UA High School Physics Contest

We plan to hold the 45th High School Physics Contest on January 26 (Friday) 2024.

The Annual University of Alabama High School Physics Contest is typically held at John England Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama. This event is open to all high schools (and home-schooled students at equivalent levels) and usually attracts schools from surrounding states as well as many from Alabama. It consists not only of physics competitions but also of a program for teachers, a career panel for students with speakers from industry, government, and universities, a physics show, and informal opportunities to experience campus life at The University of Alabama.

A preliminary program is as follows (all events will take place in John England Hall for 2024):

8:00-8:45am: Registration

8:45-9:00am: Greetings and Instructions

9:00-10:15am: Written Exam (sample, student version and version with solutions)

9:00-10:15am: Teachers’ Program

10:30-11:45am: Ciphering Exam (Questions and solutions from 2019)

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch on your own

1:00- 2:00pm: Panel Discussion

2:00- 3:00pm: Physics Show

3:00- 3:45pm: Awards Ceremony


Contest Details

The competition has two parts, individual and team. The individual part has a written test with multiple-choice questions over topics that are most common in introductory physics classes. The team (also known as ciphering) competition is a test of quick problem-solving, in which 4-student teams compete. Each school may enter as many teams as desired, subject to an overall space limit (approximately 75 teams). The teams are pre-assigned codes that allow them to find their seats and (when entered on an answer sheet) ensure that the score is credited to the right school. At the beginning of the ciphering contest, the first member of each team takes the correct labeled seat at the competition tables (3 teams per table plus a proctor to help with distribution of papers and scoring). After answering a trial question to make sure everyone understands the procedure, the first members of all the teams answer four questions. Each question is on an 8.5×11 inch sheet of paper; the student should write his or her name, the school name, and the school code on the back and put the answer to the question in a box provided on the front. They can take a total of 120 seconds for each question, but a correct answer counts 5 points if turned in after 40 seconds, 3 points after 80 seconds, and only 1 point after 120 seconds. The answers are graded immediately and the scores are tallied online. The scores of the top teams are projected on a screen, and updated immediately to reflect each question , so the current standings are known quickly. After the first contestants have answered the 4 questions, they go back to sit in the audience and the second contestants from each team take their places. These answer another 4 questions, and so on until each of the four team members has answered 4 questions, for a total of 16 questions per team. The scores on these 16 questions are added to determine the overall team score; plaques are given at the awards ceremony to the top several teams in each high-school category.

Contest Prizes

The top two finishers in the written exam who choose to attend The University of Alabama will receive four-year in-state tuition scholarships. Books, trophies, plaques, and medals will be awarded to the top individual and team finishers. Students who do well in the competition will be invited to apply to the E. Scott Barr scholarship program, which awards generous scholarships of $1200 per year to students majoring in physics.

Contest Rules

  • The use of calculators is not allowed on the written exam. Calculations on the written examination will involve simple numbers so far as feasible and trigonometric tables for commonly used angles will be provided. The use of calculators is allowed for the ciphering competition provided any stored formulas are not used.
  • Students having tattoos of physics formulas will be allowed to participate only if the tattoos are completely covered by clothing. T-shirts or other clothing bearing formulas are not allowed.
  • A school can enter any number of students in the written exam and (subject to space availability) any number of teams in the ciphering competition.
  • Ciphering teams have four members, whose names must be sent in on the registration form. Last-minute changes may be emailed to Karen Lynn ( no later than noon Thursday, January 30th. The list of teams will be finalized then — subsequent changes to team rosters can not be guaranteed.
  • The ciphering teams are divided into five divisions:
    • Small public high schools
    • Large public high schools
    • Private high schools
    • Small magnet high schools
  • Large magnet high schools, which includes state math and science schools such as MSMS and ASMS.
  • Joint teams (having members from more than one school) may be formed. Note that a student may not occupy more than one of the four slots on a team, so if a school does not have four students it must join with another school or compete as a “fun run” team in which a student can compete multiple times, which is scored but ineligible for awards.
  • Team rankings in the ciphering competition will be announced unofficially at the end of the competition and officially at the awards ceremony.
  • Books, trophies, plaques, and medals will be awarded to the top finishers (both individuals and teams). Recognition will also be extended to all students scoring in the upper 20% on the written examination

E. Scott Barr Award

It will be our pleasure to present the E. Scott Barr Teaching Award to an outstanding high school physics teacher. The winner will receive a plaque and a check. Nominations for this award are invited from principals, fellow teachers, parents, and students. If you would like to nominate someone, please send the nominee’s name and contact information, along with a supporting statement, to Professor Nobu Okada by fax (205-348-5051) or email,


Contest information is mailed out to schools in October of each year. If your school does not receive one, or for further information, contact

Ms. Karen Lynn
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Box 870324
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0324
Ph: 205-348-5050

To register: Save, edit, and email back the Excel registration form. There is also a consent form we need to have signed for all students – you can get this in PDF or Word .docx formats and turn them in at registration. There is no entry fee! It will help us plan if you can email us in advance with an estimate of how many students you expect to bring.

Previous High School Physics Contest Career Panels

2021 HSPC Career Panel
2019 HSPC Career Panel
2018 HSPC Career Panel
2017 HSPC Career Panel
2016 HSPC Career Panel