How to Prepare for Coding Competitions: The Ultimate Guide

Coding competitions are a great way for kids to learn coding and compete with their peers. They offer kids a platform where they can learn to code by providing a fun and competitive environment. They can also motivate kids to keep practicing and expanding their skills.

If you’re thinking of signing your kid up for a coding competition, there are a few things you should know. In this ultimate guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about coding competitions, from what to do when you sign up to how to prepare your kid for competition day.

What exactly is competitive coding?

The concept of competitive coding has been around for quite some time now and has gained popularity.

Competitive coding is a type of programming contest in which participants attempt to solve problems using code. These problems can range in difficulty, but they are typically designed to challenge a programmer’s problem-solving and coding skills. Coding competitions often have strict time limits, so participants must be able to write efficient code that solves the problem correctly within the given time frame. Along with this, your code has to be able to pass a certain set of test cases that the organizers have prepared in order to check if your solution is optimal or not. If it is, then you are one step closer to winning the competition! The concept of competitive coding has been around for quite some time now and has gained popularity in recent years due to the rise of technology. With the internet, coding competitions can now be held online, which has made them more accessible to people all over the world. There are many different types of coding competitions, but they can broadly be categorized into two main categories: algorithmic and scripting. Algorithmic competitions focus on problem-solving and require participants to write efficient code that solves the given problem. Scripting competitions, on the other hand, focus on code that is written in a particular scripting language, such as Python or Ruby.

Now that we know what competitive coding is let’s dive into how you can prepare your child for success.

How can you prepare yourself for Coding Competitions:

Here are some tips before you sign up for a competition-

1.   Do your research:

Before your child competes in a coding competition, it’s important that you do your research. Coding competitions can vary greatly in terms of difficulty, so you’ll want to make sure your child is competing in one that is appropriate for their skill level (Thankfully we’ve already got an article for this!). You can often find this information on the competition’s website. In addition to finding an appropriate competition, it’s also important to read up on the rules and regulations. This way, you can be sure that your child knows what is expected of them and won’t be caught off guard by anything on the day of the competition. Additionally keeping tabs with competition news both on official sites and on social media will help you learn tips and tricks that will give your child an upper hand on competition day!

2. Pick a Programming Language :

The first step to starting any programming journey is picking a language. This is the way your child will be able to communicate with their computer so it can give them the output they need. Computer languages come in all shapes in forms and they’re each capable of performing different tasks but choosing a specific language can end up being a competitive advantage. C++ for example is a highly preferred language because of its STL which cuts down on a lot of coding time. Java is another coding language that competitive programmers prefer due to its BigInteger class that allows for quick mathematical computations, as well as its amazing exception handling. Finally, Python offers easy-to-learn but highly effective classes that allow that come quite handy while solving problems, but its compilation speed can often give you TLE or time limit exceeded errors that you wouldn’t otherwise get when coding in C++ or Java. All this being said, the best way to find out which coding language is best for your child is by letting them try out a few and seeing which one they’re most comfortable with.

3. Find the Resources Online:

There are many great resources available online that can help your child prepare for coding competitions. If you’re not sure where to start, a quick Google search will reveal a wealth of options. Once you’ve found a few potential resources, it’s important to evaluate them to see if they’re appropriate for your child’s skill level and learning style. Some resources may be too difficult for your child, while others may be too easy. It’s also important to make sure that the resources you choose are up-to-date and relevant to the types of competitions your child will be competing in.

4. Pick the Right Competition:

As we mentioned before, coding competitions can vary greatly in terms of difficulty. It’s important to make sure your child competes in a competition that is appropriate for their skill level. If on the other hand, they compete in a competition that is too easy, they may not be challenged and may not learn anything new. Additionally, it is important to find a competition that offers some type of motivation for your child. This could be in the form of a prize, or simply the satisfaction of knowing they did their best. Either way, this will give them something to strive for and keep them engaged in the competition.

Now are our top tips on competition preparation!

1. Dissect Questions :

The number one mistake made during competitive programming competitions is misinterpreting what the questions are asking. Without this, you’d end up making constant errors and wasting needless time on trying to figure out and fix your mistake. It is very important that when you first encounter a question you take your time to analyze it, you should look at every detail and pay special attention to the constraints. Make sure to look at the input and output examples to make sure that you get the format of the code right. But the most important part of this is making sure you know the goal of the problem, or rather the output that your code has to produce.

2. Create Skeleton Algorithms

When you start coding, you’ll notice that certain algorithms are more useful for solving certain types of problems than others. For example, if you had a problem with finding a certain sum versus a problem with analyzing a string, you’d approach both very differently. In a competitive setting trying to figure out how to approach these two problems from scratch would take up valuable time, instead, you could spend time before the competition itself coming up with basic skeleton algorithms that can be applied to solve a variety of problems. As someone who works primarily in python, I’ve noticed that mathematical operators and tuples are effective in solving problems involving sums while lists and the .split() method are very helpful in terms of analyzing a string. Now, whenever I go about solving a problem I’m able to quickly read the problem and automatically have a basic algorithm or the general idea of one that I need to write up to solve the problem, now it is just a matter of formatting the algorithms to match the constraints and variable provided by the problem!

3. Practice, Practice, Practice :

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Coding competitions are no different. The more your child practices, the better they will be at solving problems under pressure. There are several resources you can use to help your child practice, such as online coding challenges, practice problems from past competitions, as well creating accounts on code-solving websites like hacker rank and code forces. You can also try setting up your own mini-competition at home with family members or friends. Remember the key to doing great in coding competitions is not having the best fanciest code but being able to make efficient and optimal solutions to the problem under the given time constraints. The only way to truly master this is to be able to quickly come up with creative solutions and be able to translate this into a working piece of code, this is a skill that only comes with practice!

4. Prepare early and effectively :

We all know the feeling of cramming in work a day before it’s due, it’s simply stressful and you really never end up with a final product you’re truly proud of. The same goes for preparing for a competition. Instead of trying to prepare a day or a week before a competition encourages your child to prepare for 10 mins every day at least 3-5 months before competition day. Whether your child is new to coding or a pro, this method allows them to take their time to practice and master the foundations of their coding language something that will greatly help them compete. Additionally, this will allow your children with enough time to start seeing patterns within practice questions, they can apply to write efficient code!

5. Practice a diverse range of problems :

Practice websites like HackerRank allow you to pick a specific topic of problems that you would like to practice. While their problems in themselves are intuitive and highly challenging knowing the topic beforehand will give your child hints to the solution that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. For example, if you already know that a problem can be solved using graphs because you clicked on the graphing problems, you’re only going to be thinking in that direction. But in a competition setting, they will not have access to that tool. After your child has had their coding basics down, it is KEY to practice problems without being exposed to the topic beforehand. This allows you to go into a problem blind, making you consider all possibilities before submitting your solution. This also exposes you to unique and different ways to solve a problem that can lead to a more efficient answer.

6. Encourage Collaboration:

Coding competitions are not only a great way for kids to learn to code, but they’re also a great opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals and make new friends. Encourage your child to collaborate with other participants and friends and talk to them about their strategies and solutions. In addition to this motivate them to interact with the coding community, whether that’s through asking for advice or solutions from stack overflow or watching content on YouTube made by expert programmers. Collaboration is one of the easiest things you can do to not only offer new ideas to your kid but also inspire them to be passionate about coding and their coding community. Finally, this collaboration can also help foster a social network that can help them learn about and receive new opportunities in the future!

7. Understand the Competition Environment:

When your child sits down to compete in a coding competition, they’ll be given a set of problems to solve. To do this, they’ll need to use their computer programming skills to write code that will produce the desired output. While this may sound simple enough, it’s important to keep in mind that coding competitions are timed events. This means that your child will need to be able to write their code quickly and efficiently to beat the clock. Additionally, they’ll need to be able to debug their code on the fly in case they make any mistakes. This can be a lot of pressure for some children, so it’s important to develop strategies beforehand to keep track of time during the competition. Some strategies we recommend include using a stopwatch or timer, setting up an alarm, or using a countdown timer app on their phone. Make sure to check in with the competition organizers to see if they have any specific time-tracking requirements or rules around the use of phones or watches during the competition.

8. Remember to Destress :

Coding competitions can be extremely daunting, after all, they are a competition. The key is not to put too much pressure on your child and to encourage them to have fun with it. Yes, winning would be amazing, but the goal should be for your child to enjoy the challenge, learn from the process, and build their confidence. This is a great opportunity for kids to explore their creativity, test their problem-solving skills, and have fun!

9. Use Competitions as a stepping stone :

Coding competitions are an excellent way for kids to get started in the world of coding. They can be used as a stepping stone to other opportunities such as joining a club, taking an advanced course, or becoming involved in other extracurriculars. Coding competitions can also be a great way to start building a portfolio and resume! Competitions are a fantastic way for kids to learn to code, but they are not the only way. Use competitions as a stepping stone to other opportunities and activities that will help your child further their passion for coding!

Conclusion

Coding competitions serve as an amazing method for kids to dive deep into the world of programming. They provide an opportunity to practice coding skills in a fun and challenging environment. Additionally, they allow kids to interact with other like-minded individuals and make new friends. But, while coding competitions are a great way to get started in the world of coding, they should not be the only activity your child does to further their passion. Here at SkoolofCode, we offer coding classes for kids with a variety of courses and activities that will help your child not only learn to code but also to be creative, think outside the box, and have fun! Our specialized courses are designed to give kids the opportunity to explore their interests, build their confidence, and make new friends. Sign up today to get started!

By : Prisha Sood