I feel like I ought to say something in this thread. Starting last year, after the last IS set but before the HSNCT, it became my job to edit these questions for NAQT at the high school level. Prior to that point, I didn't have particularly strong feelings about multi-subject questions, other than that I remember playing on the Torii Hunter question in 2005 and not finding it nearly as clever as its author did. Gradually, I started to develop much more adamant ideas about how these questions should be written, and gradually this point of view is being imposed onto NAQT's multi-subject questions.
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:One problem is that you are forced to decide which categories should go in which order. Making category x the leadin and y the giveaway privs x specialists over y specialists for no obvious reason.
First of all, in an ideal world, there should be a relatively even mix of all categories in the multi-subject questions across the entire set. In reality, this is extremely difficult to achieve, and besides that most set editors have other, bigger concerns. One of the particular problems which we could do something about is that science and math get left out almost entirely. I have tried to encourage people to write more science and math into interdisciplinary questions, but this hasn't happened much yet. There is a lot of possibility for interdisciplinary questions that discuss, for example, math and philosophy, physics and music, or history of science. As it is, these combinations almost never get written.
Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:I only find these to be annoying if they are really contrived.
This is, of course, the biggest problem. Lots of the multi-subject questions that I see are horribly contrived. One reason is that NAQT writers often write questions to fill specific needs in the distribution. People, not all of whom are very experienced writers, are told "you need to write two multi-subject tossups and two multi-subject bonuses immediately." What they then do is come up with a really loose theme for the bonuses (hypothetically: "For 10 points each--answer the following about flowers") and as bizarre and contrived a theme as possible for the tossups. I then reject the tossups and attempt to change the bonuses to something a little bit more meaningful (hypothetically: "For 10 points each--answer the following about representations of flowers in art and literature"). Sometimes this process results in good questions getting written, but it definitely isn't the ideal way.
The best way to write multi-subject questions is to write them whenever you read about two or more things that have an interesting and significant connection. I'm not going to give any specific examples here because most of the things on the top of my head right now are used in current sets, but if you remind me when the sets are clear in June I will happily expand on this idea. Basically, any time you hear something interesting, you should consider whether that could form the basis for a multi-subject question. I have found interesting things in the newspaper, in magazines, and even by walking over a "fun fact" which the City of London had painted on the sidewalk to educate tourists. If more NAQT writers kept their eyes open for this kind of thing, then the quality of multi-subject questions would improve dramatically.
Now, the fact that NAQT always has to spur its writers to write to fill needs in multi-subject questions, rather than relying on writers to write them in advance, is a problem that renders this approach unrealistic. Is part of the problem that there are too many multi-subject questions in the distribution? That is a plausible conclusion to draw.
Anyway, in addition to the science-y suggestions I had above, I'd like to point out that the following reliable combinations of subjects can make good questions which nobody ought to find too contrived:
- a place that has both historical and cultural importance
- a film, opera, play, novel, poem, painting, or sculpture that is based on mythological or religious themes
- the historical context of any kind of literature or film
- earth science and geography
- a history / geography / current events combination about a single theme related to a particular place or ethnic group
In conclusion, if you're an NAQT writer who is reading this, at the very least, it would be fantastic if you could start by thinking about the coherent grouping of complementary subjects you want to combine rather than about the link you want to highlight among three very different things. That way, I won't have to keep rejecting (again, hypothetically) bonuses beginning "For 10 points--name these things that are green" whose answers are leaves, the Incredible Hulk, and the twenty-dollar bill.