• Computer Applications

    State Contest Director

    Shyamal Mitra
    mitra@cs.utexas.edu

    Elements of the Contest

    The Computer Science contest challenges students to study a broad range of areas in computer science and has both an individual and a team component. Competition consists of a 45-minute written exam for both components, along with a two-hour hands-on programming contest for teams.

    At all levels of competition, individual places are determined solely by written exam scores. All contestants compete for individual honors at all levels of competition. Individuals placing first, second and third advance to the next level.  For the team component, the team’s top three scores on the written exam are added to its score on the hands-on contest to produce an overall team score. First-place teams advance to the next level of competition.

    Additional Information

    Background

    In philosophical terms, the UIL Computer Science Contest is a competition that challenges students to apply programming concepts and skills, as well as their knowledge of the designated programming language. The contest is also an opportunity for students to expand their knowledge of computer science beyond the classroom and to foster their interest in the field.

    The contest was established in the 1990-91 school year with several goals in mind. Among them were the goals of further strengthening the UIL math and science program with a new technological component, and to support Texas public schools in meeting the growing demand for computer education.

    The UIL contest was modeled in many ways on the College Board’s Advanced Placement curriculum for computer science, and the foundations of the contest can still be found there. For the first eight years of its existence, Pascal was the designated programming language for the contest. Beginning with the 1998-99 school year, the AP curriculum moved to C++, and UIL Computer Science did likewise. Finally, beginning in the 2003-04 school year, the contest moved from C++ to Java. This keeps UIL Computer Science in line not only with the AP curriculum, but also with trends in collegiate computer science curricula and the professional programming community.

    Java is the designated programming language for UIL Computer Science.

    General Rules

    As with all UIL academic contests, computer science participants must meet general eligibility requirements as defined in the Constitution and Contest Rules.

    UIL Computer Science competition begins each year with invitational meets, which are hosted on a voluntary basis by individual schools. The UIL provides contest materials for invitational meets that are scheduled from early January until mid-March. Hosts of invitational meets during this time may elect to use the UIL-provided materials or they may use materials from other sources. Schools that host fall invitationals must find other sources for contest materials - this web site provides a listing of companies and individuals who sell UIL-type practice and contest materials.

    Computer Science is included with all other UIL academic contests in spring meet competition, which begins with district-level competition during the last two weeks of March. Each school may enter up to four contestants in Computer Science at the district meet. District winners advance to regional meets, and regional winners advance to the state contest. State Meet contestants are eligible to apply for Texas Interscholastic League Foundation scholarships.

    Basic Contest Structure

    The Computer Science contest has both an individual and a team component. Competition consists of a 45-minute written exam for both components, along with a two-hour hands-on programming contest for teams.

    At all levels of competition, individual places are determined solely by written exam scores. All contestants compete for individual honors at all levels of competition. Individuals placing first, second and third advance to the next level.

    For the team component, the team’s top three scores on the written exam are added to its score on the hands-on contest to produce an overall team score. First-place teams advance to the next level of competition.

    Scoring Rules

    On the written exam, six points are awarded for each correct answer, and two points are deducted for each incorrect answer. No points are given or deducted for unanswered questions. A 15-minute verification period will take place prior to the announcement of official results. The verification period provides coaches and contestants an opportunity to look over their tests and check for grading or tabulation errors. It is crucial to take advantage of the verification period - once official results have been announced they cannot be changed.

    For the hands-on programming contest, 60 points are awarded for a correct solution. Five points are deducted from the team score for an incorrect solution. Incorrect solutions will be returned to the team, and they may be reworked and resubmitted for additional consideration. The penalty deductions assessed for incorrect solutions will only be counted in the team score if the team ultimately gets that problem correct. Thus there is no penalty other than the time used for trying a problem and getting it wrong, and a team that gets a problem right on the first try will still receive more points than a team that gets it right on the second or third try.

    Materials and Format - Written Contest

    Contestants will need to bring pencils and erasers for the written contest. The contest director will provide scratch paper. Calculators are NOT permitted.

    The written contest is a 45-minute written exam consisting of 40 multiple choice questions. Answers are recorded on the answer sheet or scantron sheet provided. The test itself may be used as scratch paper.

    Materials and Format - Hands-on Contest

    Each team may bring two program language reference books or textbooks. Books must be published works that are widely available. Books must also be reasonably free of handwritten notes. Each team must bring media for submitting solutions to judges, either floppy disks or USB flash drives.

    A note about floppy disks: State contest directors are aware that floppy drives are no longer standard equipment for many new computers, but floppies continue to be the most practical medium for the contest. External USB floppy drives are inexpensive, as are the disks themselves. However, contest rules do not prohibit the use flash drives. Contestants must be aware of the limitations of using flash drives - remember that you may have one or more flash drives in the judging room when your team is ready to submit another solution. You will need to have enough drives on hand to allow for submitting multiple solutions. Also, any flash drive used for the contest cannot contain any other data - it may contain the problem solution only. Flash drives may be scanned during system check.

    Each team will also need a computer to work on. Printers are allowed but not necessary, as all solutions will be submitted on disk. Teams may be encouraged to bring their own computers or to use computers provided by the host site. It’s important to determine which is the case well in advance of the contest - most contest sites REQUIRE teams to bring their own computers.

    A team may use ONLY ONE computer during the contest - this means one system, one monitor and one keyboard/mouse. Teams using a laptop computer may use an external display and keyboard/mouse, but these may only be used INSTEAD OF, not in addition to, the laptop's built-in devices. A team may also bring a backup computer to use in case of equipment failure. Only compiler and necessary system software should be installed on the team’s computer. A compiler’s built-in libraries and help functions may be used during the contest, but previously written programs MAY NOT be used and must be removed from the computer prior to competition. A computer's built-in calculation functions may be used during the contest. External calculators may NOT be used.

    The hands-on contest is a two-hour programming contest consisting of 12 problems of varying degrees of difficulty. Teams will need to arrive early to allow time to set up equipment. Prior to the beginning of the contest, teams will work a simple "dry run" problem that will help familiarize participants with contest procedures.

    Teams submit solutions on disk as they finish them, along with the provided run sheet. Runners transport disks and other items between contestants and judges. When a team submits a correct solution, the judges will return an acceptance form. For an incorrect solution, the judges will return the disk and run sheet with a brief notation indicating why the solution was incorrect. Teams may choose to rework the solution and resubmit it for additional consideration. Contestants also have the opportunity to request clarification from the judges on particular problems - clarification request forms will be provided. Contest standings may be posted periodically during competition at the contest director’s discretion.

    Specific procedures for the hands-on contest will vary by host site. Contact the site’s contest director for questions or clarification.

    Conclusion

    UIL Computer Science can be a challenging, educational and fun experience for students and teachers alike. Contestants have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom and to build on that knowledge through contest preparation and competition, including the unique experience of the hands-on contest at the regional and state meets.