Writing for high school - difficulty?

This forum is for discussing tournament formats, question styles, strategy, and such.

Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby SpanishSpy » Tue Nov 08, 2016 2:07 am

I'm currently part of writing a high school tournament for high school with the intent of it being played in early February. Over the course of writing it (we've been working since September on it), I have gotten feedback from my teammates regarding the questions, overwhelmingly history and geography, but with some trash, literature, and social science thrown in there, about difficulty. This came in two phases.

The first was that my questions were way too hard for high school (a tossup on the Second Congo War was rejected, and one about Ethiopia was under scrutiny but otherwise fine - also, today I was told a tossup on Vermin Supreme for trash would be too obscure, as would the filmIndependence Day. Tossups on St. Helena, the IRA, and Bikini Atoll were judged with the same). My rebuttal was that perhaps not the average high schooler would get it, but the average high school quizbowler might.

Taking this criticism into account I deliberately made my questions easier, but I've gotten feedback from the team that they're now too easy. [POTENTIALLY USED QUESTIONS INFORMATION REMOVED]

This leads me to my ultimate question: what difficulty should I be writing high school questions, the average high schooler or the average high school quizbowler?

I fully admit I have my own issues with this; in high school I was introverted and nerdy and didn't know my peer much, and I spent a lot of time reading history and geography online and on occasion in books. Hence, my knowledge of those subjects in high school was far more than the average, and as such I have a hard time judging 'common knowledge.'
Last edited by SpanishSpy on Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019
NAQT Writer
User avatar
SpanishSpy
Wakka
 
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2016 1:19 am
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby Banana Stand » Tue Nov 08, 2016 4:42 am

Gauging difficulty as a new writer is probably one of the most difficult parts of the craft, and something I still struggle with from time to time. A very important concept to learn is that tossup difficulty and answerline difficulty do not have to go hand in hand, and there are many ways to adjust difficulty around a single answerline. So, your Second Congo War question is totally out of the question because there's no way to make it accessible to your audience. Since most players at that level haven't ever heard of the Second Congo War, it's impossible to ask about it in a reasonable way, since even with the "easiest" clues, the tossup is unanswerable. If you're wondering how you could possibly know what high schoolers(or anybody) know on a subject, there's no definitive answer, but it's about making judgment calls and developing that feel for proper difficulty over time. Everybody who's started writing has written on something that is just way too hard for their target audience simply because they didn't know any better and the question seemed easy to them because they know it well. This is also why good editors who know their audience well and are experienced enough to know what type of material is askable are very important in making a set.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, you have tossups that may be conceived as too easy. Brave New World is a totally acceptable answerline at regular high school difficulty, so now the clues become the important part. In your example, your lead-in was about the title being a Tempest quote and you being told that was too easy. While this clue may be commonly used and a bit "stock", that's not actually why it's a bad clue. It's a bad clue because it rewards players for knowing a random fact about the title rather than knowing about the work itself. When writing any tossup, but especially a tossup on a specific novel, it's good to test at least some depth of knowledge about the work. That's not to say that you should be pulling obscure quotes or plot points just to see how hard you can test people, especially at this level, but you want to prioritize knowledge that actually comes from knowing things about the subject. A better lead-in for a BNW tossup could be about the Shakespeare collection John reads and quotes while at the reservation. Note how this clue ties into the title like your Tempest clue does, but is a better test of peoples' knowledge of the work than knowing a quote from a play. Talking about the Bokanovasky Process isn't bad either since it's an important part of the work, but I might be hesitant to namedrop it in the second line due to how famous it is. Of course, at this level, you shouldn't be as coy with stuff like that.

Really, you should just be focusing on rewarding knowledge without going too deep and figuring out where exactly a good difficulty range is for the level you're writing at. If you need to, look at some good high school sets from the past(LIST from 2012-2014 for example) and see what type of things are being asked about, and how they're being asked about. Feedback from teammates is great, but make sure you're getting some explanation for your errors so that you'll have a better time not repeating them in the future.
Jack Mehr
St. Joe's NJ '14
UVA '18
Banana Stand
Wakka
 
Posts: 123
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:38 pm

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby Deviant Insider » Tue Nov 08, 2016 8:01 am

If these questions are going to be used in the future, you should not discuss them here.
David Reinstein
PACE President, Head Writer and Editor for Scobol Solo and Masonics (Illinois), TD for New Trier Scobol Solo and New Trier Varsity, Writer for NAQT, IHSSBCA Board Member, IHSSBCA Chair (2004-2014), New Trier Coach (1994-2011)
User avatar
Deviant Insider
Auron
 
Posts: 4237
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2004 6:08 am
Location: Chicagoland

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby RexSueciae » Tue Nov 08, 2016 2:34 pm

SpanishSpy wrote:This leads me to my ultimate question: what difficulty should I be writing high school questions, the average high schooler or the average high school quizbowler?


The latter, but you misunderstand what that means.

When writing, your benchmark shouldn't be "would I, an intellectually curious young lad, have gotten this tossup?" because other intellectually curious young lads may have entirely different passions and have weirdly deep knowledge of entirely different things. Sure, maybe somebody out there is going to play a question on the Second Congo War (!) and think, "aha, now to use this knowledge that I and three other students in the country possess!" but it's such a narrow answerline (on a not-entirely-accessible topic for high school, at least) that could bear broadening.

Consider: you wanted a question on the Second Congo War. Why not instead write a question on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and include clues from other events? Or, if you really want that specific answerline, make it a hard part in a bonus. Or maybe don't; write about Kony instead.

Want to write questions that test deep knowledge of Vermin Supreme? Do a tossup on "political debates" in America, and lead-in with a participant in one of these attempting to turn Randall Terry gay.

Tossing up the IRA? Provo or Official (or the INLA, for all I care), it'd still be a bit hard for high school, so just write a tossup on Ireland (or, say, Margaret Thatcher) and clue heavily on the Troubles.

Everything that Jack said is amazingly good advice. I'd also like to second the recommendation that, if you're really serious about writing a tournament, stop talking about it here and get yourself an editor. Writing a whole question set on any level is borderline impossible without a team of at least three or so people, and at least one editor who can impose a consistent difficulty and thematic style on the whole thing.

If nothing else, you can just write questions for fun (and to learn stuff), keep them all in a big doc, and stockpile them for a later date.
Vasa Clarke

Maggie Walker '14
Virginia '18
William and Mary '21
RexSueciae
Rikku
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Sun Dec 29, 2013 12:24 am

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Nov 08, 2016 3:14 pm

As others have stated in this thread, the best rule of thumb for a new writer is usually to err on the side of caution, especially with your choices of answers. For a general-interest high school tournament, you want some number of people to be able to buzz on each of the clues in your tossup, and you have to be able to suspect that number is a reasonable percentage of field - not just a small set of people with niche interests.

Remember, you're usually writing on an answerline because you have several clues in mind for the answerline - this means that you almost certainly already know more than the average person about that answerline! So have some sympathy and try to ensure that your tossup has a good distribution of buzzes - a few people buzz early, a good number buzz in the middle to late-middle, and a lot of people can buzz at the end.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16
"You are beyond parody" -Auroni Gupta
"...should be treated as the non-stakeholding troll he is" -Matt Weiner
User avatar
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Auron
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: Falls Church, VA

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby SpanishSpy » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:20 am

Banana Stand wrote:Gauging difficulty as a new writer is probably one of the most difficult parts of the craft, and something I still struggle with from time to time. A very important concept to learn is that tossup difficulty and answerline difficulty do not have to go hand in hand, and there are many ways to adjust difficulty around a single answerline. So, your Second Congo War question is totally out of the question because there's no way to make it accessible to your audience. Since most players at that level haven't ever heard of the Second Congo War, it's impossible to ask about it in a reasonable way, since even with the "easiest" clues, the tossup is unanswerable. If you're wondering how you could possibly know what high schoolers(or anybody) know on a subject, there's no definitive answer, but it's about making judgment calls and developing that feel for proper difficulty over time. Everybody who's started writing has written on something that is just way too hard for their target audience simply because they didn't know any better and the question seemed easy to them because they know it well. This is also why good editors who know their audience well and are experienced enough to know what type of material is askable are very important in making a set.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, you have tossups that may be conceived as too easy. Brave New World is a totally acceptable answerline at regular high school difficulty, so now the clues become the important part. In your example, your lead-in was about the title being a Tempest quote and you being told that was too easy. While this clue may be commonly used and a bit "stock", that's not actually why it's a bad clue. It's a bad clue because it rewards players for knowing a random fact about the title rather than knowing about the work itself. When writing any tossup, but especially a tossup on a specific novel, it's good to test at least some depth of knowledge about the work. That's not to say that you should be pulling obscure quotes or plot points just to see how hard you can test people, especially at this level, but you want to prioritize knowledge that actually comes from knowing things about the subject. A better lead-in for a BNW tossup could be about the Shakespeare collection John reads and quotes while at the reservation. Note how this clue ties into the title like your Tempest clue does, but is a better test of peoples' knowledge of the work than knowing a quote from a play. Talking about the Bokanovasky Process isn't bad either since it's an important part of the work, but I might be hesitant to namedrop it in the second line due to how famous it is. Of course, at this level, you shouldn't be as coy with stuff like that.

Really, you should just be focusing on rewarding knowledge without going too deep and figuring out where exactly a good difficulty range is for the level you're writing at. If you need to, look at some good high school sets from the past(LIST from 2012-2014 for example) and see what type of things are being asked about, and how they're being asked about. Feedback from teammates is great, but make sure you're getting some explanation for your errors so that you'll have a better time not repeating them in the future.


Interesting advice about using leadins - that makes sense. The impression I'm getting here, and in others' advice, is that I should be asking questions about more general things and using the specific things (the things I have written tossups about up until now) as the clues. That's an interesting way of looking at things and it makes perfect sense thinking about it.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019
NAQT Writer
User avatar
SpanishSpy
Wakka
 
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2016 1:19 am
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby SpanishSpy » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:25 am

Big Y wrote:If these questions are going to be used in the future, you should not discuss them here.


Is there accepted protocol, then, for discussing theory and advice? It seems as if providing an example is complicated by this standard.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019
NAQT Writer
User avatar
SpanishSpy
Wakka
 
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2016 1:19 am
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby RexSueciae » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:29 am

SpanishSpy wrote:
Big Y wrote:If these questions are going to be used in the future, you should not discuss them here.


Is there accepted protocol, then, for discussing theory and advice? It seems as if providing an example is complicated by this standard.


Post questions that you're not planning on selling, or hire a set editor.
Vasa Clarke

Maggie Walker '14
Virginia '18
William and Mary '21
RexSueciae
Rikku
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Sun Dec 29, 2013 12:24 am

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby SpanishSpy » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:42 am

RexSueciae wrote:
SpanishSpy wrote:This leads me to my ultimate question: what difficulty should I be writing high school questions, the average high schooler or the average high school quizbowler?



Everything that Jack said is amazingly good advice. I'd also like to second the recommendation that, if you're really serious about writing a tournament, stop talking about it here and get yourself an editor. Writing a whole question set on any level is borderline impossible without a team of at least three or so people, and at least one editor who can impose a consistent difficulty and thematic style on the whole thing.



I'm not working on this set myself; the entire William & Mary team is, and I've written most of the history. We critique each other's questions on a regular basis, so I'm getting some criticism, although I am the premier history player on the team.
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019
NAQT Writer
User avatar
SpanishSpy
Wakka
 
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2016 1:19 am
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby SpanishSpy » Thu Nov 10, 2016 12:42 am

RexSueciae wrote:
SpanishSpy wrote:
Big Y wrote:If these questions are going to be used in the future, you should not discuss them here.


Is there accepted protocol, then, for discussing theory and advice? It seems as if providing an example is complicated by this standard.


Post questions that you're not planning on selling, or hire a set editor.


Very well; in any case I removed references to questions I know will be in the tournament (the others have been removed so I don't have qualms about the subjects being public).
Alex Wallace
Washington-Lee High School Class of 2015
College of William & Mary Class of 2019
NAQT Writer
User avatar
SpanishSpy
Wakka
 
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2016 1:19 am
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Re: Writing for high school - difficulty?

Postby Cody » Thu Nov 10, 2016 8:50 am

SpanishSpy wrote:
RexSueciae wrote:
SpanishSpy wrote:
Big Y wrote:If these questions are going to be used in the future, you should not discuss them here.


Is there accepted protocol, then, for discussing theory and advice? It seems as if providing an example is complicated by this standard.


Post questions that you're not planning on selling, or hire a set editor.


Very well; in any case I removed references to questions I know will be in the tournament (the others have been removed so I don't have qualms about the subjects being public).
um, it's too late. Those questions are now spoiled because they were posted in public.
Cody Voight – CBGS ‘09, VCU ‘14. I write lots of science and am an electrical engineer.
VCU Tournament Director ‘13-pres. HSAPQ President ‘15-16.
Hero of Socialist Quizbowl Labor (NSC ‘14). “esteemed colleague” of Snap Wexley, ca. 2016. Stats Hero (Nats ‘16).
Quizbowl at VCU
User avatar
Cody
2008-09 Male Athlete of the Year
 
Posts: 2013
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:57 am
Location: Richmond


Return to Theory

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests