What is the best method for rapid improvement?

New high school teams looking for advice should post here.
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Kafkaesque
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What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Kafkaesque »

Hello, everyone!

This is my first thread, so I might as well share a bit about myself: I'm a high school junior who only recently discovered a passion for quizbowl. I did play on my school's varsity team last year, but we were mediocre at best (3rd in the district), and I didn't take it very seriously. At the beginning of this school year, I decided to do my best to improve the team. First, I organized regular Protobowl sessions, which honestly helped us a lot in expanding our stock clue knowledge base. Then, I signed us up and acquired funding for the VCU Winter Tournament. How hard could it be, right? As it turns out, extremely. We did all right for our first NAQT tournament (we made the 2nd bracket out of four), but we were crushed--handily--by every good team we faced. After that, we started studying more seriously. We won all but one of our district matches, tying for 1st in the regular season, and took 2nd at the district tournament. Two days after districts, we competed at the Blacksburg HS tournament and placed 5th (and oh-so-close to 4th), qualifying us for the PACE NSC tournament.

Hence, we went from a middling district-level team to a national-qualifying competitor in about a year. I'm proud of what we've done so far, but I really want us to continue to expand our success. Our regional tournament is on February 2nd, and PACE NSC is on June 8th-9th. So we have roughly two weeks to prepare for regionals and four and a half months for NSC.

As you can see, we have two distinct periods of studying ahead of us. I'd love any and all advice on how to approach either. First, I need a study plan for the next two weeks (i.e. quizbowl cram session). What is the most efficient study method? Next, I need a long-term study plan for nationals. I think we should prepare more thoroughly (and less cheaply) for NSC, and I'm wondering how best to do that. Lastly, I'm wondering what my expectations should be for NSC. Is it basically impossible for a first-time competitor to do well? I don't expect to place in the top 16 or anything; I just want us to do respectably. And I think we have a long ways to go before that can happen.

If you're wondering, here's a breakdown of my team:

Me - science (biology and chemistry, especially), art, US history, social science, philosophy (working on the latter three)
Trevin Gandhi - science (physics and earth science, especially), mythology, world history, misc.
Reese Fulgenzi - literature, music, religion
Michaela Branch - geography, trash

I've done my best to encourage specialization, and I hope that strategy pays off. We are honestly quite lacking in music and world history, but we're working on it.

Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear any suggestions that the hsquizbowl community has for me.

(EDIT: I switched around the breakdown a bit.)
Last edited by Kafkaesque on Sat Feb 02, 2013 6:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mason Hale
Loudoun County '14
Harvard '18

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Auroni
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Auroni »

Hi Mason,

This is a frequently asked question on the boards (see: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13710, viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13891, viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13598, viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13409, viewtopic.php?f=3&t=12821, among myriad others). The best answer to take away from any of these threads is: there really isn't a magic bullet for improvement at Quizbowl. Every player and every team has personal approaches which work best for them. From what I know about your team (which had a pretty strong showing at the recent Blacksburg tournament), I would suggest that you expose yourself to as many high-quality questions as you can by reading through many good quizbowl sets at practice. I would also suggest that you read up on topics within the categories that you like. If you find that something works for you, stick to it. Don't force yourself to keep doing a really tedious activity thinking that you'd get better after all that effort.

I hope that helps.
Auroni Gupta
UIUC
ACF

"Slaves aren't people lmao." - Ike Jose

tgaddy
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by tgaddy »

Also, make sure that your team is covering all of the distribution. It is good that you are working towards specialization, as that makes getting better a lot easier, but I noticed there were holes in philosophy, religion, and social science. Don't forget about these! That's potentially three questions that could lead to over 100 more points for your team (with a high ppb conversion rate) in any given game. Good luck!
Thomas Gaddy
Montgomery Blair High School '13

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Kafkaesque
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Kafkaesque »

@Tokyo Sex Whale: Thank you for the links and advice! I like the part about being interested in what you study especially; that's exactly what we're trying to do! We were terrible at literature before someone who loved literature joined the team.

@tgaddy: Yeah, those holes are partially covered under "misc." But you're definitely right that we need to work on them. Thanks!
Mason Hale
Loudoun County '14
Harvard '18

JordanKuhn
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by JordanKuhn »

I do remember playing you guys and I was impressed because prior to this year, I don't think our team had ever heard of or played you! If you find that you're the only one that's really motivated, you're going to have problems; but it seems like your whole team is particularly motivated to study and get better (which is a GREAT thing).

I think the best strategy for an up-and-coming team is knowing stock clues. I personally improved fairly rapidly last year just by reading a packet or more (averaging about 2) per day for a period of a few months; that, and taking about 30-ish specific notes a week (and memorizing them) in practice (notes like "Mary Cassatt painted The Child's Bath" or such). Read good sets in practice; not too easy for your team (ie, don't really practice on SCOP Novice or FNT or anything similar for anything more than entertainment's sake; you've progressed past that point as a team now), but also not too hard (both not to get discouraged and because trying to expand your knowledge base too fast can be as detrimental as not expanding at all). There is plenty of time to prepare for nationals; I'd focus the next months (and weeks, specifically) on regular difficulty tournaments and then ramping up the difficulty 2 months or so before PACE. But depending on your skill level/desire/knowledge base now, this of course is a very flexible timeframe.


Also, as a side note, if you're interested in becoming more than just a one or two year underdog team, pay attention to when people graduate. There's nothing worse than losing a great history player, for example, and having nobody to fill his spot. Focus on your underclassmen; you never know when one of them will surprise you and end up becoming better than the upperclassmen!
Jordan Kuhn, Christiansburg High School (Christiansburg, VA), class of 2014.

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Kafkaesque
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Kafkaesque »

@JordanKuhn: Hey! Great job at the tournament! It's no surprise that your team hadn't heard of us before this year, as we've really been a middling, VHSL-only team for most of our quizbowl history (though back in 2004, we did get second at AA states!). Your impression that my whole team is willing to study is correct; we've got a great group that is wholeheartedly ready to improve.

Thanks for the suggestions with regard to graduating seniors! At current, our A team is composed of two juniors, a sophomore, and senior (however, when we played you, we were missing our senior, so instead we played another sophomore). We've been doing our best to cultivate younger talent, and while we haven't been entirely successful yet, I hope that we will find some diamonds in the rough. I'm glad that it is possible to improve fairly quickly through nothing more than regular packet-studying; I'll be sure to do that along with a few of the other suggested tactics over the next few months. Again, thanks for the tips.
Mason Hale
Loudoun County '14
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i never see pigeons in wheeling
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by i never see pigeons in wheeling »

As a beginning team, you might want to read packets on a consistent basis, but that's certainly not sufficient to doing well at nationals. If you're going to split subjects with your teammates, you're going to have to make a concerted effort to acquire real knowledge on the topics which you're studying. I understand and sympathize with your desire for rapid improvement, but packet-reading will only get you so far. For the more successful teams, packet-reading is not a way to memorize clues, but rather to provide a segue for a more in-depth study of a given topic.
Ankit
Cal '16
Bellarmine College Preparatory '12

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Kafkaesque
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Kafkaesque »

Ankit, thanks for the suggestions. I understand that improvement based on packet-studying has a limit, which is why I proposed two distinct periods of studying in my OP. Our plan for nationals is to read legitimate sources of knowledge, unlike the cheaper (and less thorough) method of packet-reading that we're mainly employing for last-minute VHSL prep. A few of the books we're picking up are Hamilton's Mythology, Emsley's Nature's Building Blocks, and numerous important literary works. I plan to study a lot of art in-depth as well.
Mason Hale
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sonicxml
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by sonicxml »

Thanks for all the tips! They're really useful.

One thing I was wondering more about was how to improve our PPB - that is, to get the harder bonuses more often, since we can usually get the easy and medium ones. What type of material is the best to study to get that kind of knowledge?
Trevin Gandhi
Loudoun County High School '14

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Lofty Volaterrae
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Re: What is the best method for rapid improvement?

Post by Lofty Volaterrae »

sonicxml wrote:One thing I was wondering more about was how to improve our PPB - that is, to get the harder bonuses more often, since we can usually get the easy and medium ones. What type of material is the best to study to get that kind of knowledge?
Other than reading lots of books on every topic, go out and see if you can find interesting articles in magazines (Economist for current events, Scientific American for science stuff, literary journals with articles you can look up on online databases) that I find can be much more concise, and depending on the quality of the magazine, can drop some pretty big clues (especially academic journals) that you can compile into databases. The next thing is to make giant lists of all the clues you have picked up for the answer-lines in your categories and repeatedly look over them until you have memorized all the potential clues for each, and have researched what each clue actually is (like knowing more about the D-double prime layer as a clue for 'mantle' than just its name). This can be really time consuming, but has had a big payoff for my team over less than a year in terms of rankings.
George Davies
St. John's '14
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"Lars Porsenna of Clusium, by the nine gods he swore,
that the great house of Tarquin should suffer wrong no more."

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