Academic Decathlon Essay Prompts 2014

The United States Academic Decathlon (USAD) is an academic competition for high school students in the United States. The Academic Decathlon consists of 10 events: Art, Economics, Essay, Interview, Language and Literature, Math, Music, Science, Social Science, Speech and Super Quiz. Each year, one of the ten subjects is chosen as the Super Quiz, which uses a different format than the other events. The topics and theme of the competition are released in March of every year, giving students time to prepare for the competition season which runs from November to April.[2] The events are split up into two groups: the seven objective tests (Art, Economics, Language and Literature, Math, Music, Science and Social Science) and the three subjective events (Essay, Interview and Speech). They are designated as such because the former seven are multiple choice tests, whereas the latter three are graded by judges. Students are given half an hour to answer each multiple choice exam. These exams consist of 50 questions, with the exception of Math and Super Quiz which have 35 and 52 questions respectively.[3]

Topics used[edit]


Since 1997[edit]




Looking Forward:
Creating the Future[47]
Art[47]Art focused on innovations in the Fine Arts. Featured pieces:
Economics[47]Fundamentals of economics, microeconomics, and environmental economics
Language and Literature[47]Novel


Selected poems

Math[47]Fractals, fractal geometry, and algorithms in the complex plane
Music[47]Music focused on breakthroughs in American Jazz. Featured pieces:
Social Science[47]Infrastructures Around the Globe: Suez Canal, Transmerican Railroad, Panama Canal, Alaska Pipeline, Channel Tunnel, Glen Canyon Dam, Three Gorges Dam, and the International Space Station
Super QuizSustainable Earth[6][49]


Understanding the SelfArt[50]Art focused on images of the self. Featured selections:



  • Portrait of a Man from Rome (c. 50 BCE)
  • Guanyin from China (c. 580 CE)
  • Walking Woman (Femme qui Marche) and Annette, both by Alberto Giacometti


Economics[50]Fundamentals of economics, business organizations, and profiles in individual enterprise
Language and Literature[50]Novel


Math[50]Logic and set theory, numbers, combinatorics and probability, and application
Music[50]Music focused on sacred music from around the world. Featured songs:
  • "El Melej" by Alia Musica
  • "Al-'Ada" by La Sulamiyya
  • "Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder" by Netherlands Bach Society
  • "Bluebird Song" by Lena Clark
  • "Quen a Virgen Ben Servira" by Ensemble Alcatraz
  • "Nyamaropa yeVana Vava Mushonga" by Muchatera
  • "Arrullo San Antonio" by BMOSA
  • "Ngoma ra Mrongo" from Kenya & Tanzania
  • "Kriti: Ninnadanela" by Ramnad Krishnan
  • "Kecak" by Music for the Gods
  • "Move on up a Little Higher" by Mahalia Jackson
  • "O Magnum Mysterium" by Choir of Westminster Cathedral
Science[50]The Biological Self: biology of the cell, molecular genetics, and the immune system
Super Quiz[6][50][52]Concepts of the Self: Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion



Understanding the Natural World[6]ArtRomantic, Realist, Impressionist, and Asian Art, including
EconomicsFundamentals of economics; micro- and macro-economics; a special section on "The Economics of the Natural World"
Language and LiteratureNovel


MathGeneral math, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry
MusicMusic of the Romantic Era, featuring the following works:
Social ScienceThe Natural World as it Shapes Human History: early cultures in the Americas, technology and the natural world, the impact of natural disasters in U.S. history, and the preservation of nature.
Super QuizThe Blue Planet: Beneath the Surface[63]


America: The Growth of a Nation[64]Art[65]

Early American Art

Native American Art

  • Bowl (Sikyatki Style) - Sikyatki Cultural Group
  • Taos Pueblo - Pueblo Nation
  • Scenes of Plains Indian Life - Cadzi Cody
  • Cape - Anishinabe Cultural Group


Economics[66]Fundamentals of economics; micro- and macro-economics; The U.S. Economy in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century
Language and Literature[67]


Shorter Selections

Math[68]General math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus


  • Botany as a Science
  • General Characteristics of Plants
  • Plant Physiology
  • Plant Reproductiona and Life Cycles
  • Plant Phyla
  • Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Plant Ecology
  • Plant Genetics
Super Quiz[71]The Lewis and Clark Expedition


Exploring the Ancient World[72]Art[73]

Ancient Near Eastern Art

Ancient Egyptian Art

Art of Ancient Aegean Civilizations (Cyclades, Minoa, and Mycenaea)

  • Statuette of a Woman - Cylcades
  • Palace at Knossos - Minoa
  • Stirrup jar with octopus - Mycenaea

Ancient Greek Art

Ancient Etruscan and Roman Art

  • Fundamentals of economics
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • International trade and Global Economic Development
  • The Economies of Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations (Egyptian, Greek, and Roman)
Language and Literature[75]

Plays by Sophocles

Shorter Selections

  • General Math
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Differential Calculus
Music[77]Music focused on the Classical Era with the following selected pieces:
  • "Voi che sapete" from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • String Quartet in D Major, op. 64, no. 5, "The Lark" finale: vivace - Joseph Haydn
  • String Quartet in G, K. 387, molto allegro - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516, adagio non troppo - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Symphony no. 44 in E Minor, "Trauersinfonie" allegro con brio - Joseph Haydn
  • "Son imbrogliato io già" from La Serva Padrona (The Maid as Mistress) - Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
  • Symphony no. 104 in D, finale, spiritoso - Joseph Haydn
  • Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Recitative and Chorus: "In the beginning" - Joseph Haydn
  • Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488, allegro - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • "Ah taci ingiusto core" from Don Giovanni - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, "Eroica" allegro con brio - Ludwig van Beethoven
  • String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, op. 131 Presto (scherzo) - Ludwig van Beethoven
  • String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, op. 131 Allegro (finale) - Ludwig van Beethoven
Social Science[78]Emerging Empires in the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome
Super Quiz[79]From Empty Space to Incredible Universe: The Sky Is Not the Limit



China and Its Influence on the WorldArt[87]
  • Tripod Ritual Vessel
  • Pendant in the Form of a Dragon
  • Female "Long-Sleeve" Dancer
  • Spirit Jar (Hung Ping)
  • Exalted Gathering in the Green Woods
  • Boy Leading an Ox Along the Farm Path
  • Boddhisttva Kuan-Yin
  • Verse in Cursive Script
  • Bamboo and Rocks
  • Book of Sudhana from the Garland Sutra
  • Taihe Dian
  • Imperial Throne
  • Empress's Twelve Symbol Robe
  • Blue-and-White Dish
  • Pillow
  • Official Seal
  • Cricket Container
  • Cosmetic Case and Mirror Stand
Economics[88]Fundamentals of economics, macroeconomics, microeconomics, areas, international trade and development, and the development of the Chinese market economy.
Language and LiteratureThe featured novel was The Good Earth.[6][88] Shorter selections includedI Watered My Horse, Sent to My Two Little Children, The Terrace in the Snow, Half of Me is Aching, Kubla Khan, and The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter[89][90]
Math[88]General math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and differential calculus.
Music[88]There were 18 selected pieces on the Music of China.
Social Science[88]Introduction to the People's Republic of China
Super QuizAn Introduction to Climatology[6][88]


History of the Civil WarArt[91]There were 18 selected works chosen from museums in Washington, D.C.

Traditions and Innovations in Painting

Memorializing the Civil War


  • Frederick Douglass by an unidentified photographer
  • The Sick Soldier by Mathew Brady
  • Cañon de Chelle, Walls of the Grand Cañon about 1200 Feet high (Wheeler Survey) by Timothy H. O'Sullivan

African-American Art


  • Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana, 1837–39
  • Lyndhurst for George Merritt, Tarrytown, New York by Alexander Jackson Davis (architect)
  • Shotgun House, New Orleans, nineteenth century
Economics[92]Fundamentals of economics, including general topics in macro- and microeconomics and international trade and global economic development, slavery, and the economics of the U.S. Civil War.
Language and Literature[93]Featured Novel

Shorter Selections

Section from the Book of the Dead of Nany from the 2004–05 curriculum. Students were to memorize facts including that the whole scroll is 17 feet long, Nany was a ritual singer for Amen-Ra and that her coffin was a hollow wooden sculpture of Osiris.[1]


Team and competitive structure of AcaDec

The formal AcaDec team is composed of up to nine students divided into GPA-based groups. The three students on the team with an “A” grade point average are called Honor students, students with a “B” average are Scholastic students, and students with a “C” average are called Varsity students.


School teams might be much larger than the alotted ninestudents, in which case the choice of which nine students get to represent the school in competitions is usually determined by placement examinations.


Members who are not on the formal AcaDec team might still be able to participate in the events at local competitions in order to practice, but their scores typically won’t count towards the formal competition between school teams. Participating in AcaDec as a non-competing member is a good way to get practice without having to worry about affecting your school team’s scores!


In general, teams will first compete at the local level against schools in the nearby area. If your team is successful, you will likely move on to regional, state, or national competitions.


Benefits of participating in AcaDec

There are many upsides to participating in AcaDec as a high school student. First of all, practicing on a team for an academic competition will help to improve your knowledge of certain academic topics, whether they be in the fields of mathematics, literature, or even geology.


AcaDec competitions  also give students practice in performing under pressure. This is an important skill to have for applying to colleges, entering today’s competitive job market, and many other occasions in your life. Though nervousness is a natural part of any activity that involves presenting a speech in front of many people or taking a timed multiple choice test, practicing these types of scenarios in AcaDec will help you develop strategies to conquer nervous feelings before an important interview or a presentation at work.


There is also the opportunity for students in Academic Decathalon to take on different leadership roles and responsibilities. As with any academic team, there is a designated team captain and depending on your team there may be deputy captains as well. You can choose to take on as much responsibility as you want, keeping in mind that this might be a good opportunity to build upon and improve your leadership skills.


Another benefit is that AcaDec is a well-respected extracurricular with which colleges are familiar. When it comes time to apply to schools and list your extracurriculars,  colleges will already have context as to what this activity is and the amount of time and effort that students are expected to devote to it.


Lastly, Academic Decathalon is a competitive activity in which you are rewarded in a tangible way for good performance and for investing your time in this activity. This will be helpful when it comes time to recount your accomplishments on college applications.


Learning more

To learn more about extracurriculars that allow you to use your academic skills, check out these blog posts:


Affordable Academic Summer Programs for High School Students

How to Win Best Delegate in Model UN

A Guide to Excelling at Speech and Debate

How to Get a Research Assistant Position in High School

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