Studying Geography

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Studying Geography

Postby Viridian » Mon Jun 06, 2016 1:58 am

Hey everyone,
As a high school student exposed to numerous NAQT packets, I feel like there has been a substantial amount of geography sprinkled within bonuses and tossups. Currently, our team can't answer these questions really well, and I only have the basics covered. What would be the most efficient way to study geography for quizbowl? I packet study and use tools like Quinterest, but if there are more resources, that would be amazing.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby Monstruos de Bolsillo » Mon Jun 06, 2016 10:42 am

As someone who is decent at geo(at least in North American geo), I greatly prefer the NAQT distribution. I like the questions, and find them generally pretty interesting. There are different types of geography questions, even under the same umbrella (for example, American Geography, or even more specific, rivers in the US).

I feel like the geography questions don't fit into a canon, say, like literature or science. Geography questions can be pretty accessible, especially by the giveaway, but that means knowing what to study can be a more difficult task, as many things could come up that you might not have heard as tossup of before.

For American geo, it is important to see what you already know. If you know the capitals of all the states, as well as large cities, that is a great place to start and will enable you to get a tossup at the giveaway. A tossup with a state as an answerline may still have a variety of different clues that it could focus on, including, physical geography with the rivers, lakes, and other characteristics. A different tossup might have an answer with that state, but might have more city clues. I believe there is a concentrated effort by the general quizbowl community to move away from tossups that contain clues that merely name-drop random cities or bodies of water, but knowing these things can still be helpful.

I would say the number one thing to get better with geography is not always doable, but, given the chance, will make you a lot better. I would say that travel is the best way to get geo questions. I would consider myself fairly well-traveled, at least within the country. I have been to a little over half the states. When you go on vacation, you usually visit busy tourist attractions and populous areas. Once you have familiarized yourself with these areas, you can usually power a tossup on them, or do quite well on the bonus. Obviously, this only works if you have opportunities to travel, but it doesn't even have to be you. Maybe you have a friend or relative going to a cool place, and you can talk to them afterwards about their trip.

The next best thing is to pay attention to news articles, and be generally curious online. Current events and geography, especially on tossups, can go hand in hand. Whenever you read a news article, pay attention to the place names it brings up. This will help to make connections between important events, and where they happened, which might make it easier to remember.

Another tossup tip I would say is helpful is to familiarize yourself with suburbs of large cities, as well as important historical neighborhoods. These come up more than you would think. Understanding not just where rivers are, but their historical impact on the cities they pass by or the states they travel through can help not only on tossups on a specific river, but also states or cities. Sometimes universities are mentioned early in tossups about cities, so it might be worth the time to take a look at where some major private universities are located. Airports are another important piece. Eponymous airports are brought up occasionally in US geo tossups, but sometimes (it seems) even more in world geography tossups.

Buildings and bridges are also very important. If you know the names and maybe a defining characteristic of the many different tall buildings of American cities, you will be able to jump on those tossups. The same goes for bridges. Nationals Parks, Monuments, Battlefields, and other historic NPS-run places are all liable to come up, usually as a clue in a tossup, and certain National Parks (Yellowstone, Death Valley, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc.) can be seen as answerlines as well. All it takes is a bit of research of notable national parks, and for the big ones, special features within them. This works outside of the US as well.

The one last thing I want to mention, for American geo particularly, is how helpful geography can be when answering history tossups and bonuses. This is incredibly important for military history questions, but also important events that took place in large cities. I have seen tossups on states that use clues from a multitude of battles. You may not know much about the battle itself, but if you nail down a place name that is mentioned, that will get you to the end result all the same. Perhaps there is a history question about Los Angeles, and it mentions a few places. The idea of the tossup is historical, but knowledge of where it took place will get you 10 points, regardless of whether you knew it from historical studying or from geography studying. This also plays into the parts of geo that include cultural significance, as opposed to random features taken straight from an atlas.

Sorry for the long, unorganized post, I tried to dump some thoughts onto this thread. Hopefully some of these will work for you. I always loved geography questions. I kept it mostly North American-centric, as that's what I know best, but many of the tips are still applicable to the world. I would say the world geo has a greater emphasis on culture, and a good way to learn is by looking at ancient civilizations, as well as the tie-ins to religion.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby bluejay123 » Mon Jun 06, 2016 12:24 pm

Ok, so I'm not a geography player, per se, but I'll give you a few tips. Alex Sankaran's post was obviously really in depth and awesome to a point that I can't replicate here but...
1) Know the major cities of the world really well and in really really really immaculate detail. There's not going to be a question on Anytown, France, but questions on Tokyo, Japan and Kiev, Ukraine and Chicago, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri are bound to show up quite frequently. Also, it's kind of fun learning about the history of cities.
2) Geography is a pretty daunting category to cover, but take things by baby steps. Don't try to cover the entire US in a week, because you'll totally miss things. Try a state or two a day and then branch out to the other countries/continents. Fittingly for this thread, Rome wasn't built in a day. Quality over quantity.
3) Know geographical feats of major places-- Knowing that Edwin James first climbed Pikes Peak will be beneficial, but knowing that some random guy died while climbing Everest (while still interesting) won't be as helpful. Also try to learn about endangered/endemic species and where those animals are native to, if possible.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby cchiego » Mon Jun 06, 2016 12:56 pm

Alex and Jaya have great points above. Here's another perspective.

When I write geography (and when I studied geography when I played), I start from maps. All kinds of maps. Maps showing physical geography and topography, maps of cities with historic sites and neighborhoods on them, maps with racial/ethnic demographics, maps showing faults and earthquake risk, maps of rainfall and climate, etc. Studying these maps allows you to see the impact of geography on nature and humanity that can then be incorporated into clues in questions (as Alex discussed a bit above).

This then leads naturally to potential clues. For instance, why is there a strip of cities and strongly Democratic counties up in northeastern Minnesota? It's the Mesabi Range, with its strong union/labor ties, which makes for a good early-to-medium set of clues for Minnesota or for something on "Iron." Why is there a National Park called Capitol Reef in the middle of the Utah desert? The answer ties into geology as well as geography so that you can clue things relating to the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and surrounding formations like those at Goblin Valley. Why do interstates frequently seem to separate races in cities? This ties into urban planning and Robert Moses and such but can also help with neighborhood names and historical events like racial riots too.

I also like to google search or use flickr to find images from these places as I read about them to see what they actually look like and how they might have impacted humans. It's one thing to read "Emi Koussi in the Tibesti Mountains is the highest point in Chad" repeatedly; it's another to look up pictures of the Tibesti Range and see what they look like (more volcanic than many other Saharan ranges, interesting rock art, unique terrain that shaped the history of the "Toyota War" between Chad and Libya, etc.). You can also get this kind of perspective through traveling to places, of course, but even if you can't travel try looking through a Lonely Planet guide (with a focus on the historical attractions, not the hotels/restaurants part) to look up locally important sites (i.e. things that might not be in Wikipedia but are actually important!).

Everything fits together (literally) in geography and it is inherently interdisciplinary in how it impacts almost everything else. If you try to study geography solely through old questions, you're likely going to be disappointed and frustrated with the lack of results and the seemingly boring memorization of named things. If you instead study it as a way to spatially link a bunch of different concepts and facts, then it can be really useful in reinforcing what you've learned elsewhere and interesting subject matter on its own merits as well.

EDIT: Topography =/= Topology
Last edited by cchiego on Mon Jun 06, 2016 4:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby bluejay123 » Mon Jun 06, 2016 2:47 pm

cchiego wrote:If you try to study geography solely through old questions, you're likely going to be disappointed and frustrated with the lack of results and the seemingly boring memorization of named things.

Totally.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby Smith » Mon Jun 06, 2016 4:11 pm

I agree with everything Chris said, and I'd like to add a couple thoughts.
1. Remembering what you study. I (and a bunch of members of my team) swear by flashcarding (viewtopic.php?f=30&t=14099), especially for geography. I card cities, rivers, mountains, ranges, neighborhoods, whatever. I spend a lot of time looking at an atlas I have, but I often forget whatever I just looked at and can't convert in a game. By making a flashcard for say, the Uinta Mountains, I can access that information (and remember the map I just looked at) when I hear a question on it.
2. The random things. Many geography writers (e.g. Corry Wang's work on HSNCT) are focusing more on the human aspects of geography and tying clues about physical features in with how humans have interacted with the land around them.
I don't really care about all of the random highest peaks or minor tributaries or miscellaneous mountain ranges throughout the world. Instead, what interests me is how people interact with the geography around then.
viewtopic.php?f=2&t=18653&hilit=hsnct
Chris was great about this in his post above. I would also recommend making an effort to seek out tidbits of knowledge that are just plain interesting. I follow Mental Floss and Atlas Obscura on Facebook, and both publish articles on weird and interesting facts about the world that have gotten me a bunch of good geography buzzes. Whenever I come across some fact I always (for better or for worse) think about how someone could put it in a tossup.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby Corry » Mon Jun 06, 2016 4:17 pm

I currently edit all geography questions for NAQT's regular high school and high school national sets, so I suppose you might like to get some advice straight from the source.

To be honest, it's kind of hard to study for geography. There isn't really a set "canon," aka a preexisting body of knowledge that all quiz bowl players/well-educated individuals "should" know about the subject. Nor do I really attempt to adhere to any canon when I'm writing/editing; sometimes it's just dead reckoning. What this means is that Quinterest usually won't be that helpful for improving at geography (or at least, it won't be as helpful as it is for other subjects).

That being said, it still may be able to systematize studying for geography. Let's say you want to learn U.S. geography. First, start with a single state. For the purposes of this example, let's use Rhode Island, the smallest state. Go to the Wikipedia article for Rhode Island, and find out what the major cities and important towns are. In the case of Rhode Island, Providence is the only big city, while the most important town is probably Newport-- although there are a few others, like Pawtucket and Warwick, that are also interesting. Open the WIkipedia articles for those too. If you're doing geography outside the U.S., open the articles for specific regions as well (both political and historical regions).

Interesting is the key word here. I've explained this elsewhere before, but when I edit geography for NAQT, I don't really focus on the names of random minor tributaries, highest peaks, reservoirs, or municipalities of no wider significance. Instead, I clue questions based on the following attributes:

  • Historical significance: This is a big one; it's no coincidence that most geography players are also history players, myself included. What historical events took place in Rhode Island? Remember Pawtucket? Samuel Slater started America's first mechanized cotton-spinning mill there. That'd be a great clue (although I guess I can't use it now, since I just told you lol). How about Warwick? The Gaspee Affair happened there. In fact, you might want to just read the whole Wikipedia article on Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island), as there's bound to be some geography there too (i.e. how do you think Narragansett Bay got its name?)
  • Sociocultural/socioeconomic significance: This part relates to what Chris was saying. Does Rhode Island have any interestingly large religious/ethnic minorities? Does it have any distinct economic regions, e.g. a mining area such as the Mesabi Range in Minnesota? What's up with that? It'd probably make for a good clue. For instance, both the articles for Rhode Island and Newport mention that the state is home to the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the U.S. I'd definitely put that in a question on Rhode Island (except now I won't because I told you about it :P).
  • Tourism significance: This is one of my favorites. To be honest, the best way to go about this is to literally look up Rhode Island on a website such as Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet. Why do people today visit Rhode Island? Whatever the reason, it must be pretty important. Are there famous museums there? Cool rock formations or other natural features? Art installations? Parks/national parks? Trendy neighborhoods? The Tripadvisor page for Rhode Island is very indicative: one of the most popular attractions in the state is the set of Vanderbilt summer mansions built in Newport. In fact, those mansions were actually a clue in the tossup on Rhode Island at this year's HSNCT!
  • Natural significance: Sometimes, geography is interesting enough to simply clue by itself. This doesn't really apply to Rhode Island (not so much natural splendor there, to be honest- sorry Rhode Islanders!), but it's very common elsewhere. In many cases, I count flora/fauna as geography too. For instance, 90% of Madagascar's wildlife is endemic; the island is also home to a majority of the world's chameleon species. How cool is that?! The top of the Kelimutu volcano in Indonesia has three lakes that constantly change color. That's badass. Unsurprisingly, both of these facts were clues in geography that I wrote/edited this year.
Last edited by Corry on Mon Jun 06, 2016 4:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby Corry » Mon Jun 06, 2016 4:42 pm

One more thing: now that Duncan's mentioned it, I will admit that I do sometimes get geography clues from Atlas Obscura. Oftentimes, the geography on that website is literally too obscure, but either way, you can always find some really cool stuff there!
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Re: Studying Geography

Postby Great Bustard » Fri Jul 01, 2016 2:22 pm

Just seeing this thread now, but there are lots of past geography questions (both standard quiz bowl questions and the Qualifying Exams and Nationals Exams) on the US Geography Olympiad homepage at http://www.geographyolympiad.com
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