Past problems

Test problems from past UKLO competitions



Below you will find a list of all the test problems that have been used in UK Olympiads since 2010. Each problem includes a link to the downloadable problem.  (To see the link, move the bar beneath the table to the right.)

Each problem is listed with the following information in columns (revealed by scrolling the bar beneath the table):

  • diff: its relative difficulty, as explained below
    • (Note: for problems set in 2010 and 2011 we have to rely on an informal grading in the two books of problems. This five-point grading is partly based on test scores in the American competition and partly estimated by test-setters; unfortunately there are no problems graded by both systems, so they are hard to match. The Japanese problem from 2011 isn’t included in these books so its grading is just a guess.)
  • year: the year in which it was used in UKLO
  • number, name: its number in that year’s problem set, and its name
  • language: the language(s) from which its data are taken
  • ‘area’: what area of linguistics does it involve – script, number-systems, change, morphology, etc. The classification is regrettably crude and inconsistent, but it is indicative. ‘Rosetta’ is a problem in which translations in two languages are presented side by side, as on the Rosetta stone.
  • extras?: any information beyond the problem and its solution.
    • expanded: an extended essay-length discussion of the problem and how to solve it, as well as ideas for building on it in discussing more general ideas about language and linguistic analysis.
    • notes: brief notes on the problem data, possibly as a separate file from the problem file.
    • problem, solution, commentary and marking scheme: a single file containing all relevant information.
  • author: the name of the person who wrote the problem – not easy!
  • link: a hyperlink to the URL of a file containing the problem concerned, together with any extra material.

The problems

The problems are listed below in increasing order of difficulty. Note that:

  • the table is divided into a number of pages which you can step through by pressing the button on the bottom right, but you can also choose how many rows to display in each page.
  • in spite of this division into pages, you can reorder the rows by clicking on the column headers; e.g. instead of the default ordering by difficulty you can order by year, starting either with the oldest or the youngest.
  • there’s a useful search box in the top right of the table, so (for instance) you can search for all the problems based on English by typing “English” into that box.
  • to see all the columns you need to scroll horizontally using the bar at the foot of the table.

The problems are also listed in a downloadable spreadsheet which you can edit in Excel like any other spreadsheet.

The table of problems

[Table displayed with Tablepress – highly recommended!]
diffyearnumber, namelanguageareaextras?author 
120101. Sorry we have no red cucumbersFrenchsyntaxDragomir Radev
120102. Gelda’s House of GelbergargEnglishgeneralCindy Schneider
120103. Say it in AbmaAbmageneralLuda Kedova & Rachel Nordlinger
12010R2.3. F u cn rd thsEnglishcomputingRichard Sproat
22010R2.1. Ardhay UzzlepayMinangkabaugeneralJohn Henderson
320104. Lost in YerevanArmenianscriptDragomir Radev
320107. Texting, texting, one two threeEnglishcodePatrick Littell
32010R2.2. Be Cree-ativeCreescriptPatrick Littell & Julia Workman
320106. Tangkhul tangleTangkhulgeneralDavid Mortensen
32010R2.4. Tale of KieuVietnamesescriptDavid Mortensen
32010R2.5. Possessed in VanuatuVanuatugeneralJane Simpson & Jeremy Hammond
520105. Turkish delightTurkishgeneralBozhidar Bozhanov
0.520112. JapaneasyJapanesescriptexpandedHarold Somers
220117. The war of the dotsEnglish (braille)scriptPatrick Littell
22011R2.1. Stopping and flapping in WarlpiriWarlpirigeneralMary Laughren
22011R2.2. Counting in IrishIrishnumbernotesTom Payne
220111. Running on MTEnglishmeaningHarold Somers
220113. Doubling in Caterpillar CountryArrerntegeneralnotesMark Dras & Mary Laughren
220115. Mix up on the farmPapagogeneralLori Levin (data from Ken Hale)
220116. Tiger taleIndonesiangeneralDragomir Radev
320114. Ulwa possessivesUlwageneralnotesRichard Sproat
42011R2.5. Swallow the saltTadaksahakgeneralBozhidar Bozhanov
52011R2.3. Axolotl in the waterNahuatlgeneralJohn Berman
52011R2.3. A script for the NdyukaNdyukascriptPatrick Littell
0.8920121. Being with it in YolmoYolmogeneralexpandedLauren Gawne
0.9220122. Danish numbersDanishnumbersexpandedMike Swan
1.1720126. Crocodile BardiBardigeneralCatherine Sheard
1.3620123w. Welsh librariesWelshgeneralnotesDick Hudson
1.5920128. Arcturan intergalactic peace messagefictitious languagegeneralSimon Zwarts
1.6920127. Waorani numbersWaoraninumbersDrago Radev
1.722012R2.2. Who is good?LuiseñogeneralRonald Langacker (via Dick Hudson)
1.7620124. HaitianHaitiangeneral notesIvaylo Youmerski
1.9320125. EsperantoEsperantogeneralAlexey Pegushev
2.222012R2.1. A fox among the hEnglishcomputingPatrick Littell
2.352012R2.3. The little engine that could… readEnglishlogicJames Pustejovsky, Patrick Littell
2.420129. WaanyiWaanyigeneralMary Laughren
3.062012R2.5. Catalan pluralsCatalanmorphophonologyBoris Iomdin
3.3920123d. Dutch past participlesDutchgeneralnotesBabette Newsome
33.332012R2.4. 100 surnamesPhags-pascriptPatrick Littell
1.220138. A little Dutch problemDutchgeneralHarold Somers
1.4420135. BulgarianBulgariansyntaxBozhidar Bozhanov
1.5620131. YodaspeakEnglishsyntaxHarold Somers
1.7920136. The long and short of English verbsEnglishgeneralnotesDick Hudson
2.1220133. PaliPaligeneralBabette Newsome
3.2920139. BengaliBengaligeneralnotesBozhidar Bozhanov
3.4920134a. Arabic scriptArabicscriptnotesDavid Palfreyman
5.632013R2.4. Stockholms TunnelbanaSwedishgeneralPatrick Littell
5.742013R2.1. Deer FatherQuechuageneralPatrick Littell
6.0620134s. The Shavian AlphabetEnglish – ShavianscriptnotesBabette Newsome
8.7220137. PhoenicianPhoenicianscriptHarold Somers
9.992013R2.5. Playing the cognate gameIndonesian, SwahilietymologyCatherine Sheard
12.672013R2.3. BejaBejageneralDick Hudson
32.942013R2.2. Putting the books in orderGeorgian, ArmenianscriptDrago Radev
0.5420143. MokileseMokilesegeneralexpandedJeff Siegel
0.6720141. What time is it in Tallinn?EstoniangeneralexpandedBabette Newsome
1.0820142. Maori loanwordsMaorigeneralnotesPat Littell
1.2620146. Kairak verbsKairakgeneralnotesCindy Schneider
1.3820144. Running speechEnglishphonetics, scriptnotesSue Barry & Dick Hudson
2.9920145. TurkishTurkishgeneralnotesDavid Palfreyman
3.2420147. IlokanoIlokanogeneralnotesBozhidar Bozhanov
3.9820149. LontaraBuginesescriptnotesChelsea Voss
4.612014R2.1. Kiswahili verbsKiswahiligeneralCatherine
6.482014R2.2. Untangling TanghulicKachai, Tusom, UkhrulcomparisonDavid Mortensen
6.682014R2.4. Navajo gophersNavajogeneralBabette Newsome
8.112014R2.3. Learning YidinyYidinygeneralMary Laughren
9.012014R2.5. Hungarians in a fieldHungarianpuzzleAdam Hesterberg
16.9920148. Musical codeEnglishcodenotesHarold Somers
1.0620151. Counting in KarelianKareliannumbersGraeme Trousdale
1.2620152. Georgian placesGeorgianscriptDaniel Rucki
1.3220153. Polish your PolishPolishgeneralDaniel Rucki
1.5120154. Old EnglishEnglishgeneralGraeme Trousdale
1.5920155. Elder FutharkNorsescriptCatherine Sheard
1.7620158. Can you finish Finnish?FinnishgeneralBabette Newsome
2.1320157. MurrinhpathaMurrinhpathageneralRachel Nordlinger
2.462015R2.3 Do-this-do-thatHmonggeneral notesDavid Mortensen
2.5620159. Zoink!EnglishsemanticsDragomir Radev with Christiane Fellbaum and Jonathan May
2.7420156. Japanese placesJapanesegeneralHarold Somers
3.632015R2.2 Malagasy crossnumberMalagasynumbers notesTom McCoy
6.52015R2.4 AymaraAymaraphonologyJosh Falk
8.5820155 RomanceLatin, French, Catalan, Romanianhistorical comparisonDavid Palfreyman
9.432015R2.1 MaxakaliMaxakaligeneralAlex Wade
9.48201510. Georgian EraGeorgianscript, generalDorottya Demszky
0.920162. ForeignFrench, German, Spanishcomparativeproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeDick Hudson
0.920164. Beijing subwayChinesescriptproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeCatherine Sheard
1.020161. AlphabetGreekscriptproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeDick Hudson
1.320169. NhandaNhandageneralproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeBabette Verhoeven
1.320168. SomaliSomalimorphologyproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeHarold Somers
1.420166. KaqchikelKaqchikelgeneralproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeMichael Yoshitaka Erlewine
1.420163. WatsoniumIrishspelling of loansproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeJane D’Altuin and Harold Somers
1.420165. AmeleAmelegeneralproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeBabette Verhoeven
1.52016R2.1 MalayMalaygeneralProblem, solution and markingBozhidar Bozhanov
1.620167. The strange case of the Estonian languageEstoniangeneralproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemePraveen Venkataramana
1.82016R2.2. TocharianTocharianhistoricalProblem, solution and markingOllie Sayeed
2.12016R2.5. Get edumacated!EnglishphonologyProblem, solution and markingPatrick Littell
2.2201610. Don't sell the house!Nunggeneralproblem, solution, commentary and marking schemeAlex Wade
2.82016R2.4. DevanagariDevanagariscriptProblem, solution and markingLauren Gawne
2.82016R2.3. HuliHulinumbersProblem, solution and markingBill Huang
0.92017R1.3. We are all European9 languagescomparativenotes and solutionBabette Newsome
1.052017R1.1. Our Italian familyItalianmorphosyntaxnotes and solutionDick Hudson
1.182017R1.5. Basquing in the sunBasquemorphosyntaxnotes and solutionAleka Blackwell
1.392017R1.4. A little TshilubaTshilubamorphosyntaxnotes and solutionTom McCoy
1.422017R1.2. Inuktitut scriptInuktitutscriptnotes and solutionOllie Sayeed
1.772017R1.6. Maori for the beachMaorigrammarnotes and solutionAleka Blackwell
1.772017R1.8. ChoctawChoctawmorphosyntaxnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
2.652017R1.9. The goat, the mother and the Abkhaz wardrobeAbkhazgrammarnotes and solutionSamuel Andersson, Oliver Sayeed, and Elysia Warner
2.842017R2.1. NepaliNepaligrammarnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
2.882017R2.3. VietVietnamesegrammarnotes and solutionJames Hyett
3.22017R1.10. Kaytetye kinshipKaytetyesemanticsnotes and solutionMyfany Turpin
3.322017R2.2. Do you see what I see?Proto-Algonquianmorphosyntaxnotes and solutionDaniel Lovsted
4.022017R2.4. Muddled hieroglyphsEgyptianscriptnotes and solutionDick Hudson
4.232017R1.7. On the right Tamil trackTamilscriptnotes and solutionKai Low
4.352017R2.5. Magic Yup’ikYup'iknumbernotes and solutionKai Low
0.71201818.1 (In)definitely RomanianRomaniangeneralnotes and solutionJulia Barron
0.81201818.2 Lithuanian road tripLithuaniangeneralnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
1.19201818.5 At Ease in GilberteseGilbertesegeneralnotes and solutionMichael Salter
1.28201818.3 Finding your way in SofiaBulgarianscriptnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
1.95201818.6 Are you OK with N’ko?Nkoscriptnotes and solutionBabette Newsome, Harold Somers
1.96201818.4 What's yours is mine (for eating)Fijiangeneralnotes and solutionVica Papp
2.7201818.7 Icelandic RelationsIcelandicgeneralnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
4.64201818.R2.4 It’s true: The truth about Chalcatongo MixtecMixtecgeneralnotes and solutionBabette Newsome
5.07201818.R2.2 NivkhNivkhgeneralnotes and solutionHeather Newell
5.3201818.R2.3 MenyaMenyageneralsolutionAleka Blackwell
5.93201818.8 Vietnamese MatchingVietnamesegeneralnotes and solutionTom McCoy, Pat Littell, and Lori Levin
6.1201818.10 Tirana touristAlbaniangeneralnotes and solutionAli Sharman
15.26201818.9 Central Pamerican sumsPamenumbernotes and solutionMilena Veneva
0.842019P2 JapaneseJapanesescriptnotesBabette Newsome
1.022019P3 JahaiJahaimeaningnotesBabette Newsome
1.312019P4 WelshWelshmorphosyntaxnotesBabette Newsome
1.352019P5 PitjantjatjaraPitjantjatjarageneralnotesRebecca Dafina and Wilmoth
1.492019P1 LadinLadingeneralnotesJulia Barron
1.822019P7 HarmongolianMongolianmorphophonologynotesEthan Chi
2.042019P9 NdebeleNdebelegeneralnotesMichael Salter
2.642019R2.2 LepchaLepchascriptnotesEthan Chi
2.942019P10 BrailleEnglishscriptnotesBabette Newsome
3.012019R2.1 AfrihiliAfrihiligeneralnotesMichael Salter
3.642019P6 Cippus AbellanusOscanscriptnotesMichael Salter
3.982019R2.4 CupenoCupenogeneralnotesDaniel Lovsted
4.682019R2.5 Witsuwit'enWitsuwit'engeneralnotesDaniel Lovsted, Sam Ahmed, Ellie Warner
4.852019R2.3 PolishPolishmorphophonologynotesMs Veneva
17.582019P8 GumatjGumatjnumbersnotesEthan Chi
0.9220201.02 Curious cuneiformBabylonianscripteverythingMartin Worthington
1.0120201.05 Hello Mongo!LomongomorphophonologyeverythingKevin Liang
1.0620201.03 Norwedish?Norwegian, SwedishcomparativeeverythingBabette
1.1320201.01 DutchDutchmorphophonologyeverythingLiam McKnight
1.820201.09 Can Yukaghir?Kolyma YukaghirgeneraleverythingKobayashi Tsuyoshi
1.8520201.04 The long and short of LigurianLigurianphonologyeverythingKevin Liang
2.1720201.08 Stressed out in the CaribbeanPapiamentuphonologyeverythingHarold Sommers
2.4420201.07 A Cat in a HatChintanggeneraleverythingAleka Blackwell
320202.1 Taiwan PaiwanPaiwansyntaxeverythingSam Ahmed
3.0120202.4 Imitating UteUtesyntaxeverythingLiam McKnight
3.4520202.5 Arapaho morphologyArapahomorphologyeverythingDaniel Lovsted
3.5220202.2 Yoruba numbersYorubacounting systemeverythingHarold Somers
3.8120202.3 A toad's miaoMiaoscripteverythingEthan Chi
4.320201.10 IñapariIñaparigeneraleverythingSam Ahmed
7.3420201.06 Idalion tabletGreekscripteverythingMichael Salter
0.8920211. OghamGaelicscripteverythingBabette Verhoeven
0.9120213. WaamaWaamamatchingeverythingAleka Blackwell
0.9720212. KabyleKabylemorphosyntaxeverythingKazune Sato, Simi Hellsten
1.522021A2. Old ChineseOld Chinesephonological changeeverythingEthan Chi
1.720214. Ditema tsa DinokoDitemascripteverythingMichael Salter
1.9620217. LatvianLatvianwhole-text translationeverythingAleka Blackwell
2.1920215. FilipinoFilipinosyntax, pragmaticseverythingBabette Verhoeven
2.3320216. LongguLonggusemanticseverythingBabette Verhoeven
2.832021A3. NgkolmpuNgkolmpunumberseverythingSimi Hellsten
3.072021A1. MandombeMandombescripteverythingRyan Chi
3.222021A5. DagaareDagaaremorphologyeverythingEthan Chi
3.412021A4. SaukSaukmatchingeverythingRyan Chi
23.992021R2.4. HmongHmongsemanticseverythingSimi Hellsten
7.512021R2.1. KakawinKakawinpuzzleeverythingMichael Salter
11.292021R2.5. TawalaTawalaRosettaeverythingSimi Hellsten
7.212021R2.3. AinuAinuRosettaeverythingVlad Neacsu
3.162021R2.2. Hawu and DhaoHawu & DhaoRosettaeverythingEvan Hochstein


Relative difficulty

The problems are classified for difficulty. Here’s how this was calculated:

  • For problems from 2012 and later, the grading is objective and reflects the average marks of hundreds of competitors. Informally, the difficulty is the difference between the maximum possible mark and the average mark; so if everyone scores 100%, the difficulty is 1, but if the average is just 10%, the difficulty is 10. But as you’ll see below, it has to be more complicated than that!
    • Mathematically, the difficulty (diff) of a problem is the maximum score for that problem divided by the average score;
      • e.g. if the maximum was 20 and the average was 10, diff would be 2.0.
      • If everyone achieved the maximum, diff would be 1.0.
      • If the average was very low, say 1/20, diff would be 20.
    • However, difficulty depends not only on the problem but also on the competitor, so a problem which would be very hard for a Foundation competitor might be quite easy for an Advanced one. The figure for diff is therefore standardised for a typical Advanced competitor:
      • Where a problem was part of the Advanced competition in Round 1, diff is calculated as above.
      • Problems which were only included at lower levels (Breakthrough, Foundation or Intermediate) had their diff reduced by a figure based on the problems which were taken both at these levels and at higher levels, including Advance levels.
        • E.g. if an I-level problem’s average score was 5/10, giving an I-level diff of 10/5 = 2,
        • and the same competitors scored half (0.5) as well as the Advanced competitors did on the problems that they both did, giving an ‘I-adjustment’ for I and A (the mean I and A scores for those problems) of I/A = 0.5
        • then its diff (for a typical A-level candidate) was 2 x 0.5 = 1.
        • Similarly for lower levels: so the diff of a Breakthrough problem is given by B x F x I where
          • B = the diff for Breakthrough candidates
          • F is the F-adjustment figure (F/I) for problems taken at both F and I level
          • I is the I-adjustment figure (I/A) for problems taken at both I and A level.
        • This standardization calculation explains why some diff figures are below 1.0 (which would otherwise be the lowest possible).
      • Problems from Round 2 had their diff increased by a figure based on the difference between the Round 1 figures for the winners (who eventually took Round 2) and the overall average.
        • E.g. if the R2 diff for a problem was 2,
        • and the R1 Advanced winners’ average score was twice the average for all Advanced competitors,
        • then its diff for a typical A-level candidate was 2 x 2 = 4.