Science Difficulty

Old college threads.
Locked
User avatar
Sima Guang Hater
Auron
Posts: 1859
Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2007 1:43 pm
Location: Philadelphia, PA

Science Difficulty

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:40 pm

So, in another thread, people have complained about whether the science was uniformly difficult across the board - that is to say, whether biology and chemistry were harder than physics. I offered the following grouping of my tossup answer choices into easy, medium, and hard (both based on clues and answerline):
EASY
bio (7) - # bladder # ferns # UV Light # nucleolus # muscle tissue # rod # Kidney
chem (8) - # flouride # Enthalpy # mercury # ammonia # Ideal gas #Hydrogen Bonding #isotope # nitrogen gas
physics (7) - # diffraction # resistance # scattering # power # cosine # drag # index of refraction

MEDIUM
bio (4) - # lysozyme # GABA # ATP synthase # trp operon (I'll defend this last one as something that's taught in AP biology quite extensively)
chem (4) - # elimination # Aromatic # Wittig reaction # C60
physics (3) - # boson # parity # Weak interaction

HARD
bio (3) - # zebrafish # Hox gene # Longterm evolution experiment
chem (3) - # extraction (being generous with this one - intro chem classes do it, but the name may not be particularly memorable) # gas chromatography (being generous with this one also) # Hartree-Fock method (this one is obviously hard)
physics (4) - # Fine structure constant # Vector potential # Lev Landau # poisson equation
But was told that my sorting wasn't correct. I would like to hear from both "science players" and "non-science players" about how they would sort these answers; I think this would provide vital perspective for future editors of science questions for regular-difficulty tournaments, because it's hard to get a perspective on what the community at large finds easy or hard without feedback.
Eric Mukherjee, MD PhD
Washburn Rural High School, 2005
Brown University, 2009
Medical Scientist Training Program, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2018
Intern in Internal Medicine, Yale-Waterbury, 2018-9
Dermatology Resident, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 2019-

Member Emeritus, ACF
Member, PACE
Writer, NAQT, NHBB, IQBT

"The next generation will always surpass the previous one. It's one of the never-ending cycles in life."

User avatar
Chimango Caracara
Wakka
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2012 11:29 pm
Location: Hanover, NH
Contact:

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Chimango Caracara » Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:16 pm

I think you have to distinguish between the accessibility of clues and the accessibility of answerlines. For example, "bladder" is a really easy answerline, but I would say it's one of the less accessible organs to toss up in terms of clues because (in my experience) you don't learn about it much in an introductory physiology class (like you do about pretty much every other organ). So I would put "bladder" and something like "zebrafish" on pretty much the same plane, or even say that zebrafish is more accessible clue-wise since in my estimation it would be more likely for someone who studies biology to have read about a research on a given model organism (which could touch on all sorts of topics) than research on a "minor" organ.

The other important distinction would be between people who study a particular science and those who don't. In that sense, I would say that "trp operon" and "lysozyme" are very accessible answerlines to people who study biology, but probably pretty hard for those who don't. In contrast, something like "UV light" or "mercury" allows you do clue for a wider range of knowledge among both scientists and non-scientists. In my mind questions should seek to reward actual knowledge of a subject and minimize the ability of players who have not studied that subject to get points, so I don't see any problem with having the first two be answerlines. For instance, the trp operon tossup probably allows you to differentiate between the levels of knowledge of someone who has taken an introductory genetics course and that of someone who has also taken a more advanced molecular biology course. This is, in my opinion, what quizbowl questions should do. The benefit of the latter type of question (e.g. mercury) is that they can also differentiate between people who maybe took AP Chem in high school versus those who didn't, for example. I think it's probably best to have a mix of these types of questions, since in the end you'll probably be giving points to the person who has studied the subject the most in real life.

But you also have to account for how often something comes up in quizbowl. For example, "aromaticity" and "weak interaction" both come up a lot in quizbowl. You learn about aromaticity in introductory organic chemistry classes, which most students probably take as sophomores. I don't study physics so I have taken only introductory physics courses, so I don't know when people start to talk about the weak force in any kind of depth. But in quizbowl, everyone knows what these things are. So I would classify both of these topics as very quizbowl-easy, but of medium real difficulty. In fact, as someone who does not study physics but probably has more of a background in physics than most players who do not study physics, I would say that things like the prevalence of questions on things like particle physics and goofy doubly-eponymous effects even at low levels seems like a barrier to rewarding people's knowledge of actual introductory classes (I don't think this was really an issue at this particular tournament). It still baffles me that the Diels-Alder and Wittig reactions are considered so famous and easy when to me they're exactly the same as any other reactions you learn in introductory organic chemistry. They are obviously important, but for someone who has only taken general chem, they're not at all accessible. I don't think the solution is to stop asking these questions (since they're important) but to maybe be conscious of how using them as answerlines might favor a history major who memorizes stuff for quizbowl over a freshman who's a prospective chemistry major, for example.

In terms of the overall science tossup answerline selection, I don't think there were any real problems. "Hartree-Fock" and "Buckminsterfullerene" maybe fall into that category of quizbowl-easy, real chemistry-hard, but the rest of the chemistry all seems very accessible (using introductory organic chemistry as a baseline, which I think is okay for a regular-difficulty tournament). The E. coli evolution experiment is definitely important, and I have read a paper about it for a class, although this may not be true of many other quizbowl players who study bio. I think bio is a somewhat different situation than chem or physics because it's (to some extent) less reliant on a unified introductory background, so someone like me could know lots of things about Hox genes and nothing about the bladder while the reverse could be true of someone else, because of the greater variability in what professors might choose to emphasize in an introductory course and the greater variety in specialized upper-level courses. In my case, Hox genes were a major focus of the first bio course I took in college, but it's very conceivable that someone else interested in bio could take a human biology course that covers the bladder as a freshman. In general, though, most of the answerlines seemed to be things that would appear in the foundational classes that I imagine most bio majors take (e.g. cell bio, genetics, physiology). I can't really comment on the upper-level physics but I would say that all the answerlines you designated "easy" were in fact easy.
Nick Jensen
UC Davis Microbiology Graduate Group 2017-?
Dartmouth College 2011-2015

Windows ME
Wakka
Posts: 177
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2008 9:06 am

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Windows ME » Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:12 pm

For me, the ones I would disagree with are:

BIO
bladder - hasn't been tossed up often enough for middle clues to creep into the canon yet, so I would not classify this as "easy".
nucleolus - see bladder, although this has been tossed up before a few times.
ATP synthase - see bladder/nucleolus but the opposite effect - its pretty ingrained into the canon.

I've never even heard of the longterm evolution experiment. Is it important enough to merit a tossup at regular difficulty?

CHEM
aromatic - this is bordering on high school difficulty minus explicit buzzwords and was very frustrating to play on.
The chem answerlines all look within the level of acceptable to me, as there is really nothing else that is offensively easy or difficult. But, as with bio, I think classifying your difficulty choices by "are there clues people would know" as opposed to "can people get it by the end" is a better way of going about things. There is no way I would classify the fluorine/fluoride tossup as easy for that reason alone.

PHYSICS
This looks similar to chem at first glance but I feel less qualified to talk about this here. But for physics/chem, unlike bio, I feel like the variance/standard deviation of the questions with regards to difficulty was ... less?. I'm only talking about tossups here. Definitely for chem/physics the distinction between easy/medium/hard wasn't as clear-cut as it was for the bio, though.
Sinan U.
U of Toronto 2010
U of Alberta 2015

User avatar
Auroni
Auron
Posts: 3013
Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2007 6:23 pm
Location: Brooklyn

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Auroni » Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:22 pm

You wouldn't see a tossup that tests solely organic chemistry knowledge in good high school sets nowadays.
Auroni Gupta
UIUC
ACF

Everyman
Lulu
Posts: 9
Joined: Wed Feb 01, 2012 4:02 am

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Everyman » Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:21 pm

fourplustwo wrote:I've never even heard of the longterm evolution experiment. Is it important enough to merit a tossup at regular difficulty?
I came across the Lenski E. coli experiment when doing some general reading for a discussion with creationists; the citrate mutation provides convincing evidence for evolution, so in that sense at least it is important. (For what it's worth, Lenski's responses to Schlafly and Conservapedia's criticism of his work are well worth reading.) But it seems odd to me that the citrate mutation would end up somewhere near the middle of the question.

I can't remember a lot of the science but the elimination question seemed clued to make it easy (e.g. the early mention of a specific reactive conformation, I think?) rather than medium. I found the Hartree-Fock question slightly baffling because I couldn't discern any pointers to "HF" over "variational method" or what have you, but that was probably due to me not paying full enough attention at some point. And, yes, extraction proved to be a completely unmemorable name.
Hugh
Oxford

Ringil
Rikku
Posts: 412
Joined: Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:46 am

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Ringil » Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:26 pm

I felt these things in physics were miscategorized:

Fine structure, the clues were pretty easy. So, I'd put it at medium.
Scattering: I dunno but the question was all on quantum scattering, which I don't think you encounter till you take the second semester of quantum mech. So, I'd put it at medium/hard.
power also seemed to only include clues from 2nd semester E&M. So I'd have put it at medium.
I'm not sure Landau can be categorized as hard. He's fairly canonical and the cluing you used was fairly standard.
Libo
Washington '14, Michigan '13, Troy High School '09

touchpack
Rikku
Posts: 347
Joined: Tue Sep 20, 2011 12:25 am

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by touchpack » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:28 am

I would agree that you have to consider the difficulty of the tossup at the end vs the middle/early clues. For example, while buckminsterfullerene is pretty easy at the end, I'd say it's definitely easier to get an early buzz on liquid-liquid extraction than it is to get an early buzz on buckminsterfullerene (compare requiring you to know various functional modifications to C60 from their descriptions vs knowing that a sep funnel has a stopcock on it, to look solely at the last clues in power). Other tossups I would characterize as heavy easy answerlines but less easy clues include isotopes, bladder, and the weak force. I find it kinda hard to compare the tossups as a whole--which tossup is harder: parity, which has a quite difficult answerline but rudimentary clues, or the Poisson equation, which has an easier answerline but much more challenging clues?

Here's my attempt at trying to arrange the questions (this will probably be somewhat off with regards to biology)
Ringil wrote:I felt these things in physics were miscategorized:

Fine structure, the clues were pretty easy. So, I'd put it at medium.
Scattering: I dunno but the question was all on quantum scattering, which I don't think you encounter till you take the second semester of quantum mech. So, I'd put it at medium/hard.
power also seemed to only include clues from 2nd semester E&M. So I'd have put it at medium.
I'm not sure Landau can be categorized as hard. He's fairly canonical and the cluing you used was fairly standard.
I'd say scattering and fine structure are at similar difficulty (both approx 2nd semester quantum material), with scattering being slightly easier. Agreed with power, but Landau--eh, he is very canonical, but I think quiz bowl has somewhat overinflated his importance. Purely from class-acquired knowledge I'd say Landau is quite difficult.

I can't really judge things like nucleolus vs ATP synthase and other bio things that well. Here's my best attempt at arranging the tossups:

EASY
bio (6) - # ferns #nucleolus #UV Light # muscle tissue # rod # Kidney
chem (6) - # Enthalpy # mercury # ammonia # Ideal gas #Hydrogen Bonding # nitrogen gas
physics (5) - # diffraction # resistance # cosine # drag # index of refraction

MEDIUM
bio (5) - # bladder #lysozyme #GABA # ATP synthase # trp operon
chem (4) - #flourine # elimination # Aromatic #isotope
physics (6) - # power #boson #Weak interaction # scattering #parity #fine structure constant

HARD
bio (3) - # zebrafish # Hox gene # Longterm evolution experiment
chem (4) - #C60 #extraction # gas chromatography #Hartree-Fock method
physics (3) - # vector potential # Lev Landau # poisson equation
Billy Busse
Illinois '14
President, ACF
Writer/Subject Editor/Set Editor, NAQT

Edmund
Wakka
Posts: 175
Joined: Sun Feb 07, 2010 8:25 pm

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Edmund » Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:54 pm

On answer line alone, I would say that Landau and fine structure constant are both middle-of-the-road appropriate to me, at this level. Neither strikes me as a hard answer line. I think that the fine structure constant is one of only two important unitless quantities you can toss up in regular difficulty physics (refractive being the other). I'd be interested if you can think of some more (Reynolds number, at a stretch?).

By contrast I don't think you can define _scattering_ as an easy answer line in the sense that it is a significantly more technical topic than phenomena like its cousins _collision_ or _diffraction_ that are familiar from high school.

I'd agree with your splits on chemistry, again looking just at the answer line. One exception is that gas chromatography does not seem in the hard end. Hartree-Fock and liquid-liquid extraction both struck me as tough - for my part, I'd forgotten the names of both. Obviously my deficiencies as an increasingly rusty science specialist have no bearing on the quality of your questions, but since you already made the remark, I would agree with you that _extraction_ is not really a memorable name, even if the process itself is memorable.
Edmund Dickinson
BuzzerQuiz
University of Oxford '11

User avatar
Sima Guang Hater
Auron
Posts: 1859
Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2007 1:43 pm
Location: Philadelphia, PA

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:21 pm

Edmund wrote:I think that the fine structure constant is one of only two important unitless quantities you can toss up in regular difficulty physics (refractive being the other). I'd be interested if you can think of some more (Reynolds number, at a stretch?).
Stretching even further, coefficient of friction, golden ratio, Van't Hoff factor if you could find enough clues I suppose
Eric Mukherjee, MD PhD
Washburn Rural High School, 2005
Brown University, 2009
Medical Scientist Training Program, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2018
Intern in Internal Medicine, Yale-Waterbury, 2018-9
Dermatology Resident, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 2019-

Member Emeritus, ACF
Member, PACE
Writer, NAQT, NHBB, IQBT

"The next generation will always surpass the previous one. It's one of the never-ending cycles in life."

touchpack
Rikku
Posts: 347
Joined: Tue Sep 20, 2011 12:25 am

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by touchpack » Sun Nov 10, 2013 5:06 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
Edmund wrote:I think that the fine structure constant is one of only two important unitless quantities you can toss up in regular difficulty physics (refractive being the other). I'd be interested if you can think of some more (Reynolds number, at a stretch?).
Stretching even further, coefficient of friction, golden ratio, Van't Hoff factor if you could find enough clues I suppose
Reynolds number isn't a stretch. There's lots of clues from engineering you can use. Also, QUARK tossed up "phase" once and I remember that tossup being ok. I can't really think of anything else off the top of my head.
Billy Busse
Illinois '14
President, ACF
Writer/Subject Editor/Set Editor, NAQT

User avatar
Victor Prieto
Yuna
Posts: 764
Joined: Tue May 08, 2012 5:15 pm
Location: State College, PA

Re: Science Difficulty

Post by Victor Prieto » Thu Nov 21, 2013 7:24 pm

I have been refraining from reading this discussion until I got around to finishing the set, and I was saving the last three packets for team practices, so I only finished the packet 14 last night.

I agree entirely with Nick about "accessibility of answerlines" and "accessibility of clues."

I guess I'll offer my own categorizations of the tossups as well? I suppose another data point can't hurt. This is what I think is easy/medium/hard in general, not just for me personally. My classification is not based on convertability, but on the clues.

EASY
bio (3) - kidney # GABA # ferns
chem (6) - elimination # fluorine # ideal gas # hydrogen bonds # isotopes # nitrogen
physics (4) - boson # resistance # power # cosine

MEDIUM
bio (3) - lysozyme # skeletal muscle # ATP synthase
chem (5) - gas chromatography # extraction # enthalpy # mercury # aromaticity
physics (6) - fine-structure constant # diffraction # scattering # vector potential # weak force # index of refraction

HARD
bio (8) - bladder # zebrafish # Hox genes # nucleolus # rod # Lenski evolution experiment # UV light # trp operon
chem (3) - Hartree-Fock # buckminsterfullerene # ammonia (note: I don't think nitrogen inversion is that well known outside of quizbowl, but I am unsure)
physics (4) - parity # drag # Poisson equation # Landau

I can provide reasoning for specific ones if necessary. I remember thinking during the tournament that the bio was hard, but I guess I am biased because I missed out on AP Bio. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the science in this tournament. It was fun, and it was hard.
Victor Prieto
Secretary, PACE
Tower Hill School '11 | Rice University '15 | Penn State University '20
Member (and lots of other stuff): PACE (2015-present) | Writer, Editor: HSAPQ (2013-2016)

Locked