Review Articles

The development of China National Geography Olympiad and the International Geography Olympiad

  • WEI Dongying ,
  • YANG Jie ,
  • WANG Min , *
  • College of Geography, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China

*Corresponding author: Wang Min (1958-), Professor, E-mail:

Author: Wei Dongying (1976-), PhD and Assistant Professor, specialized in park management, geography education and environment interpretation. E-mail:

Received date: 2014-02-20

  Accepted date: 2014-03-28

  Online published: 2014-04-20

Supported by

National Social Science Foundation of China, No. AHA120008


Journal of Geographical Sciences, All Rights Reserved

Cite this article

WEI Dongying , YANG Jie , WANG Min . The development of China National Geography Olympiad and the International Geography Olympiad[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2014 , 24(4) : 767 -769 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-014-1107-12

The International Geography Olympiad (IGEO) is a competition for the best 16 to 19 year old students from all over the world. Four students represent each country in a series of Geography tests in (generally) a four-five day program.

The aims of the IGEO are to:

1. stimulate active interest in geographical and environmental studies among young people;

2. contribute positively to debate about the importance of geography as a senior secondary school subject by drawing attention to the quality of geographical knowledge, skills and interests among young people;

Till now, ten times of IGEO has been held and the places are as below.
2013: Kyoto, Japan
2012: Cologne, Germany
2010: Taipei, China
2008: Carthage, Tunisia
2006: Brisbane, Australia
2004: Gdansk, Poland
2002: Durban, South Africa
2000: Seoul, South Korea
1998: Lisbon, Portugal
1996: The Hague, Netherlands
The 11th IGEO will be held in Krakow, Poland in 2014 and the 12th IGEO will be in Moscow, Russia in 2015 and the 13th IGEO will be in Beijing, China in 2016.
The competition consists of three parts: a written response test (40% of total marks), a substantial fieldwork exercise (40%) and a multimedia test (20%).
The tests are prepared by committees under the supervision of the IGU Olympiad Task Force, and are based on guidelines drawn up by the Task Force after consultation with the International Board. IGEO assignments will test both knowledge and skills in geography.
In general students complete the test assignments individually, although parts of the fieldwork test may be done in groups. Students must produce their answers in the official language of the IGEO (English).
The tests will focus on some of the following topics:
1. climate & climate change
2. hazards & hazard management
3. resources & resource management
4. environmental geography & sustainable development
5. landforms, landscapes & land use
6. agricultural geography & food problems
7. population & population change
8. economic geography & globalisation
9. development geography & spatial inequality
10. urban geography, urban renewal & urban planning
11. tourism & tourism management
12. cultural geography & regional identities Required skills:
13. map skills (read, analyse, interpret and draw maps)
14. inquiry and problem-solving skills
15. graphicacy skills (read, analyse and interpret images, photos, statistics, graphs)

The Written Response Test (WRT) consists of:

6 sets of questions, each set on a different issue chosen from the topics listed above, and with approximately 5 questions in each set.
When an issue is selected to raise questions, the issues are geographically and socially relevant, and also up-to-date.
Each set of questions should take 25-30 minutes to complete for non-native English speakers, and 20-25 minutes for native English-speakers.
Each question has at least two types of source material such as maps, photos, graphs, and statistics.
The WRT tests not only the theoretical geographical knowledge of the participants but also their ability to apply their knowledge to regional contexts, as well as demonstrates geographical skills.

The Multi Media Test consists of:

40 questions, each taking 1-2 minutes to complete, depending on complexity of source material
issues that are geographically and socially relevant
questions that require topical and applied geographical knowledge and geographical skills
questions that cover both physical and human geography, either separately or integrated
each question refers to a map and/or or digital photo, film or graph
each question is a multiple-choice with 4 answer options
For the Multi Media Test the basic geographical thinking skills are required. Too obvious test questions are avoided like: “What is the main export product of India?” The idea is to ask the contestants to analyse information in maps, diagrams, photographs, etc.

The Fieldwork Exercise consists of:

observation and mapping
analysis of spatial issue in fieldwork area including additional data gathering
problem-solving exercise leading to a proposal including a spatial plan or map
The Fieldwork Exercise required geographic skills such as: mapping skills (read, analyse, interpret and produce maps), inquiry and problem solving skills, and graphicacy skills (read, analyse, interpret and produce images, photos, statistics, and graphs).
Four Chinese middle school students represented China to attend the Third International Geography Olympiad (IGEO) held in South Korea in 2000, and it was the first time for China to participate in the IGEO. In 2005 the Geographical Society of China and Beijing Normal University decided to co-organize the China National Geography Olympiad (CNGO) for middle school students and to prepare for the 2006 IGEO in Australia.
The First National Geography Olympiad for Middle School Students in China was held in Panyu (Guangzhou) from 20th to 22nd January, 2006. 20 teams (80 middle school students under 18 years old and 25 geography teachers) from 20 middle schools nationwide participated in the competition. The Olympiad absorbed the experience of the IGEO and the national competitions of other subjects like biology, mathematics, physics, and was a great success.
The first prize was awarded to the teams from Keqiao Middle School in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, Shandong Experimental Middle School in Shandong Province and Wuzhou Middle School in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The team from Keqiao Middle School represented China to participate in the 6th International Geography Olympiad held in Brisbane, 2006.
Till now, CNGO has been held five times and they were held in different places of China as below. In November, 2014, China will hold the 6th CNGO in Guangrao, Shandong Province. CNGO has built a website named Chinese Geography Olympiad Website (
Table 1
Date Place Number of
Number of teams Number of students
2006.01.20-22 Panyu, Guangdong 9 20 80
2007.12.15-16 Beijing 12 32 128
2009.11.11-15 Shaoguan, Guangdong 12 34 136
2011.10.28-30 Wuhan, Hubei 12 37 147
2013.11.08-10 Shaoxing, Zhejiang 9 37 146
The first prize winners of CNGO represented China to attend IGEO and won the prizes. Lei Xing and Li Mindan (both from the Affiliated High School of South China Normal University) won bronze prize at the 7th IGEO in 2008. Zheng Peiliang (from Beijing National Day School) won silver prize at the 9th IEGO in 2012. Zheng Yichen (Beijing Huiwen Middle School) won silver prize at the 10th IGEO in 2013.
The College of Geography of Beijing Normal University takes charge of the provision of the test questions and the evaluation of the Olympiad. CNGO tried to combine the characteristics of IGEO with the Chinese Geography curriculum for middle schools. Physical geography and human geography both took up 50%, and World Geography was emphasized.
Through 7 years’ development, CNGO keeps pace with IGEO and also has its own characteristics. Nowadays, questions of CNGO are mainly divided into three parts.
1.multi media test: it includes 40 questions and takes up 20% of total marks.
2.written response test: it includes 5-6 questions and takes up 50% of total marks; one of the questions need to be answered in English.
3.substantial fieldwork exercise: it takes up 30% of total marks. Students have about 3 hours to do the fieldwork, and answer related questions.
The multi media test and written response test are taken indoor and the fieldwork exercise is outdoor.
The results of this competition provided a solid basis for others to build on in the years to come, and the Chinese organizers will continue the China National Geography Olympiad (CNGO) on a biannual basis. Recently, the winners of the 5th CNGO will represent China to attend the 11th International Geography Olympiad to be held in Krakow, Poland in August, 2014.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Wang Min, Wei Dongying, 2007. The China National Geography Competition for middle school students.International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 16(3): 280-282.

Wang Min, Wei Dongying, 2007. Education for sustainable development in China: A perspective on curricula standards and geography textbooks.International Textbook Research, 29(2): 185-197.

He Yaqiong, Wang Min, 2013. China’s geographical regionalization in Chinese secondary school curriculum (1902-2012).Journal of Geographical Sciences, 23(2): 370-383.