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STEM fields are a great path for motivated students. STEM-related careers are projected to experience rapid job growth over the next decade including many prestigious and cutting-edge careers, such as biotech, tech startups, software development, and medicine.

 

In fact, in 2016, nine out of 10 of the most desirable jobs ranked by CareerCast were STEM-related, ranging from audiologist to information security analyst.

 

For students interested in the STEM fields, there are many avenues to show knowledge and prove ability. Some methods for doing so are well-known, such as AP exams, school clubs, and SAT Subject Tests. Others are less recognized, like the PhysicsBowl.

 

Although fewer students participate, the PhysicsBowl is still a great way to prove your knowledge of physics-related topics and compete in an academic contest against students around the world.

 

Each year, over 10,000 students take part in the PhysicsBowl in the U.S.A. and China. If you’re a student interested in physics, you should definitely consider taking part in this international exam-based competition. To learn what it’s all about, keep reading.

 

 

What Is the PhysicsBowl?

The PhysicsBowl was started in the 1980s as a response to the popular ACS Chemistry tests. They were initially developed at the national level but scored locally and used by teachers as a external marker of student progress. Eventually, Metrologic offered to provide a free laser to the top performing school in each region, so the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) began to score the tests at the national level, which continues today.

 

The PhysicsBowl consists of a 40 question, 45-minute timed test. The questions are multiple choice and based on topics typically covered in high school physics. Each year, the test is administered at schools by designated proctors during a set testing period. In 2018, the test will be administered between March 28 and April 13.

 

 

How Does the PhysicsBowl Work?

Students compete in two divisions across 15 regions in the USA and four more in China. Division I is for first-year physics students while Division II is for second-year students. Specialized math and science schools across the country compete within their own region, as do test prep centers and education services.

 

A school’s score is determined by the sum of the scores of the top five students competing. Awards are given to the top two scorers and top two teams in each region. These awards vary each year.

 

The PhysicsBowl exam is proctored and competitors take the exam at their own school. Homeschooled students or students who attend schools that do no compete can contact other local schools, test prep centers, or universities, to ask if they may participate.

 

 

Why Take the PhysicsBowl Exam?

As with any standardized test or academic competition, the PhysicsBowl is your chance to set yourself apart. Gaining national recognition for your performance is a noteworthy accomplishment that will be highly regarded in the Honors section of your college application.

 

If you plan to apply to a specialized STEM-program or plan to major in physics or a similar field, the PhysicsBowl is a good way to flex your STEM muscles and show what you know. At the very least, your score is not reported unless you gain recognition and choose to note it on your application. For this reason, it’s clear that there’s no harm in trying.

 

 

How Do I Register for the PhysicsBowl?

You will need to register through your school. Ask your physics teacher if your school competes. If he or she is unsure or has no participated in the past, you might direct him or her to the PhysicsBowl FAQ website where all the information can be gathered. Testing is inexpensive, at just $4 per exam, so funds can easily be raised if your school is not prepared to fund the test.

 

If your school is not planning to participate, you can try contacting other local schools, test prep centers, or universities, to ask if you might be able to test with them.

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How Difficult is the PhysicsBowl Test?

The test is designed to be challenging, so don’t be surprised if you encounter topics or questions that seem unfamiliar. Some topics are taken directly from AP materials while other questions are based on common physics topics outside of the scope of the AP test, like phases of the moon.  

 

The average score on the PhysicsBowl test is between 40-50%. This means that you should not expect to breeze through the test without issue. Even top performers internationally only rarely receive near-perfect scores.   

 

 

How Else Can I Achieve As A STEM-Applicant?

The PhysicsBowl is only one way of showing your knowledge in STEM-related fields. For more information about asserting yourself as a serious STEM-applicant, consider some of these great options:

 

 

To learn more about applying as a specialized college applicant or building a college applicants that accurately reflects your best achievements, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist