Preparing for Contests
Contests, such as USACO, that test informatics can be overwhelming, especially at first. It is essential to be ready, and here are some tips I personally recommend.
Months before (high time for prep):
Identify your weaknesses (through previous contests if you have taken them, or through other problems) and solve lots of problems. Past problems are best, but to save up for mocks, consider other resources/competitions to draw from. Read editorials and learn from your mistakes. If you learn new algorithms or data structures or even faster solutions, ingrain them and their intuition into your memory. Build intuition based on how you apply these strategies to problems. You can also use some time here to draft up a template full of utilities for speed.
The few weeks before (plan for contest strategy):
First, if you plan to use a template in-contest, know that you are not allowed to have it prewritten. As such, practice writing your template out now so you don't need to stress later! You need to be able to write it from scratch efficiently at the beginning of the contest. If your template is small or you don't use templates, this is easy, but practice otherwise.
If this is something you are interested in, see Making a Contest Template.
Take one or at most two mock contests, spaced out, simulating real conditions. You can use these as opportunities to also practice writing your template. These are very tiring and will take huge fractions of your day, so rest well prior. Take note of your mistakes. Focus now mostly on what you already know and will use and less on learning new things you are uncomfortable with. Solve problems and avoid solving ones you may encounter on a mock you plan to take.
The few days before ("last minute" review):
Read over your notes or do some CP-related thing in a passive way. Change your sleep cycle if you plan to take the test early morning. Definitely stop mocking by now. If you really want to solve problems, mentally go through what a solution would look like, check with the editorial, and move on. Save your implementation efforts for test day.
The day:
Stay calm and relaxed and do your best. Spend no more than three to five minutes at the beginning to type out your template for the contest from scratch. Then read carefully and begin solving.
Feel free to take breaks. Manage time like you've practiced and try to keep to schedule over all problems. If you promote in contest, use this as a confidence boost and rest (like the previous step) until your next contest period.
After results are out:
Analyze your mistakes and what you plan to do better next time. Before reading editorials, try to upsolve once you are again rested up.
Last modified 6mo ago
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