Written by Kyle Sante
Illustration by Gino Andre Delos Reyes
Published 31 March 2021
Powering through the pandemic, this year’s Philippine Biology Olympiad (PBO) reached its conclusion last Saturday, March 20, with its top four finalists.
Showing off their expertise in biology concepts, laboratory skills, and scientific communication, Jose Nell Andrew S. Tumulak from Ateneo de Davao University, Jeremy Ace F. Ng and Chiara Bernadette Z. Tan-Gatue from Saint Jude Catholic School, and Jay Aundrey G. Tres Reyes from the University of San Carlos were declared winners of the event.
After its cancellation last year, the competition, now entitled PBO 2021: Sibol, served a ‘redemption story’ for the organizers. Composed of about 100 members, the team handling PBO had to make certain adjustments to ensure that the contest transpired this year.
Taking the risk, the annual competition was held virtually for the first time.
Online platforms such as Zoom and Canvas were utilized to accommodate all participants and to properly implement the Olympiad exam format. A marshal system, incorporated into Zoom’s breakout feature, was also devised to prevent cheating during the examinations.
With the addition of workshops and masterclasses during the semi-finals round, this year’s PBO had to be stretched for four months instead of the usual two-day setup, according to the PBO Director Larry Acuña.
He also claimed that spacing out the competition allowed the organizing team to review the questions better and to properly assess the scores of the participants.
In an attempt to increase the difficulty of each round, the organizers decided to introduce varied types of exams. The quiz bee portion covered different biology disciplines, and aside from the typical true or false questions, the contestants also encountered matching and identification type tests. For the practical exams, competitors had to write essays, interpret images, and perform data analysis using utility programs.
Joining the competition for the first time, and last, this year’s PBO top-scorer Jose Nell Andrew Tumulak had to adapt a strategy to perform his best in the given situation.
“For the laboratory exams, you have to know when you have to stop working things out because there are other things that you could be doing that could be way easier and could net you points in a competitive sense,” Tumalak said.
“On the quiz bee, there isn’t a realistic way to nail each and every subtopic,” he explained, “So the strategy [for me was] to look for certain subtopics and then make sure I master those, and for the subtopics that I didn’t master, I had to just kind of wing it and rely on stock knowledge.”
To further filter out the best students from the 221 contenders, a new scoring scheme was also implemented. The organizers employed a curved cumulative scoring where grades across all rounds and portions of the Olympiad have a bearing on the competitor’s rank.
“This is to show that consistency is key to being on top of the competition,” Acuña asserted.
International Biology Olympiad (IBO) Country Coordinator Dr. Ronald Cruz acknowledged the efforts provided by the PBO team in making the whole event possible. “I’m very proud of what the PBO team did this year,” he said. “They were able to pull it off from eliminations to finals.”
“I hope they realize what kind of achievement they made, [and] what kind of milestone this was not only for Ateneo BOx but for the Philippine Biology Olympiad because they are able to show everyone, including other national science olympiads, that it could be done and it could be done very well,” He added.
Dr. Cruz also pointed out how the examinations were able to “strongly and appropriately” choose the best of the best in the pool of participants.
He will lead the four-man team if ever the IBO Challenge ensues this year.
“I really, really wish that we would have at least the IBO challenge because I believe these four candidates would do very well,” he said.