A Complete Guide To Prepare For ICPC | CodeChef

6 min read

If you have been a part of the coding community long enough, you must have heard about ICPC. The International Collegiate Programming Contest or ICPC is the oldest and the most prestigious programming contest in the world. As CodeChef likes to call it, ICPC is the “Olympics of Programming Competitions.”

For those who have little to no idea about ICPC, don’t worry! Here we will talk all about it and provide you with insights into how you can prepare for the contest.

ICPC – What is it?

ICPC is an algorithmic programming contest for college students. College students participate in the contest in teams with each team consisting of 3 participants from the same college. The ICPC governing body has its headquarters at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. On average, over 50000 students take part in the contest annually from over 3000 universities around the globe. 

The winners of the contest receive prize money of $15,000 and an ICPC gold medal. Three other teams get the gold medal and receive $7,500. The silver and bronze medal teams get $6,000 and $3,000, respectively.

The contest takes place in two rounds – 

  • ICPC Regionals – The regionals are the first hurdle that every team needs to clear if they want to represent their college in the finals. Local universities conduct them in different regions across the globe. The winners of each regional contest get to represent their college in the ICPC World Finals. The 2020 regionals in India were held at the following sites – Amritapuri, Kanpur, Kharagpur, and Gwalior-Pune. 
  • There are also multiple rounds in the Regionals. There is usually an online round, and then an onsite round is contested between the selected teams. These contests happen from October to December.
  • World Finals – The best teams from every regional site across the globe lock horns at the ICPC World Finals. Many CodeChef users have been a part of the World Finals and made a significant name for themselves.

For more information on eligibility and other rules, visit Rules.

How to prepare for the contest?

Preparing for a contest like ICPC requires you to sharpen your skills and make the best use of them. If you are preparing from scratch, this is how you can start – 

  1. Selecting the ideal programming language

The first and possibly the most obvious step while preparing for any coding competition is choosing a programming language. While many people tend not to take it seriously, a programming language can be the differentiating factor in ICPC. If you select a language that you are well versed in, then automatically, you’ll have the speed and accuracy while solving a problem. 

If you are proficient in a particular language, it would be best to stick to that only. But if you have little to no knowledge about programming, then you should start with a language that’s easy to learn. You can start with C/C++, JAVA, or Python, depending upon your choice. If you want to have a programming language that’s quick and most widely used, then you should go with C++. For a language with easy syntaxes and a wide variety of library functions, go with Python.

  1. Every concept is essential.

If you want to prepare for a contest like ICPC seriously, you need to understand that every concept is essential. When you study the algorithmic concepts, you’ll realize that every topic is related to the other. Therefore, to have a strong preparation, you need to study exhaustively. 

A great way to go forward with the preparation is to participate in CodeChef’s Long Challenge. The contest comprises 9-10 problems of varying complexity and is held over 10 days. Coders from all over the world participate in it. Long Challenge is an excellent way of preparing for ICPC as you get to have tricky questions. You also compete with your peers from around the world which can be a great way to analyse your progress. For people new to competitive programming, the Long Challenge is the best contest for preparation because you have ample amount of time to solve the problems.  

The best way to understand which topics are essential is to go through past years’ problems. This will help you understand the weightage of each topic, and you’ll be able to prepare in a better way. CodeChef provides you with a list of problems for ICPC onsite rounds that you can get here – 

You can find the past problems here – ICPC Archive.

  1. Practicing is the key to everything! 

For any competitive programming contest in the world, one preparation tip that you’ll find everywhere is to practice! The more time you invest in practicing the questions and understanding your approach, the better results you get. Practicing regularly will make you aware of the types of questions you might get in the contest. A great way of practicing for a contest like ICPC is to take part in online competitive programming.

Competitive programming will make you understand the concepts well, as you will get to find optimum solutions for the problem. CodeChef has a dedicated monthly contest called Cook-Off, especially for ICPC participants. The rank list is generated in the same way as you would find in World Finals. Thereby, it’s a great way to compete with your peers and know where you stand. Keep on practicing till you know that you are ready for the contest.

  1. Finding your teammates

ICPC is a team contest whereby you need to build up a team. The vital point is that all team members from the same college. Besides this, these are the specific points that you can consider while searching for the ideal teammates – 

  • Try to find someone as enthusiastic to succeed in the contest as you are. This will keep your motivation to its peak, and you will keep on striving for success at the contest. Finding someone with the same determination will help you during the preparation phase.
  • You need to have a great deal of flexibility in your team so that you can tackle any problem that may arise during the contest. Teammates should complement each other so that one fills the gaps for the other. This will allow you to perform better at the contest.
  • You should make sure that your teammates are willing to put in the effort for the contest. There can be rounds that last up to 4-5 hours and occur 2-3 times a week. Therefore, the entire team should be prepared to work hard during this phase. ICPC demands a lot of effort from the team; therefore having the determination for it is very important.
  1. Participating in contests as a team

Practicing and competing individually is one thing. Competing as a team is a whole different paradigm. When you work as a team, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each teammate. This can only be possible when you practice with your mates regularly. You should take part in a virtual contest and work on your skills as a whole.

This point is critical because this is how you will tune in with your teammates. When you start practicing together, you will understand how to coordinate during stressful situations. This is a key factor for winning at ICPC because you will have to figure out the solution within a stipulated time. You can take part in hackathons or compete in programming competitions hosted by other colleges or institutions.

Your team can participate in contests and hackathons hosted by CodeChef. Teams from around the world compete in such contests, and thus it’s a great way to analyse your progress among your peers. This will help you to prepare for the Regionals as well as the World Finals. 

Golden Opportunity provided by CodeChef

You all must be well aware of the initiative “Go for Gold” started by CodeChef in 2010. The goal for the initiative is to have an Indian team win the ICPC. Till now, India has been able to enter the Top 20 in the World Finals, and currently, their best performance sits at 18. Whichever team beats this record in the coming years at ICPC will receive the Go for Gold Cup and a cash prize from CodeChef. For more details, visit Go for Gold.

How to be a part of the ICPC Regionals in India?

An Asian student can take part in any regional round across the continent. For India, you have the four sites that you can register at. Most students take part in their sub-region so you can choose your site accordingly.

  • For each regional site, there will be a preliminary online round. 
  • There will be a registration fee that you need to pay. This is different from site to site.
  • Depending upon the performance in the online round, a specific number of teams will be selected for the onsite round.
  • Teams that secure the top spot in the onsite round become eligible to represent their country in the ICPC World Finals.
  • Any team can participate at a maximum of two regional sites.

ICPC is all about having clear concepts and coming up with solutions that make you think out of the box. Being individually proficient is as important as forming a team that can perform together. It’s all about preparing smartly and going through everything such that no stone is left unturned. You shouldn’t panic during the contest because of the pressure and keep your head clear. Participate in virtual contests and practice regularly without fail. You can go through this blog and get even more insights about the contest – ICPC Stories. All of this will allow you and your team to go against anyone, be it in the regionals or the World Finals. Getting out of your comfort zone is the kickstart that you need!

If you haven’t started yet, then it’s never late. Join CodeChef and compete with others preparing for ICPC. Let us know your comments about this blog in the section below. This is Ashutosh wrapping things up and hoping that you’ll start preparing as soon as you finish reading this. Till then, keep coding!

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