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Contests for students

Updated on October 8, 2014

Challenge your kids with these contests for students

Many students thrive on competition - mine do! Contests encourage my own children to push themselves to their limits. The contests for students listed here are all ones my family has participated in. Some are individual contests, some are done in teams. But all the contests listed here can be done by 'average' students as well as the more 'gifted' ones. There are many contests for high school students, but also some for middle schoolers and even elementary kids.

There are also many different types of contests - some will appeal to kids who love science, some are writing contests, some are history contests. My own kids have tried them all - they love the challenge, no matter what the subject is. Some of these contests carry considerable prize money with them, which acts as an added incentive.

Many contests have to be done through your local school or a youth organization, so you may need to find a teacher to sponsor them. If you are a homeschooler, form a team through your local co-op or homeschool support group. Our homeschool group participates in all the team contests listed here - and I am the 'coach' of most of them. It has been hard work - but it is so rewarding to see what the students learn and get out of it, even if they don' t win.

These contests are a great way to see how your students match up to other students in their hometown, state and even in other parts of the world!

Books listing loads of contests

Competitions for Talented Kids: Win Scholarships, Big Prize Money, and Recognition
Competitions for Talented Kids: Win Scholarships, Big Prize Money, and Recognition
These aren't just for super smart kids - so dont be put off by the title. Any kids can do the contests listed
Academic Competitions for Gifted Students: A Resource Book for Teachers and Parents
Academic Competitions for Gifted Students: A Resource Book for Teachers and Parents
Same goes for this book. I know many kids who are not gifted who have achieved well in the competitions you will find here
The Ultimate Guide to Student Contests, Grades K-6
The Ultimate Guide to Student Contests, Grades K-6
This book is rather dated so don't pay too much for it but many of the contests are still around.

American Math Contest

Suitable for grades 5 through 12

The American Math contest tests how well your students really understand math. There are 3 levels of tests:

AMC 8 requires no Algebra knowledge and can be taken by students up to 8th grade. I encourage students to take it from 5th grade.

AMC 10 includes Algebra and Geometry and can be taken by 9th and 10th graders

AMC 12 is for 11th and 12 graders and the math is obviously more advanced

The tests are done as individuals, but you have to order 10 tests at a time, so you need to do this as a co op or homeschool group. It is likely to cost each student between $5 and $10 depending on how many sign up.

Students who score in the top few percent make the Honors Roll, and the top scorers from each 'school' receive gold, silver and bronze awards. Admissions counselors know about this test, and if your children want to pursue a math-related field of study at college, it will be to their advantage to take this test. The math questions make the students really think - my daughter said SAT and ACT math seemed so easier after she did the American Math Contest.

All the details can be found at

Purple Comet Math Meet

For grades 6-12

The Purple Comet! Math Meet is a free, on-line, international, team mathematics competition for middle and high school students. Teams consist of from 1 to 6 students and they can be from different schools. All they need is an adult to sign them up as a team.

Students work as a team to solve math problems which they enter online as they go. These problems are fairly hard (OK, my kids think they are ridiculously hard!) but they are fun to try - and it's free!

There are practice problems on the website, so head on over to

Find many more Math Contests at

Spelling Bee

Grades 3-8 eligible

The Spelling Bee is an individual contest, but you have to do it through your local school or homeschool group and there is a fee per school.

Students spell words of increasing difficulty until they make a mistake. There are a number of movies you can watch (see below) to see how the contest works, but please tell your children that words at the school level are MUCH MUCH easier than the ones they will see in the Spelling Bee films. has all the details and lists of words to study.

Resources to help prepare for the Spelling Bee

Geography Bee

Grades 4-8 eligible

Like the Spelling Bee, the Geography Bee is run through local schools / homeschool groups, but students compete individually against each other. There is a registration fee per school regardless of how many students from that school compete.

All students take part in the first few rounds. The first questions are multiple choice. They get harder each round. After the preliminary rounds, the top scorers move on until finally a winner emerges. The winner then takes a written test and the top 100 students in each state move on to the State final. One of my sons managed that twice - and the questions are substantially harder at State level and cover in depth world geography. The the state winners compete at Nationals which is televised live at the end of May each year.

For all the info and practice questions go to

Stock Market Game

Grades 4-12 eligible

The Stock Market Game is a great way to teach your kids about economics in a painless way. Make a team of 4 or 5 kids of similar ages and register them as the oldest grade represented (ie a high school team can have an 8th grader on it, but a 5th grade team can't have a 7th grader). There are games in the fall and in the spring.

The contest takes 10 weeks and each team is given $100 000 in virtual money to invest however they would like. All trades are done over the internet and the cost of stocks is their current cost on the various exchanges. At the end of 10 weeks, the team with the most money is the winner for their region.

Linked to the Stock Market Game is the InvestWrite Challenge - an essay contest just for participants in the Stock Market Game. This is a great way to challenge students to do research into some aspect related to the Stock Market.

Two teams I have registered have placed first in our region. Click here to read the story of the winning girls team in my class (they got my name wrong!)

More details about this contest can be found at here

National History Day

Grades 6-12 eligible

National History Day starts out as a 'Regional' History day in your area. Registration is free at Regional level (or at least it is in Tennessee) but students must have a teacher or homeschool parent sign them up.

Students from grades 6 up spend weeks before the Regional Day doing in depth research into any aspect of history that fits the current year's topic - eg 2009 was "The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies". My boys chose Shaka Zulu (founder of the Zulu nation) and Henry II of England for their research.

Students then have to decide how they want to report what they have learned. the categories they can choose from are: Documentary, Research Paper, Drama, Website and Display Board. Students also choose whether to work alone or in a group (the Historical Paper can only be done as an individual).

On History Day students present their work to the judges and are given a short interview. The winners in each category move on to compete at State, and then at Nationals. There are also generally prizes sponsored by different organizations.

This contest is excellent to encourage a love of history in students - and also to teach them how to do research and how to work with primary and secondary sources.

Find all the info at .

A great example of a History Day documentary

Science Olympiad

Grades 6-12

This is my favorite of all the contests - and I don't know why as I was always pretty horrible at science and my husband used to call me 'scientifically challenged'. When I first read about it - probably in one of those contest books listed above - I thought my kids might enjoy it. But you need a team to compete - so I approach other students in our homeschool group. You can have up to 15 students per team and there are 2 divisions - one for 6th-9th and one for 9th-12th.

Homeschool teams can participate, but there are only a few of us dotted around the country. All other teams have to be from schools.

In about September each year you can sign up - go to The website gives a short description of the 23 events that will be competed in that year, and once you sign your team up, you will receive the coach's manual with all the rules. Students will need to select a few events to prepare for - they will compete with a partner for both individual glory (a shot at a medal) and points for their team.

The events range from hands on ones you build at home and test on the day eg bridges, electric vehicles, trebuchets and rockets and ones you need to study for. Some tests are purely written, while some like Forensics require lab work.

Most of the kids on our teams are not science nerds and don't even plan on studying any sort of science at college, but they love this contest so much they keep coming back. The events are hard - middle school events are probably at high school level and high school level events at college level. But the sense of achievement the students get after mastering topics like Soil Chemistry or Meteorology or Fossils can't be easily beaten. And if they win a medal ... well - watch the video below to see the joy.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Hawaii's Science Olympiad Tournament

The picture quality isn't good, but it does give a very good idea of the many different events the students can participate in

First Lego League

Ages 9 - 14

This is another team competition, but teams can be any group of students so you don't have to worry about getting school sponsorship. Many schools do participate, but so do 4-H groups, youth organizations or even just groups who come together just for the contest.

Each year there is a different challenge and theme. Students have to design and build a robot (using Lego Mindstorms) that will accomplish the tasks set. And they have to do research on the theme for the year (eg on Climate Change). Teams have to share what they learn with the community in some way, and they have to find a creative way to present their knowledge at the competition.

The contest starts in September and State finals are in December. At the State all-day contest, the teams are graded on Robot Design, Robot Performance, Team Work and their Presentation. The top scorers in each of these are given awards, as well the top teams overall. (My son's team came 3rd in TN last year - and no, I was not the coach - just a cheerleader this time)

The winning team in each State goes to Atlanta each year to compete against teams from all over the world.

This contest is a bit pricey as you have to buy the lego kit, but you can re-use the basic kit and if costs are split over a team, it is not that bad.

Visit for all the info.

Resources to help students learn how to program Lego Mindstorms Robots

My son has the Mayan Adventure book. Students do need to learn how to program the robot, so a book is helpful.

Medusa Mythology Contest
Medusa Mythology Contest

Medusa Mythology Exam

Grades 6-12 eligible

This is a 40 minute written exam consisting of 50 multiple choice questions on a specific area of mythology. The focus changes each year (see the website for the current year's topic and study materials). It must be taken during the last week in March.

Top scoring students can receive certificates and medals - and even win prize money.

Details can be found at

Books to help budding writers

The Elements of Style (Original Edition)
The Elements of Style (Original Edition)
The classic book on how to write well. Every house should have one.

Young Filmmakers Competition

This competition takes place every year during the Film Festival in Austin, TX and showcases the best teen filmmaking in the country and gives young, aspiring filmmakers a chance to be recognized for their work as well as give them a chance to meet and network with established professionals in the industry. The competition is free to enter and submissions need to be postmarked by August 1st.

For rules and guidelines for submissions as well as a copy of the entry form click here.

More ways to find contests

At present I post a different contest every day on FundaFunda's Facebook page, my Twitter account, and my Google+ account. I always use the hashtag #studentcontestoftheday so the posts are easy to find. In addition, at the end of each week I do a post on FundaFunda's blog that lists the 5 contests posted during that week.

The rewards of contests

All my 4 children have participated in many many contests - and all 4 agree that what they have learned from them has been very beneficial. My children have also won money and prizes. Last year my 8th grader won just under $1000 in 4 quite different contests (one math, one science, one writing and one history).

Don't think your children aren't smart enough to win. There are contests to suit everyone's abilities. And more often it is perseverance that is needed - not brilliance!


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