International Competitions

Updated On: Jan 28, 2024


International competitions in physics are fantastic opportunities to broaden and expand your knowledge and perspective. Not only will you be faced with the mind-bending problems, you'll also be competing with the strongest students from all over the world. Use the table of contents below to quickly navigate the sections of this guide.

Table of Contents

Before You Start...

Keep in mind that once you qualify for an international competition, in addition to self-studying, your country will most likely host a training program (this is usually the case for Canadian national teams). If you would like more information on how to qualify for international competitions, visit our beginner guide here.

Contests and Opportunities

The competition consists of two parts. The 5-hour theoretical section, which includes 3 questions that typically have multiple parts, and the experimental section where the competitors have around 5 hours to complete one or two experimental problems in a laboratory. Not only do you have to have comprehensive theoretical knowledge of physics, but you must also have sufficient laboratory skills and experience in order to do well at IPhO. Click here to get an idea of what the experimental problems are like.  

The IOAA consists of 3 sections: theoretical, data analysis, and observation. While the theoretical section is similar to the IPhO in terms of structure, data analysis and observation are unique. Data analysis involves the utilization of statistical methods (e.g. linear regression, standard deviation) to process and graph data in conjunction with theoretical concepts, while observation tests participants on parts of the sky, such as constellations, stars, and celestial objects.

Unlike the IPhO or IOAA, the IYPT is a team-structured competition that culminates in a physics "debate", where teams present and evaluate their solutions. Instead of solving theoretical physics problems, participants have to design and perform experiments, and to draw conclusions argued from the experiments’ outcome. During the tournament, teams present their reports and discuss and defend their solution against an opposing team and are evaluated by an international Jury. For more information on the actual format of the tournament, see here.


IPhO Resources 

In order to qualify for IPhO and potentially achieve a medal, mastering calculus-based physics is mandatory. After doing so, completing a few subject-specific textbooks is recommended and of course, completing past IPhO problems is extremely helpful to understand the difficulty and style of questions. You will simply not have enough time to complete all of these textbooks and problem sets, so choose which areas you are weaker on or want to improve on and work on those first. 

Note: click on the book name to see where you can buy/access these books. 

Problem Sets

IOAA Resources

For the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics, many of the same resources (such as HRK) may be used to develop preliminary knowledge in astrophysics. However, there are some unique concepts in the IOAA syllabus that are covered in astronomy-based textbooks. Particularly, the IOAA consists of 3 sections: theory, data analysis, and observation. 

Note: click on the book name to see where you can buy/access these books. 

Problem Sets

IYPT Resources 

As the IYPT is not a standard competition that is based upon a common syllabus, the questions each year vary in scope, depth, and subject area. Although it certainly isn't a bad idea to use many of the IPhO resources to develop preliminary knowledge, the problems on the IYPT require extensive research and experimentation. To get an idea of problem structure, you can find the past problems here