What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn't?

This forum is for discussing tournament formats, question styles, strategy, and such.
Post Reply
Adventure Temple Trail
Auron
Posts: 2617
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:52 pm

What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn't?

Post by Adventure Temple Trail »

I've noticed (and been part of) a trend where people comment on the distributions of new high school question sets as they get announced on the Mirror Requests thread, in the hopes that questionable choices might get altered before the set is used. Many of the comments seem to get repeated from set to set. So, rather than rely on that trend, I wanted to give several guidelines in one post as to what the most common mistakes are in setting up a distribution for a high school question set, why people often make them, and why not to repeat them, in the hopes that this thread can be a one-stop access point for future set organizers. What's more, there are some choices which are probably A-OK, but which sometimes get overreacted to as though they're incorrect; I wanted to set out some of those in the event that people want to do something slightly different with the distribution of their set and not have to get chewed out for it.

The big principle behind all of these suggestions is that you don't to have to write so much of a category that you are forced to reach for answers that are far too hard for your audience. The following suggestions are my attempt to distill the past few years of my question writing, editing, and reading experience, and assume we're discussing 20/20 packets and high school question sets of the standard 14-packet length or greater.

Things that should never be done / will inherently make a high school set worse

--Including more than one world literature question per packet.
There is literally no official organization (not NAQT, not HSAPQ, not PACE, not ACF at the college level) which mandates that there be 1/1 world literature per packet. This is because there is far less world literature which is readily answerable by teams at any level than there is American, British, or other European literature. I suspect that the desire to put 1/1 world lit in high school packets must come from (a) misreading the ACF distribution (b) blindly copying college distributions from non-ACF packet submission college tournaments (c) a desire for there to be more whole numbers in the distribution and fewer fractions/decimals. Including too much world lit in your tournament is a good way to immediately make it suitable only for the top 50-100 teams rather than for all teams, as outlined well by Charlie Dees in this prior thread.

--Including 1/1 social science question per packet. Again, see Charlie's post for a well-written rationale explaining why; it's very rare for high schoolers to come across much anthropology and sociology in a non-quizbowl context, and the remaining social sciences (psychology, economics, linguistics, etc.) are hard to find a large number of question-suitable answer lines for. What's more, a lot of high school social science writing is flooded with overly-hard topics chosen from recycling information from old packets as it is (many comes-up-every-tournament staples such as Malinowski fit very squarely within this category), so reducing the total amount of it is a good way to reduce the reliance on packet study which is currently the main way teams learn much social science at all.

--Including more than one philosophy question per packet. While there are some high schoolers who are naturally interested in the subject (I was one such high schooler), and some topics in philosophy come out through, virtually no high schools teach it as a subject and it's much harder to read, discuss, and understand philosophical texts in depth as a high school student than it is as a college student. Thus, it makes little sense to weight the subject as much in high school sets as it does in college sets, where way more people get way more exposure to those areas of intellectual inquiry who never had any of it before.

Things which you should seriously consider avoiding

--Guaranteed 1/1 chemistry per round.
The amount of non-repeating askable material for high school chemistry questions is quite small, and the recent revisions of AP Chemistry to cut material from the curriculum make it even less likely that there are many ways to create a full slate of 14/14 or more non-repeating chemistry questions for a tournament. (This was less of an issue when high school sets were more often 10, 11, or 12 rounds long, I suppose.) That's less true of biology, physics, or math. If you feel confident enough about chemistry, and sure enough about what's knowable rather than only learned in college, it's probably fine to keep the 1/1, but I worry that many teams are just reaching to make collegiate organic chemistry middle clues serve as their high school leadins in the current state of affairs. (Suggestion 1: There's been a move afoot recently to bump up [theoretical] Math to somewhere between .5/.5 and 1/1, or sometimes even more, guaranteed each packet. This makes sense to me, given how big a place math has in every high school person's life, though in my opinion a lot of low-level quizbowl math questions have lost touch with reality and use very difficult clues to the exclusion of basics even near the end of tossups.)(Suggestion 2: use some amount of "Mixed/Misc Science" with chemistry clues to help fill the gap.)

Choices you can make if you know what you're doing and why, but not to be made unthinkingly

--Imbalancing the Big Three categories of literature, science, and history. It's become convention that each of these categories gets 4 tossups and 4 bonuses per regulation round, such that it can feel like disservicing a specialist in any one of these categories to change up their amount even a little bit. That said, it is convention and not a rule. Some recent tournaments have given more weight to science than to the other two, largely to boost the representation of math questions, and have not necessarily been negatively received for doing so; NAQT also has more science than literature or history in its distribution (when NOT counting Religious_Literature and Mythology in as subcomponents of Literature in the way that NAQT does). It's probably unwise to dip below 4/4 for any of these for the time being, but if you have extra space here or there as you count up to 20/20, it's not unreasonable to expand one of these categories with it.

--Having a "Your Choice," "General Knowledge," "Mixed," or "Misc" question area for academic or non-trash questions that don't fit a standard quizbowl category. Exemplified most notably by NAQT's MI: category, which is rather hit-or-miss, and now a part of the PACE NSC distribution starting in 2014. I find these questions to be some of the most fun to write and play on a personal level, and am pretty sure I'm not alone; that said, here's a warning that it takes a lot of writing experience to figure out how to do these questions well at a low difficulty level without resorting to trivial or poppy subject clues.

Viable choices you can make to make your set a bit different / things you shouldn't get in trouble for

--Tinkering around with the total amount of fine arts between 2/2 and 3/3; tinkering around with the total amount of religion/mythology between 1/1 and 2/2
--Tinkering with the subdistribution within science to help yourself fill out the category better (staying informed about what teams are likely to know -- see above)
--blending fine arts categories here or there when one person bridges them (i.e. having a Mozart question which mentions his concert music and operas) or writing some literature/history questions with clues spanning nations or continents
--Tinkering around with the amount of geography and current events (though it would seem very odd at this time if a non-NAQT set devoted a full 1/1 to both of these separately)
--having, or not having, up to 1/1 trash/pop culture




It seems to me like many of these suggestions are becoming consensus among well-established writers/editors, or have already become consensus, but haven't necessarily been broadcast to the wider writing world as such. I hope it's helpful to have this up-to-date primer, since many of the emulated distributions and topics on how to create a distribution are now multiple years old, and quizbowl in 2014 has realized a lot of things that it didn't know in 2009. That said, feel free to share your own thoughts, suggestions, and replies.
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Try my original crossword puzzles

User avatar
Cheynem
Sin
Posts: 6707
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 11:19 am
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Cheynem »

I'd make perhaps an ill-advised point that 1/1 social science maaay be plausible with taking a less quizbowly perspective towards the topic (although I do think M. Jackson's original rationale is very reasonable). Instead of looking towards "canon-friendly" or college type stuff like most anthro or sociology topics (stuff I at least never touched in school), I think more questions on civics/government, conceptual psychology (defense mechanisms, parts of the brain), geography, etc. would work instead. Granted, most of that stuff is better for bonuses than tossups, but I think it's something people writing social science for lower levels (including ACF Fall) should consider. A lot of the stuff I learned in American Government or HS Psychology hasn't come up in quizbowl and I think at least for bonuses that stuff would be appropriate and better to write than "hard work by Malinowski" junk stuff I see a lot.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger

Adventure Temple Trail
Auron
Posts: 2617
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:52 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Adventure Temple Trail »

Cheynem wrote:I'd make perhaps an ill-advised point that 1/1 social science maaay be plausible with taking a less quizbowly perspective towards the topic (although I do think M. Jackson's original rationale is very reasonable). Instead of looking towards "canon-friendly" or college type stuff like most anthro or sociology topics (stuff I at least never touched in school), I think more questions on civics/government, conceptual psychology (defense mechanisms, parts of the brain), geography, etc. would work instead. Granted, most of that stuff is better for bonuses than tossups, but I think it's something people writing social science for lower levels (including ACF Fall) should consider. A lot of the stuff I learned in American Government or HS Psychology hasn't come up in quizbowl and I think at least for bonuses that stuff would be appropriate and better to write than "hard work by Malinowski" junk stuff I see a lot.
But you said that four years ago, in the thread I linked above, and the intervening four years of attempts to write 1/1 social science for high school sets just haven't been done well, even when trying to be more "conceptual" or de-canon-ized. (In my personal experience, trying to fill out 13/13 gettable social science for BHSAT 2012 more "conceptually" was difficult enough that I had to decide to cut the category by half for future iterations.) Similarly, I've heard tons of people mention "civics/government" as a way to help fill the category, but haven't seen people discuss actual sets or questions that did so well. (Does someone have ready examples to post?) A lot of the concepts, as you note, don't lend themselves well to full tossups. At any rate, it's probably much safer, unless a set has a VERY experienced editor with a VERY good reason to expand social science back out to 1/1, to just instruct everyone to write less SS than that. At present I don't see any such very good reason.

You do raise the worthwhile point to future editors that, if they can count well and assign questions to packets properly, it is also an option to have a slight imbalance between number of tossups in a category and number of bonuses.
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Try my original crossword puzzles

User avatar
Cheynem
Sin
Posts: 6707
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 11:19 am
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Cheynem »

Well, I'll be honest, I haven't seen many sets that have used it well because I don't think there have been (I haven't done it either, so it's not like I'm touting some Buzzfeed-esque secret formula). But, it seems like a lot of social science writing gets hung up on "let's ask about this book or thinker" or whatever and less on things like "can you identify what franking is or the Majority Whip or the fact that there are 435 representatives," all of which would make good bonus parts. One thing we can point to is the recent successful Geography Bowl run by NHBB/HSAPQ, which shows an effective way of producing interesting, interdisciplinary geography questions that could fit into a HS distribution.

I agree with you that 1/1 social science for HS may in fact be unfeasible in many cases, mainly because tossups are indeed hard to do.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger

User avatar
Mewto55555
Tidus
Posts: 709
Joined: Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:27 pm
Contact:

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Mewto55555 »

Matthew Jackson wrote: --Including more than one world literature question per packet.
There is literally no official organization (not NAQT, not HSAPQ, not PACE, not ACF at the college level) which mandates that there be 1/1 world literature per packet. This is because there is far less world literature which is readily answerable by teams at any level than there is American, British, or other European literature. I suspect that the desire to put 1/1 world lit in high school packets must come from (a) misreading the ACF distribution (b) blindly copying college distributions from non-ACF packet submission college tournaments (c) a desire for there to be more whole numbers in the distribution and fewer fractions/decimals. Including too much world lit in your tournament is a good way to immediately make it suitable only for the top 50-100 teams rather than for all teams, as outlined well by Charlie Dees in this prior thread.
One thing that I did for most of the LISTs I edited which worked out pretty well was to set 1/1 as "other lit", and mix that up between roughly half to two-thirds accessible world lit (9/9 in 16 packets of LIST III for example) and the rest common-link type stuff. I'm a big fan of well-written common links, because they provide a way to test knowledge of harder things without limiting accessibility (but you need to be careful the lead-ins/middle clues aren't TOO hard).
Max
formerly of Ladue, Chicago

User avatar
naan/steak-holding toll
Auron
Posts: 2166
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: New York, NY

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

I'd just like to add that fact that most "average" high school players I run into just don't like playing 1/1 philosophy, 1/1 social science, etc. While staffing for the PACE NSC (which consciously limits the amount it asks about these topics in a way that some of the ill-conceived housewrites discussed here do not), I heard more complaints about the philosophy and [non-economics, non-psychology] social science than any other category as being stuff that nobody had ever heard of, or that nobody had any academic exposure to.

In contrast, the oft-maligned categories of geography, current events, general knowledge, etc. tend to go over far better with most teams. There's plenty of askable, accessible material in these categories, and there seems to be a positive trend in the quality of questions in these categories. I don't see what would be wrong with having a full 2/2 GK/current events/geography (withotu trash), and frankly I think it would be well-received by most high school teams as well.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16, Columbia Business School '21
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor

User avatar
theMoMA
Forums Staff: Administrator
Posts: 5757
Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2006 2:00 am

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by theMoMA »

Cheynem wrote:I'd make perhaps an ill-advised point that 1/1 social science maaay be plausible with taking a less quizbowly perspective towards the topic (although I do think M. Jackson's original rationale is very reasonable). Instead of looking towards "canon-friendly" or college type stuff like most anthro or sociology topics (stuff I at least never touched in school), I think more questions on civics/government, conceptual psychology (defense mechanisms, parts of the brain), geography, etc. would work instead. Granted, most of that stuff is better for bonuses than tossups, but I think it's something people writing social science for lower levels (including ACF Fall) should consider. A lot of the stuff I learned in American Government or HS Psychology hasn't come up in quizbowl and I think at least for bonuses that stuff would be appropriate and better to write than "hard work by Malinowski" junk stuff I see a lot.
Although what Matt said above is correct, I do think we can aspire to do a better job with social science in high school. I've seen a lot of good movement at the college level toward interesting conceptual questions that intersect better with social science as it is learned, and I think working to apply that to high school play is a worthwhile aim.
Andrew Hart
Minnesota alum

User avatar
ryanrosenberg
Auron
Posts: 1429
Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago, Illinois

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by ryanrosenberg »

I wrote 0/10 of civics for CMST 4. It's not high school level, and some of these stray more into what would normally be current events/history, but I think this is similar to what a hypothetical "civics/government" distribution might look like. Plus, this only covered American politics, and there's probably room for some super basic parts about comparative politics.
CMST IV wrote: 10. The 2008 Supreme Court case D.C. v. Heller dealt with this Constitutional amendment. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this amendment which establishes a right to bear arms.
ANSWER: Second Amendment
[10] The Second Amendment is part of this group of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
ANSWER: Bill of Rights
[10] Another amendment in the Bill of Rights is this one, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment".
ANSWER: Eighth Amendment

14. Identify these cabinet-level positions in the US government. For 10 points each:
[10] This position is held by the head of the Department of Justice. During the Obama Administration, it has been
held by Eric Holder.
ANSWER: Attorney General
[10] This financial position was held by Tim Geithner during Obama's first term and is now held by Jack Lew.
ANSWER: Secretary of the Treasury [or Treasury Secretary]
[10] In February 2013, Obama nominated the CEO of REI, Sally Jewell, to hold this position, replacing Ken Salazar.
ANSWER: Secretary of the Interior [or Interior Secretary]

4. Answer the following about part of the U.S. government, for 10 points each.
[10] This part of Congress has 100 members, two from each state. Its members are elected to six-year terms.
ANSWER: United States Senate
[10] This term describes when the Senate's unlimited time for debate is used to delay a vote on a particular bill.
Until the early 1970's, it involved Senators speaking on the Senate floor for long periods of time.
ANSWER: filibuster
[10] This procedure limits debate on a bill, effectively ending a filibuster. It requires 60 votes to pass.
ANSWER: cloture

10. This building located in Washington, DC, was struck by a plane in the September 11th attacks. For 10 points each:
[10] Identify this building that belongs to the U.S. military and is named after its distinctive five-sided shape.
ANSWER: The Pentagon [accept any answer that includes "Pentagon"]
[10] The Pentagon is home to this Cabinet department. Robert Gates was head of this department under both President Bush and President Obama.
ANSWER: Department of Defense [do not accept Department of War]
[10] The Secretary of Defense is advised by this position, the highest-ranking officer in the military. This position is the chairman of a committee that contains the head of each branch of the US military.
ANSWER: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [prompt on a partial answer]

6. This amendment guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of the press. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this amendment that also establishes freedom of speech.
ANSWER: First Amendment
[10] In the case Schenck v. US, the Supreme Court ruled that not all forms of free speech are protected, such as if someone were to falsely shout this in a crowded theater.
ANSWER: "Fire!" [accept answers indicating that there is a fire]
[10] The Schenck case established this standard for determining if speech is protected. The 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio changed this standard to "imminent lawless action".
ANSWER: "clear and present danger"

10. Every US state other than Vermont requires one of these. For 10 points each:
[10] Identify this occurrence, when a government does not spend more than it earns.
ANSWER: balanced budget
[10] The idea of a federal balanced budget amendment has been proposed to limit this from increasing. It is the total amount of money the US government owes.
ANSWER: United States national debt [prompt on just "debt"; do not accept national "deficit"]
[10] National debt can decrease in years when the federal government operates at one of these. Contrasted with a deficit, it means that the government is taking in more money in revenue than it is spending.
ANSWER: surplus

5. Answer some questions about the highest position in the executive branch, for 10 points each.
[10] This is the highest position in the executive branch. Past holders include George Washington and Calvin
Coolidge.
ANSWER: President of the United States
[10] This is the procedure for removing a President while he or she is in office. It requires the House to initiate the
process, and a two-thirds majority of the Senate to convict.
ANSWER: impeachment [accept word forms]
[10] This President was the first to be impeached. He avoided conviction by just one vote.
ANSWER: Andrew Johnson [prompt on "Johnson"]

18. The Huntington-Hill method assigns this body's 435 delegates to each state. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this body of Congress, where representation from each state is determined by its population.
ANSWER: House of Representatives [prompt on just "House"]
[10] Bills concerning these things must start in the House. Contrasted with subsidies, these raise revenue for the government.
ANSWER: taxes [accept word forms]
[10] The United States has an income tax system of this type, where the more money someone makes, the higher rate they have to pay for their taxes.
ANSWER: progressive tax code [accept anything with progressive in it]

10. Name some things about how a case gets to the Supreme Court, for 10 points each.
[10] The Supreme Court only hears cases of this type. Contrasted with a criminal case, it involves a plaintiff and a defendant.
ANSWER: civil suit
[10] In order to have an existing case go to the Supreme Court, one side in the case must do this. It means to ask a higher court to take the case.
ANSWER: appeal [accept word forms]
[10] If the Supreme Court consents to hear the case, it issues one of these "of certiorari [ser-shah-rair-eye]". One of these "of habeas corpus" requires a defendant to be physically brought to court.
ANSWER: writ [accept writ of certiorari or writ of habeas corpus]

7. This Democrat faced a stiff challenge from Sharron Angle in his last Senate race. For 10 points each:
[10] Name that Democrat, the current Senate Majority Leader.
ANSWER: Harry Reid
[10] Harry Reid is a senator from this state, whose largest city is Las Vegas and whose capital is Carson City.
ANSWER: Nevada
[10] Although Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, he does not preside over the Senate. That power goes to the holder of this position, which is third in the line of presidential succession after the Speaker of the House.
ANSWER: president pro tempore of the Senate
Ryan Rosenberg
North Carolina '16 | Ardsley '12
PACE | ACF

adamsil
Wakka
Posts: 218
Joined: Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:20 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by adamsil »

I largely agree with all of Matt's ideas and just wanted to weigh in on a couple points.

a) I don't think 1/1 chemistry is unreasonable, coming from a chemistry person, but a lot of HS chemistry questions are awful, and if you're writing a question about Lavoisier or Boyle's Law to fill the 14, then perhaps cutting the distro has its merits. I'm a big fan of mixed science questions--things like "One physical quantity symbolized by this letter" are not all that difficult to write, and you can even write element questions drawing from geology, chemistry, and biology clues. If you're writing HS chemistry questions, consider filling a lot of answerlines with common-link tossups on elements or compounds, because otherwise it's going to quickly spiral into titration/Nernst equation/"Name the following gas laws" bowl. A lot of bad element tossups can be written, but if you stick with Periods 1-3 and maybe a few famous transition metals, you're going to get better results. Similarly, it's a lot easier to find clues about ammonia than it is to find clues about the Haber process. Consider changing your answer line to improve the tossup accessibility AND make the question less transparent.

b) BISB last year had both 1/1 CE and 1/1 Geography. (It'd have been the same this year if I didn't concede on trash). Perhaps this distro is closer to NAQT than some people would like, but we also had a very high tossup conversion rate. I also really, really think people should consider going to 1/1 Current Events. This year, I'm trying to emphasize policy in the CE more; tossups on things like Medicare, for instance, which are unlikely to become obsolete by the time of the tournament, but which are totally relevant in the real world. I'm not sure why a lot of housewrites think having a token "We'll split CE with trash and then write nearly all trash" is a good idea.

c) I think 0.5/0.5 SS is a bit low and I'm increasing it slightly for this year's BISB (NOT to 1/1, but maybe something like 9/9 total in the set) because I think there's room for it, especially on bonuses. Last year, these were our SS answerlines:
labor (econ), the "self" (psych), The Great Depression (economic theories), the ICJ (politics), dreams (psych), Australia (archaeology/anthro), and the Fourth Amendment (politics).
depression/serotonin/CBT, FEC/McCain or Feingold/soft money, establishment clause/First Amendment/Lemon, treaties/advise and consent/cloture, lobbying/iron triangle/pork, frontal lobe/Broca/Tan, New Guinea/gender/emic or etic (about Margaret Mead). (And a bonus that went borking/Senate/blue slip that got rejected for being too hard). [The psych here might have been too hard too? I don't know anything about psychology]

The tossups got answered. Note the lack of tossups on people. There is a correlation. I can post the civics questions, though Brady wrote most of them. If you're going to write civics, it doesn't have to be a question on the Senate or the Speaker of the House--there's load of things like campaign finance or constitutional law or even supranational organizations that don't get a lot of play.

d) Frankly I think 0.5/0.5 World Lit is way too much; I think the only qualifying book I read in HS would be Cry, the Beloved Country. Last year's BISB had about 5 total world lit questions, mostly bonus parts in mixed bonuses.

e) Just in case anybody was wondering, it's totally doable to write 20/20 of a reasonable difficulty without trash. Coming from somebody who despises trash.
Adam Silverman
Georgia Tech 2012-2016
Northwestern 2016-

Adventure Temple Trail
Auron
Posts: 2617
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:52 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Adventure Temple Trail »

Yeah, if you're careful with managing spreadsheets/packetization there's no reason to restrict oneself to units of .5 in blocking out categories either, though it's often simply easier to do so.

I do find the discussion of "civics/government" stuff interesting, and am curious to see how attempts at that category develop over time. To me, it seems like the ideal category to expand/conflate with civics content isn't Social Science, but rather Current Events, which is often written in a pretty moribund list-of-names or gaffe-of-the-week style as is, and could stand to reward more understanding of how current institutions, programs, etc. (don't) work.
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Try my original crossword puzzles

User avatar
naan/steak-holding toll
Auron
Posts: 2166
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: New York, NY

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

I strongly endorse Adam's post, especially the bit about trash and boosting the current events distribution. It's perfectly possible to write a good HS set without writing [typically indulgent] trash questions. I disagree with the bit about world literature, since you can write some pretty simple things (tossups on big countries with long literature traditions, or questions on the major ancient Greek playwrights) but I agree that 0.5/0.5 is probably the absolute most you should be writing.
Matthew Jackson wrote:reward more understanding of how current institutions, programs, etc. (don't) work.
I further endorse the reinforcement of cynicism at a young age.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16, Columbia Business School '21
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor

User avatar
Ciorwrong
Tidus
Posts: 632
Joined: Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Ciorwrong »

--Including more than one philosophy question per packet. While there are some high schoolers who are naturally interested in the subject (I was one such high schooler), and some topics in philosophy come out through, virtually no high schools teach it as a subject and it's much harder to read, discuss, and understand philosophical texts in depth as a high school student than it is as a college student. Thus, it makes little sense to weight the subject as much in high school sets as it does in college sets, where way more people get way more exposure to those areas of intellectual inquiry who never had any of it before.
I just wanted to say I completely agree. I'm a philosophy freak. I read some of it, I am aiming to listen to all the Partially Examined Life podcasts, and I can power most HS tossups on the philosophers who deserve to come up. I'd say Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Locke, Bacon, Russel, Hobbes, and Hume are the guys that should be asked about in HS. I'm very irritated every time I see a Heidegger tossup while studying old packets, because no high school student would naturally encounter anything about Heidegger except that he was pro-NAZI. Likewise, I'm a big Kierkegaard fan, but he should not come up either. Has any highschooler actually read Either/Or, or have they simply memorized the SK stockclues? I took a high school class last year where we read a part of the Republic (part 4 I think), and the teacher had to give summaries of the work. If that's the case, why do these tossups expect quiz bowlers to read Discipline and Punish? I try to talk to other quiz bowlers about philosophy and all they can do is recite a list of works. Conceptual understanding is almost zero, because toss ups don't reward real philosophical knowledge enough. The amount of bizarre, generic clues about some philosopher's epistemology or metaphysics turn off many players from the subject.

I'm also irritated by the philosophical movement questions. I have only seen them on "pragmatism", "existentialism" and "empiricism". I have seen zero tossups on "logial positivism", which probably is more important to the current Western philosophical discussion compared to existentialism (and I'm a fan of existenaialism).

In short, I wish the philosophy canon would focus on people who matter. Who's more important: Sartre or Frege? Frege has never came up in a high school tossup outside of NASAT, where I was so glad he came up. Frege inspired Russel, Quine, Wittgenstein, Whitehead with his set theory and logical approach to philosophy, but Sartre is favored because he can also count as an author--thus making the tossup "more gettable". Philosophy should never be more than .5/.5 in high school because of the environment it creates. Memorizing stock clues (eg. "beetle in a box") is favored instead of actually reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus. The odds of a high schooler even understanding the work is low anyways. Don't ask about it then.

/end rant
Harris Bunker
Grosse Pointe North High School '15
Michigan State University '19
UC San Diego Economics 2019 -

User avatar
Dominator
Tidus
Posts: 569
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:16 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Dominator »

Pendit76 wrote:The odds of a high schooler even understanding the work is low anyways. Don't ask about it then.
I wholeheartedly agree that philosophy should be asked about less in high school quizbowl. I disagree quite a bit with your rationale though.

I dislike HS philosophy because I think that when you try to fit deeper clues into tossups but still fit the same number of buzzpoints into the same number of characters, a lot of the nuance is lost and things start sounding too similar, which makes tossups very hard to play. That same criticism does not apply to bonuses, though. The last iteration of IMSANITY had .5/.5 in the distro (for something like 8/8 questions) and were I to do another, I would put philosophy at something like 2/4 for the set. After all, the bonuses play better, but there is still just not enough in terms of gettable answerlines to make a .5/.5 subdistribution work consistently.

Your argument about only asking about what HSers understand is highly problematic. Does a high school really understand the existential angst that Camus wrote of in The Plague? Do they really understand the mechanism by which the Higgs boson imparts mass? Do they understand how great Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac would have been, and if they do not understand its magnitude, do they understand it at all? I'll defer those questions to you though because I don't actually understand philosophy.
Dr. Noah Prince

Normal Community High School (2002)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2004, 2007, 2008)

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy - Scholastic Bowl coach (2009-2014), assistant coach (2014-2015), well wisher (2015-2016)
guy in San Diego (2016-present)
President of Qblitz (2018-present)

Image

User avatar
Ciorwrong
Tidus
Posts: 632
Joined: Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Ciorwrong »

I dislike HS philosophy because I think that when you try to fit deeper clues into tossups but still fit the same number of buzzpoints into the same number of characters, a lot of the nuance is lost and things start sounding too similar, which makes tossups very hard to play. That same criticism does not apply to bonuses, though. The last iteration of IMSANITY had .5/.5 in the distro (for something like 8/8 questions) and were I to do another, I would put philosophy at something like 2/4 for the set. After all, the bonuses play better, but there is still just not enough in terms of gettable answerlines to make a .5/.5 subdistribution work consistently.
Thanks for responding. I'm actually reading the IMSANITY 2013 packets right now and the philosophy distribution has me scratching my head. It prompted me to make my previous response, actually. There was a bonus in IMSANITY about pragmatism which I thought was prosperous. The answerlines were: Willliam James, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty. Rorty is far too difficult to ask about in high school. He's a mid 20th century philosopher from America. How many teams would reasonably get John Dewey--let alone Richard Rorty? I also remember a Goedel tossup that was counted in the math distro: am I right? Goedel seems a little bit out there for high school as well (though I would have powered the TU).

I agree with everything else you said. Bonuses make more sense. There was a IMSANITY tossup on "existentialism" (I hate the "ism" questions as I said earlier) that mentioned Martin Buber. Buber is one of those ontological guys that make little sense to me. I heard a podcast on I and Thou and it made me think more about ontology, epistemology and the Kantian "thing in itself" rather than existentialism. The descriptions in the existentialism tossup were also vague. Why wasn't Camus mentioned. You could have very easily fit info about "The Myth of Sisyphus". If I'm confused about Buber, I feel a lot of high school students tuned out on that tossup until they heard "Sartre" at the very end. I would personally have one philosophy tossup per set, and I would run 4 or 5 bonuses.
Your argument about only asking about what HSers understand is highly problematic. Does a high school really understand the existential angst that Camus wrote of in The Plague? Do they really understand the mechanism by which the Higgs boson imparts mass? Do they understand how great Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac would have been, and if they do not understand its magnitude, do they understand it at all? I'll defer those questions to you though because I don't actually understand philosophy.
The difference between philosophy, physics and religion is simply based on the way tossups are written. Higher level (particle physics) is understood by many high school students these days. We have students dual enrolling in colleges, and we have students who participate in different Science Olympiads. There is no such event for philosophy, and there certainly is not as many philosophy classes as there are physics classes. It's not important in any HS tossup to understand the angst of Camus (I have never seen a secondary literature lead-in for HS literature on The Plague or a similar novel). Understanding the importance of the sacrifice of Isaac has almost 0 impact on the ability to get a tossup on Abraham. Understanding philosophy allows a student to power philosophy questions--like physics questions. The difference is that FAR LESS students have a working knowledge of philosophy as compared to physics.

Magnitude is relative, in my opinion, anyway. Understanding seems to be more a subconscious process, and is hard to quantify. Here we could go into the difference between the numenon and sense information (if using the Kantian terms). Epistemology is weird.
Harris Bunker
Grosse Pointe North High School '15
Michigan State University '19
UC San Diego Economics 2019 -

User avatar
vinteuil
Auron
Posts: 1424
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:31 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by vinteuil »

Pendit76 wrote:Goedel seems a little bit out there for high school as well (though I would have powered the TU).
This is a great summary of what is wrong with this kind of reasoning. If you know it in high school, someone else probably knows it as well or better.
Jacob Reed (he/him/his)
Chicago ~'25 | Yale '19, '17 | East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from...the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens

User avatar
Ciorwrong
Tidus
Posts: 632
Joined: Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Ciorwrong »

This is a great summary of what is wrong with this kind of reasoning. If you know it in high school, someone else probably knows it as well or better.
I think Goedel's fine to ask about in certain sets (though I'm certainly no Goedel expert. I need to learn more about mathematical philosophy)., but I thought the IMSANITY set I was reading was aimed at a regular difficulty rating. I couldn't imagine Goedel being in an NAQT I-set. For what its worth, I didn't find the Goedel toss up egregious. The clues were good, and I felt the power mark was placed fairly.
Harris Bunker
Grosse Pointe North High School '15
Michigan State University '19
UC San Diego Economics 2019 -

User avatar
Important Bird Area
Forums Staff: Administrator
Posts: 5610
Joined: Thu Aug 28, 2003 3:33 pm
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Contact:

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Important Bird Area »

Pendit76 wrote:I couldn't imagine Goedel being in an NAQT I-set.
IS #81 round 15 wrote:This man's namesake "numbers" equal the product of the first n primes raised to the powers given by an arbitrary mapping of mathematical symbols to positive integers. Those numbers allowed him to perform arithmetic on theorems and deduce that every axiomatic system contained (*) true theorems that could not be proven. For 10 points--name this Austrian logician honored for his incompleteness theorem.
Jeff Hoppes
President, Northern California Quiz Bowl Alliance
former HSQB Chief Admin (2012-13)
VP for Communication and history subject editor, NAQT
Editor emeritus, ACF

"I wish to make some kind of joke about Jeff's love of birds, but I always fear he'll turn them on me Hitchcock-style." -Fred

User avatar
heterodyne
Rikku
Posts: 415
Joined: Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:47 am

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by heterodyne »

Pendit76 wrote: The difference is that FAR LESS students have a working knowledge of philosophy as compared to physics.
I think you're underestimating the ability and willingness of quizbowlers to study philosophy. I'm not sure if, to use Prince's example, many more students understand the mechanism by which the Higgs boson imparts mass than the magnitude of the decision to sacrifice Isaac.
Alston [Montgomery] Boyd
Bloomington High School '15
UChicago '19
UChicago Divinity '21
they

User avatar
Corry
Rikku
Posts: 330
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Corry »

I don't know anything about philosophy, but my brother who actually knows things tells me that Godel is "wow crap so hard" for regular high school schoolers. The end conversion rates for tossups on Godel would probably be pretty high since everybody would just buzz on "this dude's incompleteness theorem" (I sure would). However, I suspect that the distribution of buzzes would probably be extremely bottom-heavy, and therefore not be ideal for a standard high school set.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor

User avatar
Auks Ran Ova
Forums Staff: Chief Administrator
Posts: 4102
Joined: Sun Apr 30, 2006 10:28 pm
Location: Minneapolis
Contact:

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

Gödel would be categorized as math rather than philosophy, and is much more accessible from math clues than otherwise. Also, "some non-quizbowl person said he's hard" is not a particularly useful argumentative tack to take.
Rob Carson
University of Minnesota '11, MCTC '??
Member, ACF
Member, PACE
Writer and Editor, NAQT

User avatar
Sniper, No Sniping!
Tidus
Posts: 706
Joined: Fri Nov 26, 2010 12:25 pm
Location: Pickerington, OH

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! »

Pendit76 wrote:
--Including more than one philosophy question per packet. While there are some high schoolers who are naturally interested in the subject (I was one such high schooler), and some topics in philosophy come out through, virtually no high schools teach it as a subject and it's much harder to read, discuss, and understand philosophical texts in depth as a high school student than it is as a college student. Thus, it makes little sense to weight the subject as much in high school sets as it does in college sets, where way more people get way more exposure to those areas of intellectual inquiry who never had any of it before.
I just wanted to say I completely agree. I'm a philosophy freak. I read some of it, I am aiming to listen to all the Partially Examined Life podcasts, and I can power most HS tossups on the philosophers who deserve to come up. I'd say Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Locke, Bacon, Russel, Hobbes, and Hume are the guys that should be asked about in HS. I'm very irritated every time I see a Heidegger tossup while studying old packets, because no high school student would naturally encounter anything about Heidegger except that he was pro-NAZI. Likewise, I'm a big Kierkegaard fan, but he should not come up either. Has any highschooler actually read Either/Or, or have they simply memorized the SK stockclues? I took a high school class last year where we read a part of the Republic (part 4 I think), and the teacher had to give summaries of the work. If that's the case, why do these tossups expect quiz bowlers to read Discipline and Punish? I try to talk to other quiz bowlers about philosophy and all they can do is recite a list of works. Conceptual understanding is almost zero, because toss ups don't reward real philosophical knowledge enough. The amount of bizarre, generic clues about some philosopher's epistemology or metaphysics turn off many players from the subject.

I'm also irritated by the philosophical movement questions. I have only seen them on "pragmatism", "existentialism" and "empiricism". I have seen zero tossups on "logial positivism", which probably is more important to the current Western philosophical discussion compared to existentialism (and I'm a fan of existenaialism).

In short, I wish the philosophy canon would focus on people who matter. Who's more important: Sartre or Frege? Frege has never came up in a high school tossup outside of NASAT, where I was so glad he came up. Frege inspired Russel, Quine, Wittgenstein, Whitehead with his set theory and logical approach to philosophy, but Sartre is favored because he can also count as an author--thus making the tossup "more gettable". Philosophy should never be more than .5/.5 in high school because of the environment it creates. Memorizing stock clues (eg. "beetle in a box") is favored instead of actually reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus. The odds of a high schooler even understanding the work is low anyways. Don't ask about it then.

/end rant
The fact that you left Rene Descartes as well as Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, and St. Augustine off your list based on your expert opinion but have David Hume shows you are either totally out of touch of what is not only important in philosophy, but also what is taught in the classroom (even without a philosophy class) or you're just typing names because you can. Wittgenstein's Beetle is not presented in Tractatus to my knowledge let alone as extensively discussed as it is in Investigations, so I don't see the connection. You see questions on movements such as "pragmatism" and "empiricism" because those are not only important, but they are well known and accessible. Do tossups on "stoicism" bother you because they mention Marcus Aurileus at the end (cause GASP how dare people know [blank] outside of a philosophy class and not read Meditations extensively)?

The position tossups don't reward conceptual knowledge ergo shouldn't ask about legit important people or stuff is one of the most bullcrap things ever. There's no reason not to reward a player who recognizes Hobbes or Rousseau from a history class and applies the knowledge they learned there toward getting the tossup. Expecting high schoolers to have deep, 10-minute conversations with you about Reveries of a Solitary Walker, Emile, De Cive, or Leviathan is probably a bit unreasonable, probably...
because toss ups don't reward real philosophical knowledge enough. The amount of bizarre, generic clues about some philosopher's epistemology or metaphysics turn off many players from the subject.
So how dare these hypothetical tossups that mentions two of the five branches of philosophy do so WHILE ALSO not rewarding deep knowledge as you claim. Also, since when did quiz bowl become about catering and advertising to kid's interests versus assessing and reward knowledge gained from a kid's interests?

In conclusion, I'm calling BS on your post. Your list of philosophers wouldn't be too bad and for the most part is relatively accessible even to non-philosophy players (which isn't bad since few high schools offer philosophy as a course) but as I'll reiterate, no Descartes but David Hume? Paragraph #2 speaks for itself, and paragraph #3... well it's somewhat disturbing a self-proclaimed Philosophy ace thinks questions that test knowledge that are intrinsically philosophical (e.g. any of the five branches) versus trivial (titles of books philosophers wrote, which is not that important aside from Plato and a few others) are bizzare and don't reward real knowledge, unless of course those are questions that are actually written in a crappy manner and you actually have examples you'll cite as opposed to this apparent talking from your behind you've been doing.

I'm not a 1/1 philosophy proponent, in fact I too want to see it at .5/.5, but as someone who took a college prep level course of philosophy and whose grade solely depended on the many demanding and extensive writing assignments I was assigned (I wrote about 40 pages in one semester when it was all said and done for that single class, and it was a well earned "A" since I had to show my understanding through writing as opposed to an objective quiz) I feel compelled to call people like you out in the interest of people who actually do know better, have a better grip of what people know and what is reasonably expected of them to know. Your comment about "lack of conceptual knowledge" and then complaining about epistemology clues was about the most ludicrous things I've read.
Thomas Moore
Lancaster Fisher Catholic HS c/o 2014
Ohio Wesleyan University c/o 2018

User avatar
Cheynem
Sin
Posts: 6707
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 11:19 am
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Re: What Works for High School Set Distributions? What Doesn

Post by Cheynem »

I'll just say that there may be no topic with a larger "gap" between high school and college level knowledge than philosophy (or perhaps social science). I would not expect high schoolers to have a lot of Foucault knowledge; many, many college students would.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger

Post Reply