply to other participants as well.
Participation & Eligibility
1. Who is the USGO meant for?
Any primary or secondary student with an interest in geography is welcome to compete. Students who have competed in the National Geographic Bee (but perhaps have now moved into high school and are no longer eligible), students on school academic teams, and students enrolled in AP Human Geography classes are especially encouraged to attend, though none of these are prerequisites.
2. Which age divisions can students compete in?
The USGO offers the following age divisions for the 2018-2019 academic year:
-Varsity (solely for students born on or before June 30, 2003)
-Junior Varsity (open to any student born on or after July 1, 2003, including middle & elementary schoolers)
-8th grade (open only to students in 8th grade, or homeschoolers lacking a formal grade who were born between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2005)
-7th grade (open only to students in 7th grade, or homeschoolers lacking a formal grade who were born between October 1, 2005 and September 30, 2006)
-6th grade (open only to students in 6th grade, or homeschoolers lacking a formal grade who were born between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007)
-Elementary School (open only to students in 5th grade and younger)
These eligibility rules hold true for both the National Qualifying Exam and the National Championships.
To clarify, students who are in 8th grade and younger MAY compete in BOTH the Junior Varsity Division AND their younger age division. If they qualify at the Junior Varsity level for the National Championships they can attend BOTH the Junior Varsity National Championships and the Middle School or Elementary School National Championships for their specific age division within those years.
3. Regarding residency and citizenship, who is eligible to compete in the USGO?
All primary or secondary students residing in the United States, as well as students residing abroad are welcome to compete. However, only Varsity Division US permanent residents or US citizens living outside the USA are eligible to compete for spots on Team USA. On the highly off chance that a student who is a non-US permanent resident and non-US citizen places in a position at the National Championships which would otherwise qualify them for Team USA inclusion, the place on the National team will devolve to the next highest ranking eligible student. (Note that US citizenship is NOT a prerequisite for a spot on Team USA, but that among non-US citizens, only students who are US permanent residents can compete for Team USA.)
4. Who is eligible to qualify for Team USA that will represent the United States at the 2019 International Geography Olympiad (aka iGeo)?
Students who are American citizens or US permanent residents born between June 30, 2000, and June 30, 2003 may qualify for Team USA. In practice, this means that anyone who competes at the Varsity level is eligible to win a spot on Team USA (except for one student who has competed on Team USA each of the past two years, and by current iGeo rules is ineligible to return for a third time), but anyone competing in another division is ineligible.
Students on Team USA at the 2019 iGeo may not have begun tertiary education (i.e. college) before July 2019. Students who will graduate high school in spring or summer 2019 are eligible under all circumstances.
5. Can homeschoolers compete?
Yes, absolutely! All homeschooled students who are studying a primary or secondary education course of study in the 2018-2019 school year may compete. Since the USGO is a competition for individual students, it doesn’t matter if you are homeschooled or attend a school, nor does it matter if other students from your homeschool association (or school for that matter) compete or not. If homeschoolers are in a set grade-level, then that is used to determine their eligibility (if applicable) for the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions. If not, then their birthdate is used. Birthdates are used in all cases to determine Varsity/Junior Varsity eligibility.
6. My school won’t fund me or give its official approval; does this matter?
Not as far as the United States Geography Olympiad is concerned. As long as you, a parent, or someone else pays for your entry fee, and you appear on time for your competition, you can compete. If you prefer that your name is not listed on the website in order to prevent a hassle at your school, we can do this too – just let us know at email@example.com.
Regionals (National Qualifying Exam) – see also the “Regionals” page
1. Where are the sites for the Varsity and Junior Varsity Division for the National Qualifying Exam for the USGO?
The sites of the National Qualifying Exam for the Varsity and JV Divisions of the USGO are the exact same sites as the Regional and State-level Varsity and JV tournaments of The National History Bee and Bowl . These tournaments are indicated by the dots on the map on the USGO homepage. A green dot indicates a tournament that has been scheduled. A blue dot indicates a tournament that will definitely take place but has not been scheduled yet. A yellow dot indicates a tournament that may or may not take place while a red dot indicates a tournament that has already taken place. Note that the map will be updated on an ongoing basis throughout the 2018-2019 academic year as new tournament sites are scheduled and tournaments take place.
Also, not only are the sites identical with the Regional and State-level tournaments of The National History Bee and Bowl at the high school level, but the dates are too. The USGO Qualifying Exam will almost always be offered during the lunch break of the tournament; for some tournaments, it may be offered at slightly different times. The start time of this (usually around 12:45-1pm, but double check – this can often vary), along with the time students who are not coming for the History Bee and Bowl but who wish to take the USGO National Qualifying Exam should arrive (usually around 12:30), is indicated on each tournament page (accessed by clicking on the respective dot on the map). The Exam will have 50 multiple-choice questions and a 20 minute time limit for completion.
Students may take the National Qualifying Exam up to three times, though it must, of course, be a different version each time. A different version of the Exam is offered at tournaments listed as “A Set”, “B Set”, and “C Set” – you can check which set a tournament uses by clicking on the dots on the map. Students only need to qualify once for Nationals on any one Exam Version, though they can take as many as they like. If a student qualifies on one Exam Version, and thereafter takes a different version and receives a non-qualifying score, that does not “unqualify” them from Nationals. Students who are eligible to compete in the Middle School (i.e. 8th, 7th, or 6th Grade) or Elementary School Divisions who take a JV Exam and qualify for JV Nationals are automatically eligible for Middle School or the Elementary School National Championships as well without having to take a specificMiddle School or the Elementary School version (i.e. D-H Set) of the exam.
Note that for the United States Geography Olympiad, the three separate versions of the JV and Varsity National Qualifying Exam offered at “A Set”, “B Set”, and “C Set” tournaments respectively are not meant to vary in length or difficulty.
The Middle School and Elementary School Versions of the Exam (i.e. D-H Sets) are likewise meant to be comparable in length and difficulty.
2. Where are the sites for the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions for the National Qualifying Exam for the USGO?
These sites will be held in conjunction with the regional sites for the US Academic Bee and Bowl’s (USABB) Regional tournaments which feature an Academic Bowl component. These will take place between January and May 2019. See www.usacademicbowl.com (then scroll down the page) to see a full list of sites and dates once they are added. The version of the Exam offered at all of these events is called “D Set”.
The USGO/IGB National Qualifying Exam is also offered at all National History Bee Middle School and Elementary School Regional Finals tournaments; the version offered here is the “E Set” unless students are competing in the second of two History Bee tournaments at the same day at the same site. For students competing in the second of two History Bee tournaments, they can take the F Set exam. In all cases, access to the E Set Exam at these tournaments is limited to students who have not yet qualified for Nationals.
The USGO/IGB National Qualifying Exam is also offered at all National Science Bee Regional Finals tournaments; the version offered here is the “F Set.” In all cases, access to the F Set Exam at these tournaments is limited to students who have not yet qualified for Nationals.
The USGO/IGB National Qualifying Exam is also offered in an online version through students’ sponsors for the National History Bee or National Science Bee; this version is the “G Set.”
The USGO/IGB National Qualifying Exam is also offered at all National History Bowl tournaments with a Middle School Division; the version offered here is the “H Set.”
Also, just like in the Varsity and Junior Varsity Divisions, if you are unable to make it to a site, or if you wish to have a second chance at qualifying on a Middle School or Elementary School National Qualifying Exam, a teacher at your school or an instructor who advises homeschoolers can separately administer any of the D, E, F, or H Set versions of the National Qualifying Exam for you. In this case, the National Qualifying Exam costs $20 per exam version taken.
3. What is the cost?
The cost is $10 to take the any version of the Varsity or JV National Qualifying Exam at a scheduled site (i.e. National History Bee and Bowl tournaments for Varsity and Junior Varsity).
The cost is also $10 to take the D Set version of the National Qualifying Exam for the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions at a scheduled US Academic Bee and Bowl tournament site.
The cost is also $10 to take the H Set version of the National Qualifying Exam for the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions at a scheduled Middle School National History Bowl tournament site.
The E and F Set versions of the Middle School and Elementary School National Qualifying Exams are offered free of charge to participating students at National History Bee (E Set) and National Science Bee Middle School & Elementary School Regional Finals Sites.
The G Set version of the Middle School and Elementary School National Qualifying Exam is offered free of charge to students competing in the Online Regional Qualifying Exam prior to their Regional Finals for the National History Bee or National Science Bee through their sponsor.
If students take the Exam through a proctor at their school or with a homeschool instructor, it costs $20 (for all age divisions; note that the G Set Exam cannot be taken this way).
4. How do I sign up for the National Qualifying Exam at a tournament site? Do I need to register in advance?
For the National Qualifying Exam (for all divisions), signing up in advance is recommended (so that you can receive information on where to report at the tournament, and if you need to get an invoice for your school) but it is not required.
-To sign up for the Varsity and Junior Varsity Division at a National History Bee and Bowl Varsity & JV regional or state tournament site, please visit the registration page on the website of the National History Bee and Bowl’s Varsity and Junior Varsity Division.
-You can also use this registration page to sign up for the H Set Version of the Exam for students taking it at a Middle School National History Bowl tournament (all such tournaments also have Varsity and JV components) – you do not need to specify you want the H Set Version when signing up.
-To sign up for the D Set Exam in the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions at a US Academic Bee and Bowl regional tournament site, please visit the registration page on the website of the US Academic Bee and Bowl.
-Competing students in the National History Bee and National Science Bee Regional Finals need to sign up for the US Geography Olympiad Exam (E Set and F Set respectively) offered there when they register for the Regional Finals.
-Students who want to take the G Set Exam for free must also be competing in the National History Bee or National Science Bee Online Regional Qualifying Exam (ORQE). Taking the ORQE is free of charge! Click here for how to register for the National History Bee and here to register for the National Science Bee.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and more information.
5. How do I sign up to have the National Qualifying Exam proctored by a teacher or homeschool instructor?
A. Send a check for $20 per Exam version per student made out to “US Geography Olympiad” to the following address:
USGO c/o Enrico Contolini
14073 W. Amherst Court
Lakewood, CO 80228
B. Along with the check, include a piece of paper with the student’s name and school (or indicate they are homeschooled), their birthdate and grade (to determine their division), a contact email for the student or their parent(s), and the name and email of the proctor. If you have multiple students who wish to take the Exam, please supply this information for each student.
Please also indicate which Exam Version(s) is/are requested – note that A, B, and C are Varsity and JV Division Exams and are open to all students. D, E, F, and H Set are Middle School and Elementary School Division Exams and are only open to students in those divisions (and thus cannot qualify students for the Varsity or JV National Championships).
Once we receive the check, we will forward the proctor the requested Exam Version(s) and the answer key(s).
C. The proctor will then report the score for each Exam Version to us. For the A-C Set Exams used in the Varsity and JV Division, if the score falls above the National Median Score for the division the student is in on the version of the Exam they take, then they will qualify for Nationals, and we will let you know that by early-mid January for C Set Exams, early-mid February for B Set Exams, and early-mid March for A Set Exams.
8th graders qualify with a score of 50 or higher on the D, E, F, and H Exams. 7th graders qualify with a score of 45 or higher on these exams; 6th graders qualify with a score of 40 or higher on these exams, and 5th graders and younger qualify with a score of 35 or higher on these exams
D. If the student does not qualify on the Exam Version they took, then they can take the other Exam Versions they haven’t yet taken that they are eligible to take. The process would work the same way.
6. Do I have to be competing in The National History Bee or The National History Bowl / US Academic Bee and Bowl to take the USGO Qualifying Exam at a tournament site?
No, though, you are certainly welcome to. The National History Bee and the US Academic Bee do not require a team, and some questions (as well as in the History Bowl and Academic Bowl) reference geography, so many students interested in the USGO will surely also be interested in competing in the other events too. The Varsity and Junior Varsity National Championships of The National History Bee and Bowl will be held on the same weekend as the Varsity and Junior Varsity National Championships of the USGO.
For elementary and middle school-aged students, the Elementary Division and Middle School Division National Championships of the USGO will take place on the same weekend as the National Championships of The US Academic Bee and Bowl, as well as the Elementary Division and Middle School Division National Championships of The National History Bee and Bowl.
For more information on The National History Bee and Bowl at the Varsity and Junior Varsity levels, click here.
For more information on The National History Bee and Bowl at the Middle School and Elementary School levels, click here.
For more information on The US Academic Bee and Bowl see www.usacademicbowl.com
7. When and how will I receive my score on the USGO National Qualifying Exam?
If taking the Exam at a tournament site, in many cases, the USGO Exams will be graded immediately after the students are finished. In other cases, students will learn their scores later that afternoon, or by email within a few days of the tournament. Students may email email@example.com from 10 days after they take the Exam, if they haven’t yet received their results. However, students who take the Exam and who finish in the top half of their Division at the site they take it, will also have their scores posted online on the Results page. All of these students will have qualified for the National Championships.
Students taking the Exam with a proctor can request their score from the proctor once the Exam has been graded.
8. What should I study to prepare for the USGO National Qualifying Exam?
Questions on the National Qualifying Exams for all divisions will reference both geographical facts (e.g. capitals, landforms, linguistic distribution, etc.) and a knowledge of geographical concepts (e.g. patterns of population distribution, effects of geography on weather, continental drift, etc.). The questions will not require computation or detailed analysis of maps or diagrams; given the limited time to complete the Exam (20 minutes), questions should not take more than 20 seconds to answer.
Please also “like” us on Facebook and sign up for our Twitter feed to get study tips, sample questions, and the latest information!
Sample National Qualifying Exams are posted on this website (see the “Regionals” tab on the menu bar). Students can use these as a basis of their preparation, as questions on the National Qualifying Exams will reference comparable material.
9. Does the US Geography Olympiad only test knowledge of United States geography?
No, the United States Geography Olympiad is not limited to questions on the geography of the USA. The name refers to the competition’s national scope; the actual questions may reference the geography of the entire world (including, of course, the United States).
Nationals (see also the “Nationals” page for details on the format)
1. Who will qualify for the National Championships?
Varsity and Junior Varsity
Students who finish in the top half of their division, inclusive of ties, at the site where they take the National Qualifying Exam will qualify for the National Championships. Likewise, we will tally all of the scores from every Varsity and Junior Varsity student across the country as of December 31 (for C Set), January 31 (for B Set), and February 28 (for A Set) and announce the respective National Median Scores within 7-10 days of those dates.
Students who had scored at or higher than the National Median Score for their division on their version of the Qualifying Exam will then also qualify for the National Championships. For each version of the National Qualifying Exam and for each age division it encompasses, there will be a separate National Median Score.
Middle School and Elementary School
Middle School and Elementary School Students taking the D-H Set Exams do not qualify on the basis of median scores but simply qualify for Middle School or Elementary School Nationals with the following scores per age level on any of the D-H Set Exams:
8th Grade: 50
7th Grade: 45
6th Grade: 40
5th Grade and Younger: 35
If any Middle School or Elementary School students qualified for JV Nationals on the A-C Set Exams, they qualify automatically for their age group (i.e. 8th Grade, 7th Grade, 6th Grade, or Elementary School) at Middle School or Elementary School Nationals too.
2. How do I register? Is advanced registration required?
Advanced online registration is required for the National Championships!
Registration will open for the 2019 Varsity and Junior Varsity USGO National Championships by late 2018.
Registration will open for the Middle School and Elementary School USGO National Championships by early 2019.
3. What is the deadline for registration?
April 15, 2019 for the Varsity and Junior Varsity Divisions. May 15, 2019 for the Elementary and Middle School Divisions. Students may be allowed to register on a space-available basis up to the date of the National Championships, but they should not assume this will be possible.
4. What does it cost?
$85 for the Varsity and JV Divisions; $80 for the Middle School and Elementary Divisions.
5. When and where will it take place?
For the Varsity and Junior Varsity Divisions, the 2019 USGO National Championships will take place on the afternoon and evening of Friday, April 26, 2019 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. Competing students must arrive by 12:00pm, and are strongly recommended to fly in on the previous night. The competition will last from 12:30 to 3:00pm.
For the Middle School and Elementary Divisions, the date and location of USGO Nationals will take place at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL (next to Chicago) in the afternoon of Friday, June 7, 2019. The USGO Middle School and Elementary School National Championships will be held in conjunction with the International Geography Bee‘s US National Championships* for the Middle School and Elementary School Divisions, the National History Bee and Bowl‘s Middle School and Elementary School Divisions, the US Academic Bee and Bowl, and the National Science Bee.
* = Any student qualified to compete in USGO Nationals is also eligible to compete in the National Championships of the International Geography Bee for their same age division as well.
6. What prizes will be on offer?
We will have trophies and medals for the top students overall, as well as the top students in each portion of the competition for each division. We may have additional prizes based on sponsorships. In the Varsity division, the winners of each portion of the competition, the overall champion, and possibly other overall high finishers will win the right to represent the USA at the 2019 International Geography Olympiad. A portion of the expenses for the trip (likely around $1000 per student) will be covered by prizes at Nationals for these students.
7. When will results be posted?
The top finishers will be announced by Sunday afternoon on each weekend once we have had time to grade the Exams. Full results will be posted online in the week following Nationals.
8. How can I best prepare for the National Championships?
See the exams from past years under the “Nationals” tab. We recommend that students also have a look at an AP Human Geography study guide, if possible.
For examples of past years’ exams from the iGeo, click here to see the Multi-Media (MMT on the site), and Short Answer (WRT on the site). The site also contains information on the fieldwork exercise held at the iGeo (but not the USGO National Championships).
International Geography Olympiad (iGeo) – see also the Internationals page
1. Who will qualify to be a part of Team USA?
The top four Varsity finishers at the National Championships will qualify for Team USA (unless one of the four is the one student ineligible due to repeated past participation at iGeo, in which case we would take the next highest scoring student). If a student qualifies, but cannot attend, we will then invite the next highest scoring student who would then be eligible to attend.
2. What if I qualify but can’t afford the cost, or otherwise can’t attend?
If an individual winner of a portion of the competition cannot commit to attending by May 31, we will then invite the next highest ranking Varsity student to attend. We will attempt to find sponsors to help defray the costs of attending the International Geography Olympiad, however.
3. Will there be training sessions for Team USA?
Yes, we will ensure that students on Team USA are adequately prepared for the competition. This may involve an extra day or two of preparation in Hong Kong, study sessions by Skype, independent study, or other methods at the discretion of the Team USA coaches.
1. Do you have any connection to The National Geographic Society or The National Geographic Bee?
No, we are completely independent. We welcome all students who have competed in the National Geographic Bee, but are no longer eligible. We encourage students who are in 8th grade and younger to give the Junior Varsity as well as either the Middle School or Elementary School Division of the United States Geography Olympiad a shot, and to compete in the National Geographic Bee as well.
2. Do you have any sponsors?
Currently, we are sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who has helped to provide support for Team USA to attend the International Geography Olympiad in the past. If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities with the United States Geography Olympiad, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Can I bring a USGO National Qualifying Exam site to my school?
For the USGO NQE, if you are also willing to host a National History Bee and Bowl Varsity and Junior Varsity level tournament, or a US Academic Bee and Bowl tournament, then quite possibly, yes. This requires providing at least 8 classrooms at some point during the school year prior to our National Championships. Host schools for National History Bee and Bowl at the Varsity and Junior Varsity level receive free entry for their students in the History Bee and History Bowl portions of the tournament they host (though not the USGO), as well as a discount on registration for the National Championships of The National History Bowl if they qualify. Hosting benefits and options for the US Academic Bee and Bowl are described in detail here.
If you are interested in hosting, please contact email@example.com. Also, please note that if your students are unable to attend a qualifying site, you can administer the National Qualifying Exam for them as well. Please follow the instructions here to learn how to do this at the Varsity/Junior Varsity (i.e. mostly for students in high school) or here for the Middle School and Elementary level.
Note that schools can also offer a version of the National Qualifying Exam to all students in the school for either $75 for one class (limit 40 students) or the whole school for $150.