How Does USACO Scoring Work?

Learn the philosophy behind the question, and the score will follow.

We have learned this from experiences shared in the past by programmers, finalists, and USACO contest winners.

In USACO, every problem comes with a predefined score. There is a negative marking for the mistakes. Let’s see how does USACO scoring work.

Problems are scored based on efficient coding done in a predefined duration. Practice questions with a timer to prepare for the competition.

The Framework of the USA Computing Olympiad

how does usaco scoring work

USACO was a pilot project of UNESCO to conduct olympiad contests in the USA.

The contest aims to prepare a team of coders to participate in the US Open Championship and International Science Olympiads.

USACO focuses on writing apt codes to solve problems quickly.

Those who judge the contests are the ones who create these questions, solve them, and test them under a set time frame.

The same expectation is from the contestants to solve the problem at the same time duration or before.

The two-step process for solving the USACO contest questions require you to

  • Design the algorithm
  • Implement it into a result-oriented code

The Format

coding screen


The USACO contest takes place four times a year.

You can take the contest anytime within the blocked window. Each contest has 3 or 4 questions. The usual time taken to finish the questions is around 4 hours.

Once you start solving, the timer starts.

You must submit the solution to these questions using C++, Python, or Java.

The problems are algorithmic. Therefore, the answer to each question must include well-thought-of data structures and algorithms.

Once you submit the program, the judges will check the questions against several test cases.

You will see a green or red color flashing on your screen. These colors represent the feedback for the test case, green for correct and red for incorrect submission.

The incorrect ones are differentiated based on the core issue

  1. X- Incorrect answer
  2. T- Time limit exceeded
  3. !- Run time error
  4. E- Empty output file
  5. M- Missing output file

How does USACO Scoring work?

excited usaco student


The USACO score is marked automatically and is system generated.

The number of test cases varies from question to question.

Each set of test cases per question holds a point value of 333.33. Likewise, there are three questions. So, the total point value comes to 1000.

Let us look at the below example.

Suppose George took up the USACO Bronze division contest. The following is his score per question against the test cases.

Test Cases Points
Question 1 8/10 266.66
Question 2 5/15 111.1
Question 3 20/20 333.33
Total 711

The total is 711 points out of 1000, which is within the range of the cut-off score.


Your total score will always be in round figures, but the score for each question will be in decimal.

The Passing Score

USACO cut-off score ranges between 650 to 850 points, depending on the difficulty level of the questions.

Thus, the cutoff for every level is always a multiple of 50-point values.

View this problem from the USACO Open contest to understand the process of analysis and grading. 

Facts to know

  • The language of the contest is English.
  • Pascal is no more accepted.
  • There is no penalty for submitting the code multiple times. However, your last code becomes the subject of evaluation, ruling out the best of the lot. So, it would be best to be a little careful while resubmitting.
  • There are chances for in-contest promotion. In such cases, you can begin the next level contest under the same 4-day active contest window.
  • In standard cases, USACO calculates the cutoff after the test duration ends. You are promoted to the next level if your score is just or above the cutoff USACO score.

Changes in Programming Method 2020 Onwards

There has been a change in the input and output cases for the USACO contest.

USACO now uses the or system.out methods in Java. So, the exam guideline suggests using a Scanner or Bufferreader for reading the inputs.

In C++, contestants can use cin and cout as the standard methods, just like before.

To The Future Coder

happy coder

You can’t predict your future, but you can create it!- Peter Ducker

Pick up a programming language and begin your journey in the USACO contest extravaganza!

Find the high-quality resources to take you from Bronze to Platinum.

Get in touch with the mentors at Enthuziastic, join the forums, and participate in the workshops to enhance your knowledge and skills.

Refer to videos on competitive programming.

It isn’t easy, but you can achieve the goal by following the right path.


Where do I start with for USACO contest preparation?

Start with learning a programming language. It can be C, C++, Java, or Python.

How to succeed in the USACO contests?

Apart from the resources and guides, you must be determined to succeed. Practice a lot and work on time management to move to the subsequent division.

What topics do I need to focus on for USACO levels?

There is no official standard syllabus for USACO. However, every division comes with a compilation of topics and practice problems that help you to prepare for the contest. You can access it here for all the divisions.

What measures to keep in mind to ensure the contest’s integrity?

To ensure the contest’s integrity-

  • Follow the competition’s strict policies.
  • Do not use pre-written templates.
  • Do not maliciously submit any program.
  • Log in using one unique ID.

Is there any guide to USACO problems?

Yes, there are many resources. You can check the guide page for all the general and advanced information on the contest problems. 

learn usaco

Prepare for USACO with Expert Teachers

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The level of programming is progressive, and so is the USACO scoring. For most pre-college students, clearing the first level of the USACO contest itself is a significant achievement.

Competing at higher levels requires knowledge and grit to make it to US Open finalist.

Throughout your USACO training, maintain the test case-to-point ratio and keep practicing.

You will soon see yourself moving from one division to the next, finally representing your team in the International Olympiad of Informatics (IOI).

Good Luck!

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