Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

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Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Important Bird Area » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:21 am

Split from the LIST thread because I haven't read LIST, William asked about NAQT, and it seemed worthy of more general discussion.
AlphaQuizBowler wrote:
Charlie wrote:Geography and Current Events are academic topics, they aren't junk!
Fair enough. My point was that geography and current events are more prone to questionable answer lines because writers seem very prone to the mindset "I'm going to write a question on Random Country (or State) X and write almanac clues about its rivers and highest points," leading to many geo questions that aren't converted until the question writer mercifully throws in the capital as the last clue. Or "Here are some minor things that an active politician did: you have to wait all the way until I tell you his/her most famous position/action." This happens in NAQT, too, because of the prevalence of CE. In this set, though, some questionable choices on CE and geo, coupled with the more odd lit and science tossups, led to strings of questions where even the best teams were buzzer racing once a real clue finally got dropped or when they finally puzzled out what the question wanted.
The problem William describes isn't really "almanac clues" (highest points usually are, rivers usually aren't, in my experience). It's the suggestion that geography and CE are more likely to have difficulty cliffs (and therefore resolve the tossup on buzzer races) because there are well-known answers that have a paucity of buzzable middle clues. (Or perhaps: because writers are choosing the wrong middle clues.)

A look at NAQT's conversion data confirms that this is a real (if relatively small) effect:

2010 HSNCT, all questions:
78.5 conversion, 15.7 power rate

2010 HSNCT, geography only:

80.8 conversion, 10.3 power rate

2010 HSNCT, CE only:

84.3 conversion, 14.7 power rate

(Geography had the lowest power rate of any category except philosophy, which as Charlie noted in the original LIST thread, is notorious for its difficulty at the high school level.)

So, what should we do about this? Is the right answer:

1. Reduce the amount of geography in the distribution?

2. Turn particular answer lines into bonus parts, because they aren't suitable as tossups?

3. Do a better job of selecting middle clues that are buzzable in actual play?

All of the above? Discuss.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Sun Apr 24, 2011 12:31 pm

Something I've noticed about Brian Ulrich's editing style is that his early clues appear to me to be far harder than other early clues. I can't control for the fact that I know nothing at all about geography, though. (It's also possible that there is simply generally less impetus to learn the nth most famous mountain in a country than the nth most famous work of an author.) One strategy is just to make the early clues easier--I emphatically don't believe that geography is inherently unpowerable in the sense that there simply are not more than 300 characters of high school accessible clues for any geography answer line.

EDIT: I mean Peter Freeman, not Brian Ulrich. I heard Current Events and started thinking about the geography, and transposed their editors.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Deviant Insider » Sun Apr 24, 2011 1:41 pm

I don't think those stats prove much--move the geography power marks back one clue, and the statistics are pretty even.

I am in favor of fewer Geography questions in NAQT, though not dramatically so. I would also be OK with fewer Current Events questions, though I feel even less strongly about that.

One thing to keep in mind when writing Current Events and Geography is that they are less canonical than most quizbowl categories because there are a very large number of potential answers relative to the number of questions that come up. Also, with Current Events, reading packets from a few years ago won't get you too far for obvious reasons. (They are like trash in these respects, though this does not mean that they are equivalent to trash. Also, while it's fine to write some Current Events that was relevant a few years ago and/or will still be relevant a few years from now, some of it won't be relevant as long, and, for example, a Hillary Clinton or Egypt question written today will be very different than one from 2008 and one from 2014.) This means that teams who play lots of matches and read lots of packets won't have the advantages in these categories that they have in other categories. It also means that people writing questions in these categories who have a deep interest in them can easily overestimate the knowledge of the field, leading to middle clues that are too difficult.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kyle » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:18 pm

Jeff, do you think it might be possible to break down this data by American and World Geography?

My objections to the hugely inappropriate percentage of American geography in NAQT's distribution are well known and won't go away regardless of what the conversion data for them actually is. But I kind of suspect that writers faced with the task of writing about the United States for an American audience realize that people from the state they're writing about are going to have to play on these questions, then compensate by making the lead-ins really, really hard.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:45 pm

I'm not really following the argument here. Are people saying there should be less Geography questions because of how hard the questions are or how easy they are? I've powered three Geography questions this year and two of those I got because of real knowledge I had, having either been there or learning about it in class. I don't think we should see less Geography questions in NAQT. Geography is still a real subject, just like knowing the works of Immanuel Kant.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:48 pm

CavsFan2k10 wrote:Geography is still a real subject, just like knowing the works of Immanuel Kant.
No doubt, but why does that mean we need 7 times as many geography questions as philosophy questions in an IS set (56 and 8)?
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Mewto55555 » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:49 pm

jonah wrote:
CavsFan2k10 wrote:Geography is still a real subject, just like knowing the works of Immanuel Kant.
No doubt, but why does that mean we need 7 times as many geography questions as philosophy questions in an IS set (28 and 8)?
28/8 != 7

(it should read 56 and 8. even more dramatic!)
Last edited by Mewto55555 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:51 pm

Mewto55555 wrote:
jonah wrote:
CavsFan2k10 wrote:Geography is still a real subject, just like knowing the works of Immanuel Kant.
No doubt, but why does that mean we need 7 times as many geography questions as philosophy questions in an IS set (28 and 8)?
$\frac{28}{8} \neq 7$
(it should read 56 and 8. even more dramatic!)
Man, I thought I fixed that...
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:46 pm

Your speaking in Greek to me here, I don't quite catch the whole distribution idea, but I agree there might be too much Geography relative to the philosophy. Personally, I think NAQT can do away with the sports (and I'm someone who powers sports questions, esp. football pretty much all the time).
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:52 pm

CavsFan2k10 wrote:Your speaking in Greek to me here, I don't quite catch the whole distribution idea, but I agree there might be too much Geography relative to the philosophy. Personally, I think NAQT can do away with the sports (and I'm someone who powers sports questions, esp. football pretty much all the time).
This page contains the NAQT IS and IS-A distribution, and shows that in the 15 packets of an IS set, there are 56 geography questions, 8 philosophy questions, and (to use the other category you mentioned) 52 sports questions. In other words, there are 7 times as many geography questions and 6.5 times as many sports questions as philosophy questions. I agree with you that geography is "a real subject, just like knowing the works of Immanuel Kant", but unlike you, I do "think we should see [fewer] geography questions in NAQT".
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Andrew's a Freshman » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:57 pm

Out of curiosity, in NAQT geography tossups is preference given to states that are less populated? I recall in ordinate amount of tossups on the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, etc. I'm pretty fine at geography but, honestly, there's no way I'm going to power South Dakota.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:14 pm

Andrew's a Freshman wrote:Out of curiosity, in NAQT geography tossups is preference given to states that are less populated? I recall in ordinate amount of tossups on the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, etc. I'm pretty fine at geography but, honestly, there's no way I'm going to power South Dakota.
NAQT doesn't write great US Geography questions if you ask me, in particular questions that aren't about states, because there are examples where one could get hosed, in one case I did. But yeah I think NAQT is preference to write about states that are less populated because God knows if Little Sisters of the Poor Academy from Auglaize County, OH is going to hear a question on Ohio and have a lead-in about Auglaize County and three word it. So I think they are trying to stray from densely populated states considering theres a chance a team from another state is going to have advantage on a question about the state that team is from compared to the rest of the teams from the tournament in the other state.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Important Bird Area » Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:18 pm

Kyle wrote:Jeff, do you think it might be possible to break down this data by American and World Geography?

My objections to the hugely inappropriate percentage of American geography in NAQT's distribution are well known and won't go away regardless of what the conversion data for them actually is. But I kind of suspect that writers faced with the task of writing about the United States for an American audience realize that people from the state they're writing about are going to have to play on these questions, then compensate by making the lead-ins really, really hard.
It would be kind of a hassle to break down the data that way; maybe in June.

I agree that the NAQT distribution has too much US geography relative to world and have consistently advocated reducing the proportion of US.

I've never actually seen a question that I thought fit that last hypothesis; it doesn't strike me as much more likely than state-specific history or CE stuff (which, I suspect, happens more often).

(There's a current events tossup in our database that drew a 12/0/0 conversion line when it was played a tournament local to the events it described.)
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Important Bird Area » Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:23 pm

We have no policy against writing questions on heavily populated states. (Both: 1) it's entirely reasonable for teams to play on questions about the geography of their local areas, even if they will buzz earlier than the nationwide average and 2) we would very much like to have more tournaments in the Dakotas and Montana anyway.)

That being said, I do think there is a (very small) bias in favor of less populated regions just from the structure of geography questions. That is: sparsely-populated areas (think: western US, Canada, Australia, Siberia) will have more answerable geography tossups relatively to history tossups, simply because they have low population densities.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kyle » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:40 am

Well, hypothetically, a tossup on Texan or central Pennsylvanian geography (or current events) getting randomly assigned to the finals packet of the HSNCT might end up making a disproportionate difference to the results of the tournament. I guess I personally would be reluctant to submit such a question. (Then again, I did write the geography bonus on fires in San Diego County that got read to Torrey Pines' opponents in the NSC superplayoffs last year, so "reluctant" doesn't mean "unwilling" -- it's just that I would be very conscious of it when writing American geography)

One of the reasons that less populated areas are asked about disproportionately is that they are bigger. NAQT breaks down its geography distribution very specifically and requires a great deal of physical geography. Bigger places have more physical features regardless of their populations. Hence Montana et al getting what seems like more than their fair share. I happen to think that physical geography questions, and tossups in particular, are very difficult to write in an interesting way. Generally, I much prefer geography questions to discuss something about people's interaction with the land rather than just the land itself. Hence my oft-stated aversion to questions about mountains. But NAQT's distribution calls for a large amount of physical geography, so these questions are inevitable.

Aside from my belief on principle that a set's geography questions should reflect the entire world, having so much American geography (seriously -- we're talking almost half the questions here) is bad business for NAQT because it prevents them (you? us? Pick your pronoun) from expanding into potential markets in Canada and the UK. There was a thread very recently about abortive attempts at tournaments in Manitoba, British Columbia, etc. Couldn't NAQT make more money in such areas if they toned down the overrepresentation of American content in the distribution, particularly in geography and current events?

On the other hand, as long as we're going to have two national tournaments at both the high school and the college levels, I guess they had might as well be different.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:44 am

Kyle wrote:NAQT breaks down its geography distribution very specifically and requires a great deal of physical geography.
Based on looking at the distribution pages, I don't think this is true; what are you basing this claim on?
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kyle » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:50 am

jonah wrote:
Kyle wrote:NAQT breaks down its geography distribution very specifically and requires a great deal of physical geography.
Based on looking at the distribution pages, I don't think this is true; what are you basing this claim on?
I'm at a Beijing Starbucks with unreliable Internet not using a laptop on mandatory 90-minute archive break, so I can't really log onto NAQT's site at the moment, but it was my understanding that the distributions were pretty seriously broken down. Am I wrong?

EDIT -- oh, you know what? I'm conflating two different things. One is that NAQT's coding specifies every imaginable different kind of physical geography. The other is that Jeff's distribution for Geography Monstrosity requires physical and human geography to be equally represented. NAQT's distribution actually only breaks it down by continent. So I retract my comment partly.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:53 am

Kyle wrote:
jonah wrote:
Kyle wrote:NAQT breaks down its geography distribution very specifically and requires a great deal of physical geography.
Based on looking at the distribution pages, I don't think this is true; what are you basing this claim on?
I'm at a Beijing Starbucks with unreliable Internet not using a laptop on mandatory 90-minute archive break, so I can't really log onto NAQT's site at the moment, but it was my understanding that the distributions were pretty seriously broken down. Am I wrong?
I believe so. In the IS distribution, 28/28 geography is broken into 8/9 (or 9/8) North American geography and 20/19 (or 19/20) world geography; the latter is subdivided into 5/5 European, 6/5 (or 5/6) Asian, 4/4 African, 2/2 South American, and 3/3 miscellaneous world geography. The other distributions have the same subcategories and subsubcategories.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Important Bird Area » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:55 am

Jonah's right: all of our geography subdistributions are, well, geography based ("must have 3/3 per tournament about South America"); none of them are type-specific quotas ("must have 3/3 per tournament about mountains").
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kyle » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:00 am

Yeah, I was wrong. It's all because I think of you and NAQT as being the same, Jeff.

(PACE doesn't have this problem because all its members rush to express their own opinions in the same thread)
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Tanay » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:56 am

jonah wrote: 52 sports questions
There are 17 sports questions.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Boeing X-20, Please! » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:57 am

NoWayItsTanay wrote:
jonah wrote: 52 sports questions
There are 17 sports questions.
PC_Sports 40 26 / 26 1.7 / 1.7
26+26=52?
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by jonah » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:58 am

NoWayItsTanay wrote:
jonah wrote: 52 sports questions
There are 17 sports questions.
Oops, you're right. I read too quickly and didn't notice that PC_Sports was "Pop Culture and Sports" rather than "[A subcategory of ]Pop Culture[, ]Sports". Still too much if you ask me, but less egregiously so.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Tanay » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:58 am

Secretary of Bobcats wrote:
NoWayItsTanay wrote:
jonah wrote: 52 sports questions
There are 17 sports questions.
PC_Sports 40 26 / 26 1.7 / 1.7
26+26=52?
That's pop culture plus sports. Look at the subdistributions. Also, if you've played these sets, you know that there are not 52 sports questions.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Boeing X-20, Please! » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:02 am

NoWayItsTanay wrote:
Secretary of Bobcats wrote:
NoWayItsTanay wrote:
jonah wrote: 52 sports questions
There are 17 sports questions.
PC_Sports 40 26 / 26 1.7 / 1.7
26+26=52?
That's pop culture plus sports. Look at the subdistributions. Also, if you've played these sets, you know that there are not 52 sports questions.
Ah, I made the same mistake as Jonah. Still, 52 pop culture compared to 8 philosophy.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Tanay » Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:13 am

Getting back to the topic referenced in the title of the thread, I think
bt_green_warbler wrote:2010 HSNCT, geography only: 80.8 conversion, 10.3 power rate
(Geography had the lowest power rate of any category except philosophy, which as Charlie noted in the original LIST thread, is notorious for its difficulty at the high school level.)
is explained by the fact that for World Geography (maybe for United States as well?), most teams won't be buzzing regularly until the capital is named, if at all. This is basically never in power.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:13 am

I think going back to the comments about sets for Canada and The U.K., couldn't in theory sets be written specifically for Canada and The U.K.? Not necessarily for Geography, but for History and Sports...
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kyle » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:12 am

CavsFan2k10 wrote:I think going back to the comments about sets for Canada and The U.K., couldn't in theory sets be written specifically for Canada and The U.K.? Not necessarily for Geography, but for History and Sports...
And they are for the UK. Go check out Jerry's VETO thread. Anyway, I guess I mean for Canada in particular. There are tournaments on IS sets in Canada (meaning Ontario) sometimes, but it seems like there could be a lot more. It also seems like the sets wouldn't have to be re-written to be more Canadian if they were simply a little bit less American. No?
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Kanga-Rat Murder Society » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:11 am

I don't know about everyone else, but the implication that we should limit the number of Current Events questions or Geography questions because there is less variation in knowledge levels (in terms of quizbowl) seems troubling to me. As Reinstein acknowledged, a key reason for these "difficulty cliffs" when compared to other subjects is the simple fact that it is harder to packet study these two categories. I do not know if we can prove that this is the driving force behind the "difficulty cliffs" when compared to other subjects, but if we can, I would be really hesitant to change the distribution.

If we are going to change the distribution based almost solely on the study habits of the comparitively small "quizbowl community", I think that will really alienate teams outside of the community. Quizbowl's goal has been, as people on this website have said for years, to reward "things worth knowing." By changing the distribution not because of the merit of categories or answer lines within those categories, but because some categories are more egalitarian (due largely to the fact that people are packet studying), you are essentially turning quizbowl into an activity for the teams that study packets at the expense of the masses.

Maybe I am wrong about the role that packet studying plays, but I sort of doubt it. I have read four tournaments in Wisconsin, where I am pretty sure that nobody reads packets in their free time. At our tournaments, geography and current events do not have the difficulty cliffs of some other categories (in particular, literature). This, combined with my own experience around top high school quizbowlers, really has left me convinced that packet studying is to blame for the discrepency Jeff Hoppes talks about.

If people want to reduce geography and current events because they are less important than philosophy, fine. When people consider changing the distribution because of the study habits of certain players (which, as I read it, is being at least discussed in this thread), I think people need to ask themselves if that is really best for the larger quizbowl community.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Joshua Rutsky » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:15 pm

I know this might not be true in all cases, but I would add that the possibility exists specifically in Geography questions that there is a "distancing factor" that makes such questions more challenging for some teams than other categories. At least in my part of the country, Human Geography and World Geography classes, as well as Geography bees and the like, are 7th-9th grade classes--even the AP course. Geography as asked in quiz bowl--that is, questions about cities that rivers flow through, headwaters, boundaries of countries, etc. is no longer taught, for the most part, outside immediate historical context. I know that a couple years back I happened to get a kid who was a Geo bee nationals contestant, and he started playing for us in NAQT tourneys as a 9th grader immediately simply because I thought I could expect two Geo questions, on average, per packet, and probably at least a bonus or two that would be geo-related. He was a huge point bonus for us, and powered Geo questions pretty regularly. By the time he was a senior, however, he had seriously fallen off in his play on this category, as he had been studying politics, history, and literature intensely and rarely reviewing the geography.

I have spent extra time on geography this year, but it is very difficult to coach students to memorize maps. I'm not sure how to approach this type of study, and would love to hear suggestions of ways to learn important geo-facts beyond the obvious (buy an atlas and a subscription to National Geographic and have people read them). What can I do, as a coach, to facilitate study in this area?
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:03 pm

Joshua Rutsky wrote:I know this might not be true in all cases, but I would add that the possibility exists specifically in Geography questions that there is a "distancing factor" that makes such questions more challenging for some teams than other categories. At least in my part of the country, Human Geography and World Geography classes, as well as Geography bees and the like, are 7th-9th grade classes--even the AP course. Geography as asked in quiz bowl--that is, questions about cities that rivers flow through, headwaters, boundaries of countries, etc. is no longer taught, for the most part, outside immediate historical context. I know that a couple years back I happened to get a kid who was a Geo bee nationals contestant, and he started playing for us in NAQT tourneys as a 9th grader immediately simply because I thought I could expect two Geo questions, on average, per packet, and probably at least a bonus or two that would be geo-related. He was a huge point bonus for us, and powered Geo questions pretty regularly. By the time he was a senior, however, he had seriously fallen off in his play on this category, as he had been studying politics, history, and literature intensely and rarely reviewing the geography.

I have spent extra time on geography this year, but it is very difficult to coach students to memorize maps. I'm not sure how to approach this type of study, and would love to hear suggestions of ways to learn important geo-facts beyond the obvious (buy an atlas and a subscription to National Geographic and have people read them). What can I do, as a coach, to facilitate study in this area?
I take Geography as my Social Studies course as a freshman and we do learn about rivers, states, their largest cities, capitals, all that good stuff, adequately preparing us for Quiz Bowl in the Geography spectrum. I think a really good Geography player (not to sound conceited but this is my forte) is someone who likes to travel, reads Nat Geo/travel books and is very interested in social studies, especially politics. There is a player on my team who is a senior (our captain) who can list off every capital of every country alphabetically and paired with country. That is incredible, if you ask me. When I played with him in probably our biggest tossup/bonus event, I powered two Geography questions with him on my team, one U.S. and one World. I think Geography isn't a subject you can necessarily learn, its something that you be really interested in and pick up on. Just my .02
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:37 pm

Travel is a great way to learn geography. There is a world of difference between reading that Transylvania is more mountainous than Wallachia and actually travelling to Romania and seeing the majestic beauty of the rugged Transylvanian countryside after days of being bored by the flat plains of Wallachia. But I suppose most high schoolers don't travel much.

If you are interested in things other than geography, perhaps you can be motivated to learn geography based on the fact that knowing geography makes learning other things easier. I had trouble understanding many campaigns and battles of the Civil War, until I moved to Northern Virginia. Actually seeing the local geography (or even just looking on a map of my surroundings) made things much easier to understand. Geography shapes many other things.
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Unicolored Jay » Mon Apr 25, 2011 7:50 pm

As a somewhat-decent geography player who never took a class on the subject but did in fact read atlases and those sorts of books, I find that it's a tried and true way of learning geography, but it can be boring, even if you take the time to learn about important features of whatever you're looking up. Sometimes I feel like it's good to find out how important said river/mountain/desert/whatever was in a historical context or the other way around (learn the history first, then check out the geography).
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Re: Are certain categories likely to produce difficulty cliffs?

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat » Mon Apr 25, 2011 7:57 pm

Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast wrote:(learn the history first, then check out the geography).
This has been my strategy. I'm a decent, though not extraordinary, geography player, and I get the vast majority of my geography buzzes from history. I'll study the history of the Kerch-Eltigen Offensive or the Crimean Offensive and then get a question on the Crimea when they drop Kerch Strait. It's way more enjoyable than reading atlases (although I may be biased since I do actually enjoy history for its own sake), and gives you a way to learn two things at once.
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