Writing Questions

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Writing Questions

Postby Thenerdyjew » Wed Oct 05, 2011 1:09 am

Hi! I'm a player at RBHS in So-Cal
I write around 20-25 questions a day, but it's not helping as much as I would like. I don't feel myself getting any better. I'm studying for like regular leveled tournaments (high school) and idk if I'm doing something wrong? Like can somebody explain how thye write questions? I usually look at a tournament packet, write down the answer, then go on the Torrey Pines Database, write down some of the key clues I see in all of the different questions (simple search), then write a question.

Here are 2 of my questions that I wrote:


In this novel, Charrington betrays the protagonist. Ampleworth goes missing after he writes down the word “God.” A man in this novel is in the process of writing a dictionary which will be available for use only in 2050. The society in this novel uses languages with names like “Neo-Bolshevism,” “Death Worship,” and “Ingsoc.” Mr. Charrington goes up to the attic and captures the protagonist and his lover Julia, which makes rats be released in Room 101. For ten points, name this dystopian novel in which O’Brien tortures Winston Smith, a work by George Orwell.
ANSWER: Nineteen Eighty-Four

This man theorized that life is the “will to power.” One of his books has a chapter entitled “Why I Write Such Great Books” and he wrote a work about a Persian prophet hailing the Ubermensch. Some of his other works include On The Genealogy of Morals, in which he said that truth is a woman. For ten points, name this man, who wrote Thus Spoke Zarathrusa, Beyond Good and Evil, and famously said “God is Dead.”
ANSWER: Nietzsche

Are they too long? Too short? Not detailed enough? Too detailed? Too general? Like what's the problem with my studying, people say that you get insanely good by writing questions?

Thanks in advance for your answers!
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Great Bustard » Wed Oct 05, 2011 3:08 am

I'll see if I can find time to critique the questions here later this week, but one word of advice - try writing more like 5-10 questions a day. 20-25 is an awful lot and your frustration may in part stem from burnout (and this from someone who spends over 100 hours a week doing quizbowl related stuff). Granted I'm a slow writer (which is one reason I don't do it often), but it often takes me 20 minutes or more to write a good tossup. I'd focus more on quality, not quantity (although these questions are not a bad start, if you just recently started doing this) for now.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Oct 05, 2011 10:32 am

You get good at quizbowl by exposing yourself to information. There are many ways to do this: you can listen to questions at practice or at tournaments, you can read old packets on the internet, you can read books, you can browse Wikipedia, etc.

The reason that question writing makes you better is that it FORCES you to expose yourself to information: you cannot successfully write a question without looking something up and learning something new. In my experience, I don't retain all of the information I learn while writing questions, but the information I do retain is very helpful and has gotten me a lot of early buzzes on tossups at tournaments.

As for why question writing isn't working out for you, a few thoughts:
(a) You may be writing on things you already know a lot about. This is a trap I fall into all the time.
(b) You may not be doing enough research for your questions. It seems a lot of your questions are short and use mostly basic facts: if your goal is to write an easy question for a novice tournament, that's fine, but if your goal is to learn things you should be doing more research and finding harder clues. These will let you answer questions early.
(c) You may just need more time. Quizbowl is a somewhat random game: there is a "canon" of things that come up all the time, but not each of them come up in every tournament and certainly not in every game. Maybe the things you've learned simply haven't come up in a tournament yet. When I was on a young and improving team in college, we often beat really good teams by a lot of points and then lost to bad teams by a lot of points the next game: this is because we only knew some things, but had some games where a lot of stuff we happened to know came up and some games where none of the stuff we happened to know came up. As you learn more your outcomes will vary less.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby cvdwightw » Wed Oct 05, 2011 2:49 pm

Thenerdyjew wrote:idk if I'm doing something wrong? Like can somebody explain how thye write questions? I usually look at a tournament packet, write down the answer, then go on the Torrey Pines Database, write down some of the key clues I see in all of the different questions (simple search), then write a question.
If you think you might doing something wrong, you probably are. In this case, the reason that your writing is not making you a better player is that you're doing what I'd call "robot writing." You're stringing a bunch of clues together without even figuring out whether they make sense, and then trying to memorize all the proper nouns you've put together with the answer. I guess this is a great strategy if you're a quizbowl-playing robot, but most of us are not quizbowl-playing robots.

For instance, just to pick on one sentence from your questions:
Thenerdyjew wrote:Some of his other works include On The Genealogy of Morals, in which he said that truth is a woman.
There are two things wrong with this sentence (well, more than two things, but two major factual problems...):

1. The famous quote about truth being a woman is from the preface to Beyond Good and Evil.
2. Nietzsche never says that truth is a woman. He rather proposes a thought experiment asking whether it is possible that philosophers do not understand truth, and answers it by saying that since philosophers are terrible at understanding women, if truth were a woman, philosophers would be terrible at understanding it. This is a "shock value" statement used to introduce his argument against how philosophy is typically conceived. [someone with actual philosophy knowledge correct me if my interpretation is wrong]

Basically I gleaned all that from five minutes of Internet Research. The point is that for most of us, simply throwing a bunch of clues together from old packets without doing any sort of emotional or critical analysis is not going to do anything to help us learn. We need to make a value judgment about how interesting the clue is, or figure out why this clue is particularly important or relevant to the answer, or any number of other higher-level thought processes. It's these higher-level processes that are going to reinforce the "buzzword - answer" relationship.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Thenerdyjew » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:08 pm

So in order to maximize my time for studying, what should I be doing? I'm a Sophomore, and this is my second year in QB (did it last year as a Freshman). I want to get good. Really good - HSNCT Level by the end of the year. I have 2 hours a weekday to study and around 6-7 hours on the weekend of studying time ~ 15-20 hours a week of studying time. How many questions should I write? Which packets should I be reading? (I'm like better than novice and but not as good as ACF or PACE yet - so probably like St. Anselm's and Torrey Pines TPOT is what I'm at right now. I usually get those kinds of questions in the middle (right before or a little after the power mark). Should I keep reading these packets? I try to write around 20-25 questions a day and usually do, but it's not helping. But if I were to do what the guy above me said (to look on Wikipedia and the Internet for each tossup), then how do I find time to study the literally THOUSANDS of topics there are on QB? How do you people remember stuff about so much stuff? I hope this doesn't make me look stupid, because I've always been a good memorizer and I'm good at applications of concepts, but like how do you remember so much stuff? Should I spend 75% of my time writing and 25% on reading packets? 50-50? 25-75? 0-100 or vice versa? I go to a lot of tournaments so that isn't the problem. So basically how should I study to the utmost efficiency and actually get better?

Thanks if you read all that! And thanks in advance
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Auroni » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:19 pm

Spend about 40% of your time reading packets, 30% of your time looking up things you've heard about on the internet, and 30% of the time reading (novels, short stories, essays, articles, anthologies, something scholarly, something to give you a good scope of a subject). Feel free to adjust these percentages any way you'd like. The only reason you'd ever want to write at the stage where you are is to expose yourself to new information, which you could do using the three-pronged strategy I detailed above.

Also, read any and all high school packets, from novice to NSC level.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Thenerdyjew » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:33 pm

So basically people get amazing at quizbowl by reading summaries on the internet about books that come up, reading packets, going to tournaments, and looking at random stuff on the internet? That's basically what I've been doing.

Also, with reading the books and short stories
If it takes me 3 hours to read a book, to get one tossup on it, wouldn't I be better spending the time to look at summaries online or read tossups on it?
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby bird bird bird bird bird » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:36 pm

People get amazing at quizbowl by learning real knowledge. I would advise picking a category to specialize in and reading appropriate books for that field.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Thenerdyjew » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:43 pm

So then how do generalists know a lot about everything? Do they just spend a ton of hours reading packets upon packets of tossups on basically everything?
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Auroni » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:48 pm

Play more tournaments, motivate yourself in a goal-directed manner ("for the next tournament, I'm going to get this many powers and less than 5 negs," that kind of thing), and a study strategy that's highly individually suited to you will come naturally. I was suggesting some ways to start. You will not become amazing at quizbowl by attempting rote packet memorization.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby The Predictable Consequences » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:52 pm

Thenerdyjew wrote:So then how do generalists know a lot about everything? Do they just spend a ton of hours reading packets upon packets of tossups on basically everything?


Well, from 8 to 3 on weekdays I go to this special quiz bowl training program called high school. Seriously, for building the base of knowledge that's required to be a decent generalist at the high school level, classes aren't half bad. I'm not a science person at all, but can still pick up the occasional tossup by virtue of having sat through AP Chem.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Sniper, No Sniping! » Thu Oct 06, 2011 6:50 am

On the topic of "real knowledge", my personal experience through <1 year of high school quiz bowl was that by even looking over, say, past book reports, essays, research papers, etc you've written in the past, you can retain even some relatively obscure details for any tournament, and I will admit that this has garnered me some points. (disclaimer: I'm not at all saying this is a substitute for packet reading/article reading, etc, just merely another technique I think that's worth trying). Reading up on books has helped me too, particularly in history and philosophy.

The pyramid rewards those who know a topic cold. I think it can be agreed that there's a difference between player X who knows battle A so well from reading up on it as opposed to player Y who knows battle A solely on a stock clue, and really, as it's been discussed on here before, with the TP database being so popular, it wouldn't be surprising to see question writers (good ones, at least) stray from using the same, recycled clues in a question they write now.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby something similarly dumb » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:38 pm

Honestly, you can become an almost passable high school generalist [like me!] just by playing quizbowl a lot. I didn't get to practice, I didn't study very much, but I learned a bunch through quizbowl osmosis. Playing quizbowl helps you get better at quizbowl. Studying makes you even better.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:45 pm

Yeah, you're only a sophomore and the quizbowl season is barely getting underway. I bet you're going to find that once you get back in the habit of playing 2-3 tournaments a month, all the studying you're doing will finally start to click. It may not be immediately perceptible, but you have plenty of time.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Inkana7 » Fri Oct 07, 2011 11:48 am

Following my Junior year in HS, I shot dual-National Champion Henry Gorman a facebook message asking him for advice on improving. What he said was just to be inquiring and curious. Read anything that sounds interesting to you, read articles online, read Wikipedia, and go over packets. I don't like to espouse packet memorization, because it has its limits and you'll never be truly elite doing it because you're only learning clues that have come up before, but it is good for learning the canon and getting "back in shape" if you haven't played quizbowl in awhile.

Chances are, if you've read Things Fall Apart, you're going to get a tossup on it before someone who has read tossups on it. So depending on where your interests lie, just read things in that field. That's how you get good.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby DoWon.Kim » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:46 pm

Following up on the discussion about studying for quiz bowl, would studying for different categories differ in style? For instance, as a sophomore with less than 1 year of QB experience, studying for categories like FA and Geo seem to me simply rote memorization, whereas science is more conceptual. How should I study categories that solely require memorization like geography, as opposed to categories like literature?
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby sir negsalot » Thu Dec 01, 2011 6:20 pm

Geography IMHO is like a sixth sense, you either have it or you don't. Besides learning the major mountain ranges and rivers, there's nothing quizbowl-productive to cram geography,
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Auroni » Thu Dec 01, 2011 6:34 pm

DoWon.Kim wrote:Following up on the discussion about studying for quiz bowl, would studying for different categories differ in style? For instance, as a sophomore with less than 1 year of QB experience, studying for categories like FA and Geo seem to me simply rote memorization, whereas science is more conceptual. How should I study categories that solely require memorization like geography, as opposed to categories like literature?


You don't have to memorize anything if you're doing it right.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Ukonvasara » Thu Dec 01, 2011 8:49 pm

Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:
DoWon.Kim wrote:Following up on the discussion about studying for quiz bowl, would studying for different categories differ in style? For instance, as a sophomore with less than 1 year of QB experience, studying for categories like FA and Geo seem to me simply rote memorization, whereas science is more conceptual. How should I study categories that solely require memorization like geography, as opposed to categories like literature?


You don't have to memorize anything if you're doing it right.

Well, that's not exactly true--you don't necessarily have to rote-memorize anything if you're doing it right. I don't foresee much success if you entirely avoid learning and remembering things, though.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby tintinnabulation » Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:01 pm

You sound like you're trying to do everything at once and expecting to get good at it. I think the most effective way to become good is to pick a topic and stick to it. Focus on everything you can get about that topic, and pick up random other stuff about other topics.

For example, I am a lit person. I read books that are asked about (reading a book is the best way to get a tossup about it for me) and watch book-movies, which a more entertaining way to learn the information if you're not a reader. I write down most of the clues every time I hear a lit question but only try to get the FTP clues for science, history, social studies, RMP, etc.

If you want to "generalize," I don't have a strategy for you. I think you should pick something and work at it in depth. You can only learn so much in so many months. If we had a depth-of-knowledge measurement system (who knows how that would be measured) and you could only pick up, say, 20 units' worth of knowledge between here and the HSNCT, I'd rather have 20 units of knowledge (deep knowledge) in one area than have 5 units' worth in science, 5 in lit, 5 in history, etc. You're more likely to be successful at tournaments if you know everything about science (assuming that's possible) than FTP clues for every subject.

Just my opinion, don't have to listen to me.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby tintinnabulation » Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:13 pm

Oh, and I don't think your question about 1984 is very gettable. Sorry. Stringing together a bunch of random clues with no idea how important they are in the book doesn't help a lot, and random clues don't make a very good question, either. I didn't know what the question was talking about until "Ingsoc," and I have read the book. Usually 1984 questions talk about that weird something-or-other golf that they play and the church rhyme and the "Two Minutes' Hate" and Goldstein, maybe, and probably mention Big Brother and Julia after FTP. I can't access TP right now, or else I'd check out some 1984 tossups.

I guess this is another reason why you should know in-depth stuff instead of just an overview of everything.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby Charles Martel » Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:30 pm

I like the clue about the dictionary, it might make for a good difficult lead-in. However, the first two clues were just character drops, which isn't what should happen in the lead-ins to 1984 questions.
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Re: Writing Questions

Postby No Electricity Required » Fri Dec 16, 2011 7:33 pm

The dictionary clue isn't bad, and it would have helped me as someone who has read the book. The Charrington betraying the protagonist thing is really important, but it might not help someone who has read the book but doesn't remember Charrington's name (I do, but some people probably don't because his name isn't as big of a deal as what he actually does). There are good ideas for stuff to base clues on, but they need to be fleshed out to actually describe events from the book, because those are the kind of things that people who read the book are going to remember and that is more important than the names of secondary characters.
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