BAAO Astro Round 1

This is the first of the selection papers for the UK team for the IOAA. However, it is also a paper about problem solving in astrophysical contexts and is taken by those who have a keen interest in raising their problem-solving skills. We expect up to around 1000 students from UK schools to take part.

Competition date: Tuesday 23rd Jan 2024.

(Schools may choose to do it up to one day earlier or later, but no more than that.)

All scanned scripts must be returned (uploaded) for marking to BPhO by the end of Friday 26th Jan 2024. This is a strict deadline as marking begins on the Saturday.

Competition details

Cost: £15 per student (four free papers for non-fee-paying schools). All subsequent rounds are free.

Prizes: certificates

International schools can sit the paper at the same time as UK schools.


This paper is designed to give students further exposure to problem solving in astronomy and astrophysics beyond that which they encounter in their A Level studies, and it is meant to be a challenge with questions that might stump many A* candidate students. Section 1 consists of lots of short questions from which students can answer as many as they wish, with a capped mark of 40 marks. Section 2 will have 4-5 longer 20-mark questions from which students choose just two. One of the questions in Section 2 will be on observational astronomy, which we hope more students over time will attempt - it is the only place observational astronomy is assessed in this paper. The syllabus and self-study guides are given further down this page.

The best students in this paper (plus any that received a Top Gold in BPhO Round 1) will be invited to take Astro Round 2 in late February, from which the best in that paper will be invited to Oxford for a selection camp. This will culminate in an Astro Round 3 paper which will decide who makes the UK team going to the International Olympiad on Astronomy & Astrophysics (IOAA).


Students at the team level typically achieve 70-80%, but all scores indicate a level of achievement that should be celebrated by the student and the school for showing determination to solve hard astrophysics problems. Good students should be encouraged to prepare for it by working through the syllabus and self-study guides, as well as doing the specimen paper and attempting the 10-mark questions from Astro Challenge past papers; questions from past papers should also be integrated into your teaching scheme of work (or perhaps form the basis of the material covered in an astronomy club). Participation itself reflects strongly on a student's interest and determination.

Syllabus and Documents

The core topics are:

Further details are given in the BAAO Syllabus, and self-study guides will be provided [by Jan 2024] for astrophysics material that may be unfamiliar from A Level as well as a complete guide to the observational astronomy needed for the Astro Round 1 (both will build on the guides given for the Astro Challenge).

How to enter

Results are expected to be emailed out by February half term to the contact email address. Do not send in questions about results before then. We will update you if there is a delay. Instructions are given on the Competitions platform. and it is important that teachers follow these and also check that their submitted papers are the correct ones.

Award allocation

Certificates are anticipated to be awarded to the top students in approximately the following percentages (dependent on number of entries):

Students achieving a certificate of any colour in the BAAO are very able physics problem solvers. We would encourage schools to present these certificates in a manner that recognises the significant achievement of successful students at a national level.

Qualification for Round 2 and selection for the Oxford Training Camp at Easter

The top group of students eligible for Astro Round 2 (following the same Round 2 eligibility criteria as for the BPhO) will be invited to take part in Astro Round 2 in late February. This will be the Top Gold students who satisfy the requirements for Round 2 entry from either BPhO Round 1 or Astro Round 1 (we expect the overlap of these sets to be large as we heavily encourage all good students to sit both papers).

China schools

Schools in China must participate through ASDAN China. To register please visit ASDAN China or contact for more information.