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The assumption behind all linguistics olympiads is that school children do not study linguistics at school, so they cannot be tested on content that is specific to linguistics (such as the IPA or any particular scheme of grammatical analysis). On the other hand, it is clear that most of our outstanding performers already have a relatively deep, though unformalised, understanding of language structure from learning a foreign language.

The general thinking skills that a linguistics olympiad tests are:

  • pattern-recognition
  • generalisation
  • analysis
  • lateral thinking
  • attention to detail
  • attention to the larger patterns

At a lower level of difficulty, a problem requires an analysis of presented data which allows the competitor to generalise and go beyond the data. But at higher levels, competitors have to not only make these analyses mentally, but also put them into words in an explicit explanation of how the underlying system works.