This year, Pennsylvania has an incredible 23 teams attending the NAQT HSNCT, 8 teams attending the NAQT SSNCT, and several attending the PACE NSC (you can see our full guide to the different national championships here).
So what should Pennsylvanian scholars be doing to prepare for the challenge of nationals? Here are seven tips for prepping to do your best at the national champs:
1. Study more challenging questions
This is, without a doubt, the most important thing for a team to do. Nationals-level questions are always a step above what you’ve played during the year, sometimes substantially so. The jump in difficulty can be particularly tough for teams that relied mostly on studying old regular-season packets during the year since nationals will introduce a whole new set of tougher clues and answerlines. If you have what quizbowl likes to call “real knowledge” about a subject from your own outside interests or reading, then that’s more likely to scale than the knowledge you got from playing lots of Protobowl online.
If you can, read old packets from the SSNCT, HSNCT, and/or NSC exclusively in practice for the last few months and invest some time in studying certain areas in depth. The NSC packets from previous years are free online; NAQT charges for old HSNCT packets, though past attendees can take home the set for free at the end of the tournament to use as future practice material. You may be playing against literally the best high school players in the country on various topics, so depth can be quite handy here, but you also want to make sure you’re exposed to a wide variety of possible answers so that you can also nab the (many) TUs that come down to after the “For Ten Points.”
2. Study the current year’s college questions
Reading a few college sets as well, especially those from earlier in this competition season like ACF Fall or EFT, can be a good way to not only read more challenging questions but to get an idea of what topics are hot in the world of college quizbowl. Many of the writers of the high school nationals question sets are college players themselves, so you want to be aware of what kinds of authors and ideas they’ve been exposed to this year and maybe last year. There’s often a “funnel” effect in quizbowl as new question ideas get introduced first at the college level and then get written about at progressively easier tournaments, so you want to stay on top of what might be funneling down to high school nationals from the college level this year.
3. Prepare for an endurance challenge
You may have been at long tournaments before, but nationals in particular have a tendency to be mentally exhausting. By the time you get to some of the most crucial games at the end of the day, your team may be rather tired. Bring snacks and be aware of sleep schedules here. It may also help to try to do a long day of practice on a Saturday before the tournament, with periodic breaks for studying, to help simulate what it’ll be like. Keeping calm and not letting any one neg or missed opportunity get to you is crucial; there’s no margin of error for getting in a funk here.
4. Assign roles for who will give answers and when
Make sure it’s clear who is going to be the captain and how you will run answers through that captain. The captain should be able to give responses before the moderator calls time and be willing to defer to other players on hard-to-pronounce bonus answers. Be absolutely clear on whether or not you’re going to try to power-vulch on certain questions and how you might try to signal (nonverbally, of course) who will buzz at the end of a question after your opponent has negged. This is where teamwork and knowing/trusting your teammates is crucial, so do spend some time working on this.
5. Know the rules
This seems obvious, but you can expect the rules at nationals to be enforced to the letter. Any leeway that you might be used to during the regular season will likely not be present. Know the timing rules, know the protest rules, and know the rules relating to answer correctness. For instance, did you know that at NSC if you try to quickly give an answer to cut off a bounceback that the moderator will finish reading the bonus part anyways? (Rule EX. 3a.) And at HSNCT, did you know that if you change your answer before you have finished one complete word, the second answer will be evaluated for correctness (so “Greaaaa…Crime and Punishment” will be evaluated for “Crime and Punishment” but “Great Eh…Crime and Punishment” will be evaluated as “Great Eh” since one word was completed)? Look through the rulebooks well before the tournament and make sure that you’re familiar with all these things since you can be sure that your opponents have.
6. Think about potential close-game scenarios
This is particularly relevant for the NAQT tournaments since those are on the clock, but the use of bounce-backs at NSC can also result in some interesting end-game scenario math. Essentially, you want to try to figure out when you want to try to speed the game up or slow the game down to maximize your chance of winning. If you have a lead, you may want to slow the game down a bit, but only if the lead is fairly substantial. If you’re behind, you want to speed the game up (particularly by responding to bonus parts quickly), but you also don’t want to miss out on points unless you simply need one more cycle. For instance, if you are down by 50 points and there is 30 seconds left, the most you could score on one cycle is 45 so you need to get to another TU-bonus cycle no matter what and may want to go quickly through the question. In contrast, if down by 40, you could win on that question with a power on the tossup and a 30 on the bonus. This is where having worked through a few scenarios in advance could pay off in spades, so do think through what you might do in various situations.
7. Study Current Events and Pop Culture (HSNCT and SSNCT in particular)
For reasons that still remain unclear, one of the most study-able things in quizbowl is often one of the areas that teams leave as a gaping hole in their knowledge base. Yes, you can’t read old current events questions to prepare for this year’s current events, but you can study for this by reading the news and treating CE and trash like a serious subject. Take a look at the NAQT distribution for current events and trash (and you might look at all the other sub-distributions as well if you’re ambitious) and start to think like a question writer–what topics would you write on within the last year to fill out the World Social CE? What might be the Science and Business CE TUs? Who on our team will answer the baseball question? What minor sports might come up? You may not like CE or Trash, but those are worth just as many points as regular academic subject questions and you don’t want to concede those to your opponents.
8. Get familiar with the location
The physical location of the tournament is also something to think about. Most of the nationals are at hotels, so take a look at the floorplan in advance (usually available on the hotel’s website or in your folder at check-in) so you have some idea of where to go. The last thing you want during a tournament is to get lost in a hotel or go up into the wrong tower of the hotel between matches. If you’ll have breaks in between matches, you might also want to know good locations to go to for a snack or just to hang out somewhere other than sprawling on the ground.