The Birth of the ACF Player

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The Birth of the ACF Player

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 27, 2006 9:37 pm

Inspired by Paul's recent thread, I've been thinking about how I was introduced to the game and started accumulating knowledge. I thought I'd share, just in case it's useful to anyone out there who wants to try and reverse the trend discussed in Paul's post (and, as Jerry said, the time is ripe to do so).

Basically, what I did was read all of the packets in the acf archive - http://www.dpo.uab.edu/~paik/acf/results.html. And, I know people always say this when they talk about studying - but, really, read them. And, I recorded the answers and corresponding clues on my computer according to subject matter (one for literature, one for science, etc.) and tried (not as well as I'd like, but still) to memorize the shit out of them. I use profanity to emphasize that point. You don't have to make a file for every subject, if you're not interested in knowing a lot about some subjects. It's probably easier to be successful more quickly if you can just know a significant amount about one big subject, like literature, although I think it's more rewarding and inspiring to be a generalist but nonetheless. Still, the point is: these packets are a tremendous fantastic stupendous reflection of the current acf canon - of stuff that comes up again and again - and certain stuff does come up again and again. The earlier acf years, like 98-02, are of course significantly easier and more basic than the expanded canon now - but they're terrific for getting a lot of basics, as building blocks.

People always talk about going to practice and tournaments. To me, going to practice is pretty much useless for getting better - sure you can take a notebook and write down some nuggets here and there or take advice from experienced players - but practice to me is primarily just a fun exercise where you can see how good you've become/make sure you're buzzing on clues you know when you hear them, etc.. Similarly, going to tournaments is great and fun - but I think most people way overestimate how much it helps players - even if they take a notebook and write every answer down, which almost no new people do. The magic (at least for me) doesn't happen just by hearing the stuff every now and then - it happens sitting in front of your computer writing questions and recording clues and memorizing them. If you get those packets from the tournaments you went to and comb through them and do the same thing that I suggested above with the ACF packets - that's the only really productive way to "study" I think.

A lot of this may seem kind of obvious to experienced people, and many of them probably have slightly different takes on how to study. But, I think it really needs to be said just in case (a contingency I'm not betting on) there are people out there who can make use of it. After the above course of action, there are certainly other methods like summaries (i.e. Masterplots) and Benet's and actually reading the primary sources like novels and histories, etc (which of course is very helpful). But, it seems to me that a lot of new players have such a floundering and unsure idea of what the basic canon is (i.e. what they should be trying to learn - and this unsure knowledge is of course reflected in the crazy questions they tend to write) - that it's pretty useless to just set them about acquiring knowledge on a topic like "science" (which I hear is a pretty big topic). It just seems like so many lack the foundation from which to use those other sources - and, the acf packets provide a good way to gain that foundation, together with other packets.

The magic of studying qb happens in the dark hours when you're alone - writing questions, reading them and recording them, memorizing them - not in going to practice or tourneys or snatching a golden lock from Mike Sorice. A healthy dose of determined spite doesn't hurt, but that's about it. The business of getting good at qb isn't sexy, but it can be pretty rewarding. Eh, at least that's what I think. Thoughts?
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:04 pm

This is why, contrary to what Matt Weiner may tell you, the canon is a new player's best friend. Sure, it may not be reflective of what they teach you in school, or of what is objectively important, but it makes it much easier for you to get better, because you know exactly what you need to learn.
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Postby Matthew D » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:08 pm

Thank you Ryan for taking the time to write all of that down.. I wish that some of my players would realize this little truth about the nature of quiz bowl..
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Postby Strongside » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:19 pm

I agree with what Ryan said. If someone wants to improve their quiz bowl game on their own studying is an easy, convenient, and inexpensive way to do so. Plus, there are many resources and ways to improve as a player.
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Postby AuguryMarch » Thu Dec 28, 2006 12:35 am

Damn dude, you make quizbowl sound like a lonely enterprise.

While I agree that a lot of learning happens by yourself, I think Ryan's depiction is a bit wrongheaded and demonstrates precisely what I mean about the decline in the game, charisma, big programs and all that.

The thing that made quizbowl so meaningful to me (and I suspect to others) wasn't those hours by myself writing questions or taking notes, but the time I spent with other people on my team. Quizbowl is a four person game at tournaments, and can be a collective activity in studying as well. At Michigan in the heyday, we spent hours in computer labs with one another writing questions. We would take piles of packets to coffee shops and sit around taking notes, commenting on clues that amused us or ideas that interested us. Going to bookstores with "quizbowl luminaries"-- thats where I learned something. I can tell you, the ideas and questions and clues that we went over with one another really stuck, perhaps more than otherwise. Memories are augmented by rich context (maybe this is why just writing clues down and staring at lists becomes increasingly less effective as you become a better player.. the context of "sitting in your underwear in your parents basement" becomes a bit overloaded. ).

Winning a championship is rewarding, no doubt (especially struggling to beat someone you respect), but so is thinking about something new and interesting. And don't we all know that the best part about writing is seeing good teams playing them... its about imparting something to someone else, a fact, an idea.. (something you think is important or worth knowing, right?)

All right, thats the last crazy rant of the evening for me.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Thu Dec 28, 2006 1:20 am

Paul's point is valid to be sure. But, having those type of teammates is a luxury indeed (which, of course, gets back to the charisma argument of the other post). For a person sitting at Random University X, quizbowl is quite likely more or less a solitary enterprise (minus going to tourneys and stuff), for good or for bad.


As a side note, this "context" point completely explains why I'm slowly turning into a hapless invalid.
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Postby grapesmoker » Thu Dec 28, 2006 5:15 am

I learn relatively equally well by hearing clues, writing questions, and reading. Lately, I find that writing questions doesn't help so much, because writing a large volume involves doing only cursory research on the subject. At one point, writing was the most helpful to me, but now I feel that more reading is the way to go. Your mileage may vary.

I do agree with Ryan, though, that whichever way you learn, it takes work. Even if going to practices is what works best for you, you still have to go and listen to the questions. Equally, I agree with Paul's point about the social aspect of the game; I try to do stuff with my team whenever I can, like grabbing food after tournaments or going to book sales and such.
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practice

Postby Zip Zap Rap Pants » Thu Dec 28, 2006 12:41 pm

Studying can help a lot, in fact I should probably do more of it, but if that becomes more of a focus of a quizbowl club than practice, then it might seem too hardcore and drive away newcomers. Practice is essential at least for buzzer speed, and as an example I'll relate the story of one of my new teammates.

My fellow club Co-President, Mohammad, was on Blacksburg High's team, but they only competed in VHSL SB and MACC (Mountain Academic something Competition, a weird variety of quizbowl in Southwest/Western VA with specialized competitions as well as an overall division, Mohammad competed in history and overall I think). He always wished he could compete on NAQT questions/at their tournaments, so he studied the "you gotta know" lists as well as the HSNCT podcasts and I think even some of the Stanford archive, and for that I truly admire his dedication. Now in practice for the club, I can tell he knows a lot, and at Blacksburg he was probably their best player, but in practice he usually buzzes in and takes 10 seconds to recall most answers. So a healthy, competitive practice has helped him a little bit in this regard, and I hope it will continue to make him (and all of us) improve at least in recall over time.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Dec 28, 2006 10:25 pm

I am reminded of what I did as a player.

I sorted manually several tournaments into categories. I didn't even learn perl. I did it all manually. I had to come up with my own classification system for knowledge to sort questions, influenced by how I view the shape of knowledge. After about a dozen tournaments of differing quality, the form of the canon becomes apparently. And if you were to embark on a similar project, I suggest that you not stick only to "good" tournaments, but try to look at questions written by the widest variety of teams geographically and across eras.

At the same time, I went on what I thought of as Britannica walkabouts. Reading through a tournament set, I would look up things that I didn't know on Britannica Online. I would read the article. Maybe I would write a question from it. Then, I would click on a link to another article. I might read that article if it seemed interesting, or I would follow another link. I would go from article to related article to related article. This method explains how I came across subject material for some of the more outrageously difficult questions that I have written in the past. These days, I would suggest doing the same thing with Wikipedia (but to verify facts with other sources before writing a question).
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Postby hip swivels » Fri Dec 29, 2006 1:27 am

But doesn't that feel a little bit lame? Isn't it more exciting to learn something in a book or on tv or in class than it is to learn something just for quiz bowl? Isn't it better to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire in the course of daily life than it is to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire for the sole purpose of getting that toss-up? As much as I love Quiz Bowl (I love Quiz Bowl a lot), I don't think that I could bring myself to memorize lists of canonical Quiz Bowl facts. It feels phony. It takes the fun out of actually knowing things, out of learning.

On the other hand, there is value in being a great player, and knowledge gained is knowledge gained, no matter how superficial or for what purpose.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:18 am

hip swivels wrote:But doesn't that feel a little bit lame?


Maybe, but losing to people in quizbowl sure feels a lot lamer.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:54 am

hip swivels wrote:But doesn't that feel a little bit lame? Isn't it more exciting to learn something in a book or on tv or in class than it is to learn something just for quiz bowl? Isn't it better to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire in the course of daily life than it is to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire for the sole purpose of getting that toss-up? As much as I love Quiz Bowl (I love Quiz Bowl a lot), I don't think that I could bring myself to memorize lists of canonical Quiz Bowl facts. It feels phony. It takes the fun out of actually knowing things, out of learning.

On the other hand, there is value in being a great player, and knowledge gained is knowledge gained, no matter how superficial or for what purpose.


Get over yourself. You're acting like good quizbowl players only learn for quizbowl. Experienced players know that you get literature tossups by reading masterplots, not by reading books, because they know that being able to get most tossups on the 2nd or 3rd to last clue (even on the giveaway) is more valuable than being able to get a few of them off the leadin. That being said, most good players share your so readily apparent passion for knowledge and will hear a clue that interests them and decide to investigate further. If you hear a question on a book that sounds interesting, read the book. But don't read all of Henry James' novels to get tossups on them. Instead, memorize the protagonists, settings, and a few stock clues. In quizbowl, fraud is god. For reference, see Texas A&M quizbowl circa 2006.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:55 am

Kit Cloudkicker wrote:Experienced players know that you get literature tossups by reading masterplots, not by reading books, because they know that being able to get most tossups on the 2nd or 3rd to last clue (even on the giveaway) is more valuable than being able to get a few of them off the leadin.


This depends on who you are playing.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Fri Dec 29, 2006 3:33 am

Matt Weiner wrote:
Kit Cloudkicker wrote:Experienced players know that you get literature tossups by reading masterplots, not by reading books, because they know that being able to get most tossups on the 2nd or 3rd to last clue (even on the giveaway) is more valuable than being able to get a few of them off the leadin.


This depends on who you are playing.


I don't think that in practice it does. See Chris Frankel, who while possessing good canon knowledge ultimately attempted to beat strong teams by gaining deeper knowledge on fewer things. This failed. There will most likely never be a team of people so good AND so specialized that they can buzz early on all things. The way to win at quizbowl is to form a team of complimentary specialists who study their areas in such a manner as to be able to get ALL questions on the second or third to last clues at the latest. You'll get beaten to some tossups, but as evidenced by the success of both the 2006 Chicago A and Texas A&M teams (both teams of specialists who won games by getting most if not all questions just early enough), ultimately even the best deep knowledge player in practice usually won't be able to take you out.
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Postby hip swivels » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:37 am

There are ways to become familiar with literary works without reading them, or tv shows without watching them, or even even scientific things without knowing basic science. And natural-born quiz bowlers do a lot of these things naturally (read voraciously, skim Wikipedia, remember things heard on the street, etc). But there's a difference between doing these things and expecting people to read the entire ACF packet archive for the sole purpose of establishing quiz bowl canon and then memorizing it. Even if doing that kind of thing is the most efficient way of becoming a good player, I definitely don't think it's the only way, and I think that's worth pointing out.
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Postby grapesmoker » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:44 am

hip swivels wrote:But doesn't that feel a little bit lame? Isn't it more exciting to learn something in a book or on tv or in class than it is to learn something just for quiz bowl? Isn't it better to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire in the course of daily life than it is to be rewarded for the knowledge you acquire for the sole purpose of getting that toss-up? As much as I love Quiz Bowl (I love Quiz Bowl a lot), I don't think that I could bring myself to memorize lists of canonical Quiz Bowl facts. It feels phony. It takes the fun out of actually knowing things, out of learning.


There used to be a time in the game when memorizing "canonical facts" would get you a very long way. It still doesn't hurt, but the realification of the game has made it so that if you want to get things early, you need to have deep knowledge that doesn't just consist of quizbowl anecdotes. Also, don't assume that learning something for quizbowl necessarily means you learn it "just for quizbowl." If it weren't for quizbowl, I probably would not have gotten interested in some of the things I'm into now, and at this point, much of the interest is incidental to quizbowl at best.

It's a tempting and common mistake to talk about rewarding "knowledge gained in daily life" or whatever, but this ignores the fact that quizbowl is a game with a particular structure and emphasis. The emphasis is on academic subjects (and people already try to stick in many categories to stuff covered in actual college classes). I don't think it should become something else; being able to expound upon great power diplomacy prior to the First World War is certainly great, but it's not what the game is about, so let's not worry about that.

I'd also agree with Eric about how to go about forming a championship winning team. Unless your roster includes Zeke, Andrew, or Subash, you are almost certainly not going to be a one-man wrecking crew. The benefit of specialists is that they can crowd opponents out of a category completely; Chicago, for example, is a team particularly proficient in science and myth, and that's enough to almost guarantee 5 tossups per round, which goes a long way in a tight match.

As for fraud... well, so much of my knowledge is clearly fraudulent to some extent, but I try hard to rectify that by reading and converting it into real knowledge. I think you can get just as far by reading scholarly works or textbooks as you can by memorizing stock clues, but again, your mileage may vary.
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Postby grapesmoker » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:49 am

hip swivels wrote:There are ways to become familiar with literary works without reading them, or tv shows without watching them, or even even scientific things without knowing basic science. And natural-born quiz bowlers do a lot of these things naturally (read voraciously, skim Wikipedia, remember things heard on the street, etc). But there's a difference between doing these things and expecting people to read the entire ACF packet archive for the sole purpose of establishing quiz bowl canon and then memorizing it. Even if doing that kind of thing is the most efficient way of becoming a good player, I definitely don't think it's the only way, and I think that's worth pointing out.


Let me summarize the canon for you briefly: at ACF Fall, the answer choices are typically anything that one might encounter in an intro class on the subject or have learned in high school, but the clues are harder. In general, many debates on the topic nonwithstanding, answer selection in quizbowl tends to hew to the sorts of things you're likely to study in classes on whatever the topic of the question is. Although I haven't actually done it, I'm confident that for 99% of answer choices, it would be very easy to find a class at any respectable university where that answer choice would come up as an object of study.

Reading packets is helpful for those quizbowl chestnuts and also to get a feel for how to write questions. Certainly, you can get some quick knowledge out of it, but unless you have a fantastic memory, it probably won't stick until you either read about it a lot or write some tossups on it (in which case you'd have to read about it extensively anyway).
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Postby hip swivels » Fri Dec 29, 2006 11:19 am

so maybe i'm being kind of unreasonable about this. but i just don't want to feel doomed for being too lazy to take notes during practice.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Fri Dec 29, 2006 12:51 pm

Kit Cloudkicker wrote:
Matt Weiner wrote:
Kit Cloudkicker wrote:Experienced players know that you get literature tossups by reading masterplots, not by reading books, because they know that being able to get most tossups on the 2nd or 3rd to last clue (even on the giveaway) is more valuable than being able to get a few of them off the leadin.


This depends on who you are playing.


I don't think that in practice it does. See Chris Frankel, who while possessing good canon knowledge ultimately attempted to beat strong teams by gaining deeper knowledge on fewer things. This failed. There will most likely never be a team of people so good AND so specialized that they can buzz early on all things.


If you want to consistently beat the strong teams, then you just have to study; there is no alternative. However, if all you want is a "puncher's chance" of dishing out an occasional upset, which is all I wanted to do, then you don't need to try as hard.

Due to the lit bias of quizbowl, you're never going to catch up studying lit unless you actually care deeply about the subject, so just learn lit enough that you should convert a good percentage of your opponent's negs on lit questions and not zero too many bonuses. The same goes for history. Concentrate on acquiring deeper knowledge in other areas, a Wee Willie Keeler strategy of hitting em where they ain't, if you will.

Having a relatively deep knowledge base in the social sciences, fine arts, mythology, and philosophy, with some competence in science and "canon-knowlege" of lit and history gives you a shot at an occasional win over a typical humanities-heavy good team, especially if they are neg prone and lose composure if they find themselves losing or failing to break away from a clearly inferior team. If you have a particular interest in some subset of lit and/or history, so much the better.
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Postby AuguryMarch » Fri Dec 29, 2006 1:06 pm

Can we PLEASE stop having this debate over and over? I'm not blaming you, hip swivels, but really.. we need a FAQ or someting where we can compile a list of the best posts on "Common Complaint X" so that the next time this comes we can just point to it rather than waste everyone's time and anergy. At the very least, Jerry, Matt, etc.. can't you just find the posts that you wrote the last time you had this argument and repost those somewhere?

And ADJ.. dude, I don't know what you are smoking, but strong ACF teams are strong on everything. While it is true that minor academic categories are less well known by weaker teams, most, if not all, strong academic players start out by taking a small area (myth, ss whatever) and making it theirs. There isn't some magical category you can study to "give you a shot against a good humanities team." (except science, hee.. but of course the main reason there aren't more science teams is due to barrier to entry, which is another debate that has been rehashed a million times).

pulling my hair out,
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:20 pm

I'm not talking about some plucky band of newbies upsetting the best team in the country at ACF Nationals. I'm talking about a decent team going from maybe a 1-in-30 chance to a 1-in-10 or 1-in-8 chance of beating the 8th or 9th best team in the country on some reasonably acceptable questions below ACF Nationals level difficulty at some ACF-style invitational.

If you define "strong" as teams with a legitimate chance at winning ACF Nationals, then it will take more than just a little bit of study. I'm working off of a definition of "strong" that is closer to Top 10 or Top 15.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:58 pm

hip swivels wrote:so maybe i'm being kind of unreasonable about this. but i just don't want to feel doomed for being too lazy to take notes during practice.


Well, what you could do is try to promote a treaty banning list memorization and other means of building up fraudulent knowledge, and try to have each team in quizbowl sign it.

Of course, such a treaty would have several problems. First, it would have questionable verifiability. How can you tell that a person has not been adding more fraudulent knowledge to his brain? I could go memorize a list of scientific things, and buzz in on them, and when you accuse me of having fraudulent knowledge, I could simply claim that:

a) I saw a cable TV special on it
b) My grandfather was a scientist, and with his dying breath told me to always remember the Balmer Effect
c) When I was 5, I met Edward Teller on the bus, and he gave me a cookie and told me about it, and I've always remembered because it was a good cookie

If these are not downright unfalsifiable, then they would take so much effort to disprove, that it would not be worth it. I could get away with violating your treaty and you could never prove it.

Moreover, even if you COULD prove it, how would you punish me? A treaty will not be followed unless there is some punishment for parties that violate it. What are you going to do, start re-arming yourself with fraudulent knowledge? Too bad, I broke the treaty first and got a head start, so I'll have an edge. Gonna ban me from the circuit? Well, unfortunately, there is always going to be some cash-strapped program that will be willing to violate your edict and let me play in exchange for cold, hard cash.

There are unfixable verifiability and enforceability problems with banning fraudulent knowledge. Combine this with the fact that there is a massive incentive to have fraudulent knowledge (ESPECIALLY if other teams start cutting back on it out of idealism or your treaty), and these problems are fatal, and would result in a complete failure to kick fraudulent knowlege out of quizbowl.

The question of whether or not fraudulent knowledge is moral or immoral is irrelevant; it is a reality, and must be dealt with, even if it means overriding our natural preferences or our sense of right and wrong.

That is the tragedy of quizbowl.
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Postby grapesmoker » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:11 pm

As Paul says, this is a somewhat pointless discussion, but it's pointless for a much simpler reason.

Quizbowl is this one game that's played this one way, and not some other game played some other way. So, to begin with, let's stop making analogies to other activities (though I'll actually do so in a second with the one instance where said analogies are justified). It's a game that has certain rules and a certain structure and in which winning depends on a proficiency in a particular sort of thing, namely, recalling stuff quickly. You can't change those facts and still have the game be quizbowl; you might like Academic Decathlon or something like that more, but it's just a different beast altogether.

The one analogy that is justified is the one that relates to becoming good. You become good at quizbowl the way you become good at anything: by practicing and mastering the relevant material. Some people like taking notes, some people like reading packets, and some people think sleeping with a copy of Benet's under their pillow will make them better lit players. That's just the way it works. You get better by memorizing stuff, and this whole discussion about what's fraudulent or not is really moot because quizbowl doesn't test fraudulence, it tests memory. If I'm studying for a physics exam, I'm going to solve lots of problems and look at ways that other people solved similar problems because that's what you do to become good at solving physics problems. I don't understand why quizbowl should be any different in this respect.

The really short, short answer to all these complaints is that practice and studying makes you better. The amount of work you are willing to put in is proportional to the rewards you receive. I'm sure this must sound like some sort of stereotypical strawman mean-ACF-guy saying "hurr memorize canon" but it's basically true. You want to get better, memorize the stuff that comes up in the game. But complaining about said memorization is just an anti-quizbowl quizbowl argument that denies the fundamental premises of the game to begin with. It's just this game and this is how it's played.
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Postby theMoMA » Fri Dec 29, 2006 5:07 pm

Packet playing/reading/studying is the most important aspect of getting good at quiz bowl. Until you read packets, encyclopedia articles are worthless. You don't know what information is useful to glean from an article until you see what clues or anecdotes are typically written into questions. And playing packets -- especially in a limited canon tourney like ACF Fall -- is incredibly important because the same answers come up a lot.

Just as a general rule, for every 10 tossups I get, I would guess that 7 come from packets, 2 from school knowledge, and 1 from miscellany (Ex: Attila the Hun from Bleda from Age of Empires).

If you want to see if you should be taking notes, I'd read the same packet twice with about a month in between readings and see how many clues you remember. If your retention rate is good from just one reading, you might not need to. You have to make sure you're remembering actual clues though, not just remembering "hey, there was only one mineral in this packet, it must be corundum."
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