One of the most frequently posted questions on the HSQB forums is some variant of “How can I/my team get better?” Since the Greater Philadelphia area has had a renewed influx of interest from teams this year, I thought it proper to offer my thoughts as to how to improve for both individual players and coaches of teams. This post will focus on players, the next post will focus on coaches.
One general thought applicable to all concerns the nature of quizbowl as an academic competition that requires specific preparation. While there has been plenty of debate before about just how much “real” knowledge matters in quizbowl, think of quizbowl like any other competition–no matter how many talented athletes are on a football team, practice and working on football-specific preparation will triumph over raw athleticism and talent.
Similarly, in quizbowl the difference between the top teams and the bottom teams often comes not so much from raw intellectual talent, but channeling that talent and energy into focused studying. A hard-working, motivated team that prepares carefully will usually triumph over a less-prepared team no matter what school or background that team is from. This is part of what makes quizbowl so unique among academic competitions–a school’s resources matter much less than the determination and commitment of the players and coaches to improve. Thus, no matter what school you’re from, you can become a top player or team so long as you’re willing to work for it.
Improving as a Player
– Pay attention in school. Pretty much everything that comes up in academic classes in high school is something that could come up in quizbowl. Even if you’re bored by the class, just leaf through the textbook and look up the bolded words. A good knowledge base from paying attention in class will also make learning other things easier–it’s very hard to learn random science terms without understanding the concepts behind them. There is a difference between learning specifics for quizbowl and learning what you need for a class, but if you focus on learning both you’ll help reinforce
– Go to practice and tournaments. Getting more experience is valuable since you see what kinds of answers and clues come up. There’s also an art to buzzing in at the right time and this often only comes through experience. For new players, the confidence you can gain just by getting a few right in practice can also help you be more willing to buzz in a tournament. An additional bonus of going to practice and tournaments is that they will motivate you to study more since you’ll miss some questions and see your teammates get others that you just know you should’ve gotten. Yes, practices and tournaments sometimes conflict with other things. But if you prioritize quizbowl, you’ll get better at quizbowl. It’s as simple as that.
– Study old questions. You can do so using questions from the packet archive or with a specialized site like Quinterest. This is the best way to improve from a decent player to a good player. Understanding what specific answerlines tend to come up the most often within each category will help you focus your studying. Reading the lead-ins and early clues can help you buzz in earlier even on answers that you know decently well. Selecting a specific category or two to study at a time also helps since you can start to see the connections between the questions–perhaps one tossup on the Battle of Shiloh mentions General Sherman’s role in it as a lead-in, then the same clue is used as a lead-in for a tossup on Sherman later on. If you want to be more advanced, you can study easy college level questions to look for good medium and early clues that might come up in high school questions in the future.
– Write things down. Make flashcards or find some other way to write things down when you are studying. Some people benefit from simply writing things down and thinking carefully about what clues would come up for an answerline as you study will again help your memory. Writing things down also allows you to more efficiently review them later on and prime your memory before tournaments with quick reviews. Personally, I like being able to quickly scan multiple related clues and answerlines at once, so rather than flashcards I use Google Sheets. This allows me plenty of room to write down answerlines in one column and multiple clues for that answerline in other columns. Each tab contains a different area (like US Labor History, Southeast Asian History, etc.). I can also share this with teammates so they can see what I’ve been studying.
– Read Books. Inefficient in some ways, but there’s no better way to learn things in depth. I do recommend taking notes though and thinking about possible quizbowl questions as you read though since you want to maximize your recall from what you read. I like doing this for getting big chunks of knowledge–reading a book on all the czars of Russia for instance (though know that at the high school level, there are only a few czars that would conceivably come up like Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Nicholas II, etc.).
Next Post: Improving a team as a Coach