Getting started with USACO can be challenging. Here, we address some of the most common questions people have.

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more about contest format

USACO Contests are scored out of 1000 points. Each contest typically has 3 problems (some old contests have 4); each problem is weighted equally, and is typically worth 1000/3=3331000/3 = 333 points. Each problem then has a number of test cases (usually 10...20), and each test case is weighted equally. For example, if a contest has three problems, and problem A has 10 test cases, then you will get 333/10=33333/10 = 33 points for each test case that you get correct for problem A.

At the end of the contest, a "cutoff score" for each division is determined based on the difficulty of the contest. If your score is above the "cutoff score" for your division, then you get promoted to the next division. The cutoff score varies significantly and is typically around 750750 points.

If you get a perfect score during the contest (ie. you solve all three problems correctly), then you get an in-contest promotion, where you immediately get promoted to the next division. You can start the next division's contest whenever you want during the contest window; your four-hour timer resets when you start the contest.

Q: What language should I use for USACO?

In general, we recommend the following:

  • If you already know one of these languages, just use it.
    • If you know multiple languages, we recommend you pick C++ over Java, and Java over Python.
  • For Bronze, any language will do. It is possible to receive full credit with C++, Java, and Python in Bronze.
  • For Silver, Gold, and Platinum, Python is not recommended, because it is a slow language and lacks an ordered map.

Don't overthink choosing a language -- you can always change languages later!

We cover choosing a language in more detail in our "Choosing a Language" module.

Q: How do I prepare for USACO?

Learn algorithms, do practice problems, and reflect on why you're missing problems. Make sure you learn from every problem you do, and you'll improve over time. If you're looking for a guided roadmap to improve at USACO, check out the USACO Guide (that's this site!)

If you want to get better at USACO, the key thing is to do more practice!

Q: What's the best resource to get better at USACO?

We made the USACO Guide specifically to provide high-quality resources to help people get better at USACO; we encourage you to give it a shot! We also list additional resources that you may find helpful. Additionally, USACO has its own resources page.

Q: I'm stuck. Where can I get help for USACO?

We recommend you go to the (unofficial) USACO Forum to get help when you're stuck. Alternatively, you can join the (unofficial) USACO Discord Server. They have channels called #cp-discussion and #cp-help dedicated to questions about competitive programming.

Q: When should I read the solution for USACO?

It really comes down to personal preference; there's no right or wrong answer -- do what works for you! With that being said, we've asked numerous top USACO competitors what they think about this question. This module lists their thoughts on how to effectively practice for USACO.

Q: Should I implement every problem that I solve?

Usually, yes (unless the problem is significantly too easy for you). Solving competitive programming problems consists of two parts: coming up with the algorithm, and implementing the algorithm. You should implement so that you practice both parts.

Q: What topics do I need to know for each of the USACO divisions?

While there is no official USACO syllabus, we've compiled topics for each division from historical contests:

Q: What CodeForces rating corresponds to each of the USACO divisions?

CodeForces rating and USACO divisions shouldn't be compared since CF emphasizes solving problems quickly (5-8 problems under 2 hours time constraint), while USACO has harder problems and more time (3 problems in 4-5 hours). However, here are some very rough estimates:

  • USACO Bronze competitors are probably <1300 rated on CF, and Bronze problems correspond to 900-1500 rated CF problems.
  • USACO Silver competitors are probably 1200-1500 rated on CF, and Silver problems correspond to 1200-1900 rated CF problems.
  • USACO Gold competitors are probably 1500-1800 rated on CF, and Gold problems correspond to 1500-2200 rated CF problems.
  • USACO Platinum competitors are probably 1650+ rated on CF, and Platinum problems correspond to 1900+ rated CF problems. (Note that at the Platinum level there is a lot of variation in CF ratings.)

Again, CF problems and contests are significantly different from USACO!

Closing Thoughts

We hope you've found this FAQ useful! If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask on the USACO Forum and we'll do our best to answer them.

Best of luck on your competitive programming journey!