The National Science League Complete Guide

The National Science League (NSL), a prominent STEM challenge, was founded in 1980 by experienced math coaches Joseph Quartaro and Henry Hull; the NSL was established in harmony with national science education policies, aiming to ignite students’ passion for science.

With a strong emphasis on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the NSL provides a platform for students to challenge themselves, explore science, and apply interdisciplinary STEM knowledge to real-life problems.

Contest Details

The NSL’s upcoming contest, slated from April 22 through May 3, 2024, is a testament to its enduring legacy. The competition spans various grade levels, encompassing various questions and subjects.

Questions Galore

The NSL offers a broad spectrum of questions that align with grade levels and subjects. For grades 2, 3, and 4, participants face 25 to 35 questions, while grades 5 and 6 tackle 40. 

In addition, the NSL features specialized contests in Life Science, Physical Science, General Science, Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, each offering a set of questions tailored to the respective subject.

These questions range from factual knowledge to an understanding of scientific processes. The NSL strives to provide questions that challenge students’ comprehension while allowing them to demonstrate their scientific understanding.

Time Crunch

The time limit for each contest is 35 minutes, allowing for convenient administration within a single class period. This well-structured time frame ensures that students can complete the contest without feeling rushed.

Accessible Resources

Participants can easily access contest questions through downloadable PDF files. Schools can then duplicate as many copies as needed to facilitate the contest. Answer keys are also provided, ensuring the grading process is straightforward.

For Broader Audience

The NSL takes pride in being an inclusive competition. There’s no limit to the number of students who can participate. While the contest does include a few challenging questions that require creative thinking, the majority are accessible to most students.

Student Independence

The NSL is distinct in that students are required to complete the questions on their own. Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities are encouraged by this method. But the school has to proctor and grade every test.

Recognition and Results

The NSL values recognition. The top ten individual scorers, along with their scores, are published on the NSL website. These scores are then summed up to calculate the school’s team score. All schools can view the results online, ensuring transparency.


The NSL believes in celebrating achievements. Each participating team receives 11 awards – one medal and ten certificates. For every additional team that a school registers, they earn an extra set of awards.

To incentivize excellence on a national level, individual and team awards are also up for grabs.

Results Cut-off Date

It’s vital to note the results cut-off date, May 20, 2024. Schools must enter their scores by this date to have their names included in the results report.


Participation in the NSL comes at a reasonable cost. The first two teams can register for $110 each, with each additional team requiring a $60 fee. Discounts are applied as you add teams to the shopping cart.

NSL’s History and Significance

An Evolving Legacy

Over four decades, the NSL has grown in stature. It now involves over 400 American schools and attracts over 30,000 students annually. This remarkable growth reflects the competition’s enduring appeal to educators and students.

Versatility in Difficulty

The NSL prides itself on accommodating students of all levels. With ten difficulty levels, it is suitable for students from grades 1 to 12. This flexibility enables students to challenge themselves according to their aptitude and knowledge.

NGSS Alignment

One of the NSL’s key strengths lies in its alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This ensures that the competition remains relevant and supports the objectives of modern science education.

Contest Rules

The NSL maintains a well-structured set of rules to ensure fair play and adherence to standards across different grade levels.


Time and Format

On April 11, 2024, students in primary school grades will participate in the contest. The contest takes place on-site from 14:00 to 19:40, and students can select any 40-minute window during this period. There’s also an online option that runs from 19:00 to 19:40.

Content and Language

The content is tailored to different primary school grade levels. Grade 1-2 students face Introductory Science Level 1 with 25 multiple-choice questions. 

Grade 3-4 students tackle Introductory Science Level 2 with 35 multiple-choice questions, and Grade 5-6 students deal with Introductory Science Level 3 comprising 40 multiple-choice questions. Questions are available in Chinese and English, and pinyin is provided for Level 1 questions.

Location and Options

The contest can be paper-based and is hosted in partnering schools. Notably, junior students can choose senior-level contests, but the reverse is not allowed. For instance, Grade 3 students can opt for Introductory Science Level 3, but not Level 1.


Time and Format

Students in middle school grades (7-9) will compete in the competition on April 11, 2024. Similar to the elementary school level, the online option is accessible from 19:00 to 19:40, and the onsite contest is from 14:00 to 19:40.

Content and Language

Grade 7 students face Introductory Science Level 4 with 50 multiple-choice questions. While this is going on, eighth- and ninth-graders can choose to participate in Life Science, Physical Science, or Earth Science. There are fifty multiple-choice questions in each subject in both language Chinese and English.


The contest is paper-based and held in partnering schools.


Time and Format

On April 11, 2024, high school students in grades 9 through 12 will take part. The online competition is open from 19:00 to 19:40, while the in-person contest runs from 14:00 to 19:40.

Content and Language

High school students can choose to participate in the Physics, Chemistry, or Biology contests. Each of these subjects features 40 multiple-choice questions, and the language of instruction is English. Grade 9 students can also participate in these high school contests.


Like the middle school level, the high school contest is paper-based and hosted in partnering schools.

Awards and Recognitions

The NSL offers various awards and recognitions to acknowledge students’ achievements and schools’ performances.

Global School Awards

In the Global School Awards category, the highest ten scores for each subject from each school are summed up to determine the school’s overall score. This recognition highlights the collective excellence of a school in a specific subject.

National Individual Awards

Individual students also have the opportunity to earn awards based on their performance.

Perfect Score

Perfect Score winners are awarded medals for their exceptional achievement.


Gold awards are given to students who rank in the top 15% in China.


Silver awards are presented to students in the top 25% in China.


Bronze awards are granted to students in the top 35% in China.

Honorable Mention

Honorable Mention recognizes students who fall within the top 60% in China.

Final Words

The National Science League (NSL) is a shining example of quality and motivation in STEM education. Since it was administered more than 40 years ago, the NSL has engaged and challenged students with its rich history, varied question sets, compatibility with NGSS, and easily accessible participation guidelines.

As the NSL’s next contest approaches, schools and students alike should consider participation as a means to kindle their passion for science and to demonstrate their skills in the field.

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