Developing as a Player, Part One: How to Study

As we prepare for the beginning of a new quizbowl season, many players would like to know how they can improve and score more points for their teams. As a player who went from never having heard a pyramidal question to regularly scoring 100 ppg on IS sets in the span of a few months, I will share with you some tips and methods that I used to improve myself.

I will start with a disclaimer: I cannot guarantee that my methods will work for you. The overall best advice I can give is to find a way to study that works for you and roll with it. For example, many quizbowlers like using flashcards to learn topics. I do not. But if you decide that you prefer using flashcards to my method, by all means go ahead and use them. Do what suits you.

Here’s the method I used to do in-depth studying of specific topics, step by step.

Figure out what you like: Having an interest in a topic makes it much easier to study. If you like classical music, try to take on learning about it in a quizbowl context. If you’re a history lover, pick some of your favorite historical figures and events and choose to learn more about them. Just about any academic discipline you may like has some representation in quizbowl. Pick what you want to study, and go from there.

Explore your subject’s canon: It’s easy to feel as if quizbowl covers an infinite amount of things and that it’s impossible to learn them all. Fortunately, this is not actually the case. Look through packets used in previous tournaments, and you will find that many answerlines repeat themselves; this is often referred to as the “canon,” and picking up on what these topics are and studying them in depth is the key to quizbowl improvement. So take some time to find what those common topics are. The High School Quizbowl Packet Archive is an excellent resource for you to do this. Once you have a good grip on the canon for your chosen subject, you can move on to more intense studying.

Take notes on old packets: Not only are many of the answerlines the same in quizbowl, many of the clues are as well. Thus, I have found that the best way to improve is to make strong efforts to familiarize yourself with these clues so that you can readily associate them with their respective answerlines in matches. is perhaps the best place to find questions to familiarize yourself with. For example, if you want to learn more about Edgar Allan Poe, simply type his name into the search bar, and set the difficulty to high school (note: if you’re getting into preparing for higher-level stuff like HSNCT, PACE NSC, or NASAT, it may help to look at college clues, but don’t worry about that yet). Read through the results, and see what works of his come up often. See “Masque of the Red Death” a few times? It may be a good idea to try to read that story if you can, or at least look at a plot summary. It’s best to be able to look at the source material whenever possible, but time doesn’t always allow for that, so do what you can.

Another major tip for this part, since I believe it’s the bread and butter of good studying: write notes as you read these old clues. Writing things down has a much longer-lasting effect on memory than simply reading them does, and it will ensure that you’re using your study time wisely.

Use practice methods to reinforce what you’ve learned: Ideally, you’ll be able to do this at team practices so you and your teammates can get used to playing with each other. But if this isn’t possible, or if you want to do some extra work on your own, I recommend Protobowl. Make a room, set the difficulty to high school, and set the category to whatever category you’re studying. There’s a bit of a stigma in the quizbowl world against using Protobowl, but my personal opinion (which you can go with or ignore as you choose) is that it’s a worthwhile tool if you use it correctly. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just using Protobowl all the time instead of doing focused packet study. Don’t do that. Use Protobowl practices to supplement and reinforce the notes you’re taking. It helps keep the material fresh in your mind, and may provide that extra bit of memory you need to get that great buzz on the final tossup.

(Added 10/5/2018) Note: A newly-released tool that you can also use to practice questions by yourself is Quizbug 2. You may have used the original on the former, but this reboot now pulls directly from the QuizDB database, which is constantly being updated with the latest question sets. It does not offer the ability to buzz multiple times like Protobowl does, but that’s OK, sometimes it’s better to only have one shot at a question just like at real tournaments. Make sure to read the info page linked on the site’s main interface. This is another powerful tool that can help you remember those clues you’ve learned!

So, that’s my method. It’s not very fancy, nor is it very hard. It can be time-consuming, depending on how much effort you want to put in, but that decision I leave entirely up to you. I hope this guide is a help, please leave a comment with your thoughts. Good luck this quizbowl season and happy studying!

Ryan Bilger