Experimental Design

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Course content was made from ScioVirtual Experimental Design lead faculty, including:
Rebecca Liebson, undergraduate at Stanford University, national gold medalist from Solon HS Science Olympiad. Rebecca created ScioVirtual’s Rocks and Experimental Design course and supervised the curricula of all ScioVirtual earth science courses.
Ankita Kundu, NJ Science Olympiad state gold medalist in Experimental Design. Ankita taught forensics and supervises teacher training and curriculum development at ScioVirtual.
Catherine Byrne- Hi! I currently am a senior at Carmel High School (IN). I have experience in Science Olympiad (national) + HOSA (state).

Though Experimental Design may seem pretty easy at first, it can be especially difficult under a time crunch (which, from personal experience, you will always be under). Because of this, it’s vital that you first learn (memorize) the rubric.

Take a look at the official Division B Experimental Design rubric:

Confused? Don’t worry, that’s what this guide is for! Keep scrolling to figure out what the rubric actually means.

First Half (A - G)

Typically, the experimental design packet will be handed out in two sections. This first half deals with the set-up and execution of the experiment itself. Use the presentation below to understand more about how to write this portion of the test.

Important Distinctions:

  • Independent vs. Dependent Variable
    • Independent variable - the variable you are changing to measure the effect of. ex: dropping height of a ball, amount of water, etc.
    • Dependent variable - the variable that is changing as a result of the independent variable; the one that you are measuring. ex: rebound height of the ball, rate of dissolution, etc.
  • Constants vs. Controlled Variables
    • Constants - a value being kept well, constant, that you cannot control. ex: acceleration due to gravity, room temperature, air pressure, etc.
    • Controlled Variables - a value being kept, - you guessed it! - constant, that you can control. ex: mass of a block, angle of a pendulum, type of material

Second Half (H-M)

This half of the report deals with all the fun analysis of the data collected from part 1. Below are some tips for specific portions.


The most important thing in this section is LABELING. Label your axes, the units, the data points, the line of best fit, everything!! For more information on statistics (not all of these concepts are needed in Division B, but they definitely are helpful!), take a look below.


Here is a good resource from SOINC on how to write a proper CER. (This is also a good reference for the conclusion section!)

Experimental Errors:

All you need to remember for this one is to explain why/how it affected the data! Bonus points if it’s something that can be clearly seen in your data table, or was mentioned in qualitative observations.

Recommendations for Future Experiments:

Some tips -

  • Improving the experiment —> look to connect back to your errors! DON’T just say that using machinery will help; think of actual mistakes you made
  • Future experiments —> think of experiments that have a different independent and dependent variable, but still use the materials listed/connect to the overall topic of the prompt


There you have it! Now you’re all set to succeed at Experimental Design- that is, only if you practice. Like most events, ExDesi requires extensive practice with the test format, especially given that you will see the same format at every competition.

The link below has some great practice tests to start with.