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  • Computer Programming Courses for USACO Contests

    Shengmeng Education (SME) Center offers competition labs to prepare students for USACO contests, which happen four times each year from roughly December through March (each year is a little different).  Students at SME may choose any of three most popular programming languages (Python, Java and C++) to write code in the classroom and during USACO competition. Based on the results of the web-based contests throughout the year (with particular emphasis on the US Open), as well as performance in the on-line training pages, approximately 16 - 24 students are invited to a rigorous academic training camp in the early summer, hosted at Clemson University. At camp, half a dozen more contests in addition to a full schedule of computing-related and extracurricular activities fill out the week of activities. At the end of camp, the top 4 students are selected by the USACO staff to represent the USA at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). USACO 2020-2021 contest schedule is listed below 

    Dec 18-21: First Contest
    Jan 22-25: Second Contest
    Feb 26-Mar 1: Third Contest
    Apr 2-5: US Open
    TBD (Late May): Training Camp
    Jun 20-27: IOI 2021 in Singapore

    Competition programming is a skill, not a memorized curriculum - students compete at a particular level until they have gotten fast enough and sophisticated enough to proceed to the next level.

    Specifically, USACO is a computer programming and problem solving competition for middle school and high school students in the USA, though students from around the world also participate. USACO offers four to six competitions during an academic year at four increasingly difficult levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Participants in USACO contests submit computer programs in one of five programming languages: C, C++, Java, Pascal, and Python though C and Pascal are rarely used by students. Students at SME may choose any of three most popular programming languages (Python, Java and C++) to write code in the classroom and during USACO competition. Participants advance through the levels by performing well in their current division; some students may even be promoted through multiple divisions all in the same contest. More information about the United States of America Computing Olympiad (USACO), and sample contest challenges from past years, can be found on its official website: http://www.usaco.org/

    The very best performers in the USACO contests are invited to an elite training camp each June, and of those attendees, just 4 high schoolers are chosen to represent the United States each year in the International Olympiad in Informatics https://ioinformatics.org/. 

    Online USACO Contests

    The USACO contests are an open-book online computer programming competition. Students complete the contest problems on their own computer at home. USACO holds periodic web-based contests during the academic year, and in the late spring conducts the US Open, the "national championship" exam. Contests generally run for three to five continuous hours in length, although for maximum flexibility, you are free to schedule this block of time anywhere within a Friday-to-Monday contest weekend --- your timer starts when you log into the contest and download the problems. You submit your final solutions through a simple web interface. Participation is free and open to all. Contests are offered in four divisions:

    Bronze, for students who have recently learned to program, but who have no training in algorithms beyond basic concepts like sorting and binary search.

    Silver, for students who are beginning to learn fundamental problem-solving techniques (e.g., recursive search, greedy algorithms) and fundamental data structures.

    Gold, where students encounter more standard algorithms of a more complex nature (e.g., shortest paths, dynamic programming) and more advanced data structures.

    Platinum, for advanced students who are well grounded in algorithmic problem-solving techniques, who wish to challenge themselves with sophisticated and more open-ended problems.

    All participants start in the Bronze Division, and those who score particularly well in a contest will be promoted to the next division. Contestants scoring particularly highly (nearly perfect score) will be automatically promoted to the next division while a contest is still running, and they can take next-division contest during the same contest weekend. Others will need to wait until results are announced a few weeks after the contest to see if they meet the (contest-dependent) cutoff for promotion.

  • Why USACO is getting so popular?

    More and more middle school and high school students around the world participate in USACO contests. In last nine years, number of USACO contestants in December increased over 700%.

    Why more and more students take USACO contests?

    1. Each year hundreds of thousands of students take AMC math contests with intense competition. However, USACO is still at its early stage and its annual participants are less than 30,000. Fewer participants mean a better chance to succeed. Any student with good knowledge of algebra are ready to take USACO training courses and contests.
    2. USACO contests are taken at the student’s home and on the student’s computer. It is also an open-book contest. The contest time is flexible and can be chosen within four days. Students can take the contest with ease and comfort. It is a blessing for stressful and frustrated teenagers.
    3. USACO is a low-cost and time-saving contest without registration fee and out-of-town travel hassles and expenses.
    4. A student may achieve a prominent USACO status in a short time. For example, a middle school student may achieve USACO Gold status in two (2) years. 
    5. Students from over 70 countries take USACO contests. The USACO contest award is a precious ticket to enter elite colleges around the world.
    6. Good computer programming skills acquired through USACO contests will boost their grades of AP Computer Science classes and lead to highly-selective STEM summer camps and internships 

    USACO contests improve students’ technical literacy in an ever more digital world. Competing on technical tasks under pressure boosted students’ self-confidence.