May I test some questions on you?

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May I test some questions on you?

Post by cquillin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:45 pm

It occurred to me that there may be some here who would enjoy answering some questions (who can be first? :wink: ) as well as critiquing them. Hopefully you\'d have fun, and I would be the beneficiary if you would tell me if you liked the question and why or why not.
Natually, you\'ll be able to find the answer online -- but, still you might learn something and so would I with your forebearance. Ill start with one (already in my data base), and if there is interest, I will post a few more until interest is lost.
Ready?
Literature -- “Carpe Diem” (or “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you die”) is the theme of an ancient poem by a Persian tent maker. What is the title?

(Answer and tell me if you think this is pyramidal enough, or is it too short, please?)
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Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:48 pm

It's one sentence long, it's a hose for people to either translate the phrase or say Horace, the translation you gave isn't even right, and it's horrible in every possible way.

I'm happy that you seem legitimately interested in becoming a better writer, but part of that process is realizing that it takes longer than a few hours to do so.

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Post by cquillin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:57 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:It's one sentence long, it's a hose for people to either translate the phrase or say Horace, the translation you gave isn't even right, and it's horrible in every possible way.

I'm happy that you seem legitimately interested in becoming a better writer, but part of that process is realizing that it takes longer than a few hours to do so.
Yes, Matt. Carpe diem does mean "seize the day". That is one way of describing the theme of this author's work. "Eat, drink, and be merry", is another way of expressing the author's theme. Do you know the author, Matt?
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Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:02 pm

cquillin wrote:Yes, Matt. Carpe diem does mean "seize the day". That is one way of describing the theme of this author's work. "Eat, drink, and be merry", is another way of expressing the author's theme. Do you know the author, Matt?
Omar Khayyam was a Persian tentmaker and the Rubiyat is a poem he wrote. I shouldn't have to guess answer likelihood based on vague clues and my knowledge of what's difficulty-appropriate. And I doubt the "tomorrow we die" part is really implied in the theme of the Rubiyat, while I know for a fact it's not what Horace meant in the poem "carpe diem" is from.

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Post by Deviant Insider » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:07 pm

FYI cquillin: There are several people on this board who could answer any question appropriate for high school students and lots of questions inappropriate for high school students.

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Post by cquillin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:12 pm

ReinsteinD wrote:FYI cquillin: There are several people on this board who could answer any question appropriate for high school students and lots of questions inappropriate for high school students.
Ah, thanks for your advice. :roll: You and a couple of others not only have exceptionally high IQs, you have also conquered the art of graciousness. Shall I assume I am wasting my time with the pursuit of posing any high school level question here?
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Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:15 pm

cquillin wrote:Ah, thanks for your advice. :roll: You and a couple of others not only have exceptionally high IQs, you have also conquered the art of graciousness. Shall I assume I am wasting my time with the pursuit of posing any high school level question here?
Yeah, if your purported attempts to learn how to write well are just a cover for continuing to spam your execrable questions, maybe leaving for a while would be a good idea.

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Post by cquillin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:35 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
cquillin wrote:Ah, thanks for your advice. :roll: You and a couple of others not only have exceptionally high IQs, you have also conquered the art of graciousness. Shall I assume I am wasting my time with the pursuit of posing any high school level question here?
Yeah, if your purported attempts to learn how to write well are just a cover for continuing to spam your execrable questions, maybe leaving for a while would be a good idea.
If you don't perceive the difference between spamming and sincerity, then you have not yet learned all there is about discernment. I will stay in your group (unless banned) because there are people here who I have quickly come to respect. Their opinions are valuable to me and I appreciate their time and effort.
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Post by Deviant Insider » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:42 pm

I think it's OK if you want to post a question or two to get it critiqued. However, there are much better forums than this one for quizzing people. Also, don't expect to impress us--we have very high standards.

As Matt said, there were several significant problems with the question at the beginning of this thread. I could restate his criticisms more politely if it would help, but he knows what he is talking about.

Here's a question I wrote seven years ago:
This collected work of poetry, whose title translates into English as Quatrains, were not translated well into English until 750 years after they were written. The translation by Edward FitzGerald contains lines such as "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou." Name these works of Persian poetry by Omar Khayyam.

People on this board could find fault with my question, but it is much less likely than yours to cause a knowledgeable student to buzz in early with the wrong answer.

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Re: May I test some questions on you?

Post by ecks » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:43 pm

cquillin wrote:(Answer and tell me if you think this is pyramidal enough, or is it too short, please?)
Good pyramidality won't be acheived in a single sentence; it will usually require at least 3-4 sentences, although they can be (and often are) lengthier as well. Basically, you want to put as much distance between the beginning of the TU and the give-away clue(s) by adding in gradually easier clues so teams with more knowledge can buzz in earlier. When a TU is only one sentence, you will have reached the end of the TU by the time most kids will have figured out the general area of what the answer is.

Also, it should be pointed out that in the TU you provided, it's ambiguous what the question is looking for until the very end, with the "What is the title?" tag question. You should write the TU so a tag question isn't needed, as it pretty much defeats the purpose of writing pyramidally--kids won't know what answer the question is looking for until the very end, and that leads to the buzzer-race situation that pyramidality tries to avoid.

To avoid that problem, it's typical to start a TU off with a statement like "This poem..." or "This person..." or something like that, so those listening to the question know exactly what type of thing a question is looking for, even if they don't know exactly what it is. This is important, especially for literature, because if you start off just listing attributes of a poem, there are multiple things that could be asked for. Does the question want the author? The title of the poem? Something else? You don't want to make people pause from buzzing in because they know too much about a topic, which is exactly what will happen if they know multiple things about a certain poem/book/scientific theorem/whathaveyou, but don't know what piece of information the question is asking for.
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Post by millionwaves » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:58 pm

M(r)s. Quillin, I'm really happy to hear that you're genuinely interested in improvement. So many question vendors don't care that their questions aren't what people care to play on.

I've written a question with the same answer as yours above, and Andrew Hart (theMoMA) graciously agreed to edit it for me.

"One of its poems denies the notion of a hell and compares humans to pots that were marred in creation but will be kept anyway. Another compares paradise to a loaf of bread, a flask of wine, a woman, and a book of verse in the wilderness. The poems comprising this collection were first fully collected and translated in an 1859 translation by Edward Fitzgerald. For ten points, identify this collection of 101 epigrammatic quatrains, originally written by a Persian whose last name translates to "tent-maker". "

This question is designed first to reward players who have actually read the poems, with the first poem description. The second is a much more famous description, and rewards those who have a more passing familiarity. The third clue, about the translation, is apparently very famous, which I was not aware of. This was originally the first line; Andrew, aware of how famous it was, corrected it during editing (which, I hope, emphasizes the importance of another person looking at the questions before actual use). After the for ten points, I'm seeking to try to make the question answerable to as many people as possible; in this case, I believe that many people would be able to know a Persian writer, and in this case, his only really famous work. Ordering the clues in descending levels of difficulty allows people with more knowledge to buzz in first, and noting in the first line that I'm looking for something with a lot of poems collected avoids ambiguity.

Also, that length is 6 lines in Times New Roman 12 point, which is standard for one of the major question companies, PACE. NAQT, another major national provider, uses somewhat shorter questions on average, but still maintains the pyramidality. (usually)

I hope this helps, and again, I'm excited to hear that you're interested in getting better.
Last edited by millionwaves on Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Thank you

Post by cquillin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:58 pm

Thank you Christopher. Your suggestion is clearly stated. Again, I am printing it out. A class or seminar in question writing is not something I've ever run across. Though I read and assisted with setting up tournaments for many years, I never saw examples of what I felt to be GOOD questions. Some company's questions were so erudite that the students simply sat there blankly. I've never run on to questions that were considered (by the players) to be too easy. But, of course, I only worked on the lower levels; nothing higher than regional.
As Matt so cleverly pointed out, one can not become a good writer in a matter of hours. I'm not so sure that one can become a good writer without the benefit of suggestions and hints such as you and others have given me this evening. I am absorbing what you are going to the trouble to explain to me. I do enjoy the research and writing of questions and I do aspire to improve.
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Post by Wall of Ham » Thu Jun 28, 2007 12:06 am

I think what Matt is trying to say is that most quizbowlers, especially the quizbowlers on this forum, have experienced questions similar to the ones Quillin's writes, and finds them not as fun as pyramidal. Ill try to explain my opinion.

IMHO the fun part of quizbowl is buzzing and answering correctly, as well as beating the other team to the answer on the question. The example you gave only asks for the answer at the end of the question. Beforehand, some players may know both the translation, or the poet, or the poem, but will have no idea what the heck the question is asking for (as usually only one answer is acceptable and needed in quizbowl). Finally, when the question is read, if everybody knows the answer, as many players on this board do, everyone will buzz in at the same time, and basically whoever has the fastest reflexes wins the question.

I might rewrite the question as thus:

This poem's theme is "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die." Written by a tentmaker, what is this ancient persian poem?

While not necessary the the best format, this is a nice short pyramidal tossup, done simply by rearranging the words so that the most famous characteristics of the poem are last, and the least familiar comes first. It shouldn't take that much longer to write such a pyramidal question.

While I myself like long pyramidal questions as well, I don't view the shorter style questions Quillin's writes as questions to be avoided at all costs. I can see a benefit to leaving the actual question at the end: this allows more High school players to know more about the material being asked and perhaps they will take away from the question a little more knowledge home than they had to begin with. More is learned by hearing the question through than by hearing "This poem, whose theme is "Carpe Diem"..buzz...Rubiyat...correct...next question".

But, once again, my main theme is, it's not as fun. See, quizbowlers are nerds/geeks/whatever, people who value knowledge. They like learning knowledge, and when playing quizbowl, like to see their hard work preparing in and out of school to be useful. So when a question asks this poem's theme is "blahblah", and maybe includes a few lines/character, a person who read it can buzz in, and say the answer. Others who haven't read it but know a famous ancient persian poem that they've only heard about can buzz in later.

Ya know what: it might be funner just to play quizbowl and the questions. I think that if you played several rounds of high school pyramidal vs. several rounds of the shorter style(maybe from Chip Beale?) against your friends, you might like the longer questions. Then again, you might not: what do i know? Try a NAQT packet; they have a sample online. Playing Questions and writing questions are usually very different, but both can be very fun.

EDIT: Heh, a lot of people basically summed up my long reply...
Last edited by Wall of Ham on Thu Jun 28, 2007 12:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by First Chairman » Thu Jun 28, 2007 12:09 am

Hopefully you did see the PACE Writers and Readers Bootcamp for July 14-15. It is a pilot program for this year, but if you are interested and can attend, please register (go to the PACE Special Discussions subforum). Hopefully we will go through the challenges and construction of writing "quality" questions.

That said, I would like to make it clear that we keep the tone of our criticism away from personal impugning or attacks (stated or inferred) and we should be more civil to new posters. Similarly, those who request help should realize many of us who have gone through awful questions will respond appropriately when they see them.
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Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 12:17 am

Wall, it was helpful that you simply re-wrote my two sentence question; without making it longer, yet your way gave the players three chances or levels at which to buzz in. I see that it is punitive if the question does not indicate at the beginning the answer being sought. This is new to me tonight, mentioned by others, as well.
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Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:05 am

E.T. Chuck wrote:Hopefully you did see the PACE Writers and Readers Bootcamp for July 14-15. It is a pilot program for this year, but if you are interested and can attend, please register (go to the PACE Special Discussions subforum). Hopefully we will go through the challenges and construction of writing "quality" questions.

That said, I would like to make it clear that we keep the tone of our criticism away from personal impugning or attacks (stated or inferred) and we should be more civil to new posters. Similarly, those who request help should realize many of us who have gone through awful questions will respond appropriately when they see them.
No, I did not know of the Bootcamp. I'm glad you posted of it. I will definitely make all efforts to go. I am not overly sensitive to personal attacks and brash criticism. Admittedly, it is wearing after several posts of the same nature. Only arrogant idiots would believe their work was beyond reproach by all! And, arrogant idiots aren't interested in self-improvement.
Question writers are not able to benefit from knowing how their questions are received in most circumstances. They do not hear the player and coach comments about the questions. The only complaint that has made it back to me was a coach telling me the boys complained that there were not enough sports questions. Actually, I've made so many repeat sales and have had coaches compliment them; that I had no way of knowing how poor they truly are. Yes, it's embarrassing; but, I'm not ready to quit trying. I will simply follow your advice and keep working toward excellence.
Here, putting my questions out there for you to pan has been more instructive than anything I could have done. Had they been ignored or glossed over, I would not know how to change them to make them closer to being acceptible. Though there has only been a bit of unconstructive criticism; and I can understand the thinking behind that. Were I merely a spammer trying to sell questions to you, I would have deserved that reaction. And who was to know that I was not? Only those of you that took your time, didn't jump to erroneous conclusions immediately were able to perceive the truth. But, then -- someone had to respond in some manner. Thus, I do understand and bear no hostility.

I, too, was at fault for not lurking to get a feel for the tenor of the members of this group. However; had I waited (as the more prudent would) I quite likely would have become intimidated by your advanced knowledge and not posted, and not learned. I have printed out so many of your suggestions that I almost have a miniature text book! Perhaps my impetuousness has not gone without reward. :oops: Learning can involve a little pain ya know!
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Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:12 am

millionwaves wrote:M(r)s. Quillin, I'm really happy to hear that you're genuinely interested in improvement. So many question vendors don't care that their questions aren't what people care to play on.

I've written a question with the same answer as yours above, and Andrew Hart (theMoMA) graciously agreed to edit it for me.

"One of its poems denies the notion of a hell and compares humans to pots that were marred in creation but will be kept anyway. Another compares paradise to a loaf of bread, a flask of wine, a woman, and a book of verse in the wilderness. The poems comprising this collection were first fully collected and translated in an 1859 translation by Edward Fitzgerald. For ten points, identify this collection of 101 epigrammatic quatrains, originally written by a Persian whose last name translates to "tent-maker". "

This question is designed first to reward players who have actually read the poems, with the first poem description. The second is a much more famous description, and rewards those who have a more passing familiarity. The third clue, about the translation, is apparently very famous, which I was not aware of. This was originally the first line; Andrew, aware of how famous it was, corrected it during editing (which, I hope, emphasizes the importance of another person looking at the questions before actual use). After the for ten points, I'm seeking to try to make the question answerable to as many people as possible; in this case, I believe that many people would be able to know a Persian writer, and in this case, his only really famous work. Ordering the clues in descending levels of difficulty allows people with more knowledge to buzz in first, and noting in the first line that I'm looking for something with a lot of poems collected avoids ambiguity.

Also, that length is 6 lines in Times New Roman 12 point, which is standard for one of the major question companies, PACE. NAQT, another major national provider, uses somewhat shorter questions on average, but still maintains the pyramidality. (usually)

I hope this helps, and again, I'm excited to hear that you're interested in getting better.
That DID help. It was fascinating to read the same question "fleshed out" in that manner. What a challenge! But, like the scholar bowlers, I enjoy challenges. At this point, I feel that I'm going to have to research every question to find details and then analyze the pyramidial order of stating the question. And, I thought I could write one in just ten minutes? Not quite! Not a good one.
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Post by ecks » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:23 am

cquillin wrote:Actually, I've made so many repeat sales and have had coaches compliment them; that I had no way of knowing how poor they truly are. Yes, it's embarrassing; but, I'm not ready to quit trying.
You will find that in some areas of the country (such as Missouri), coaches and players haven't heard of pyramidality--and some even resent it, thinking that it takes too long, that constant buzzer races are more fun for the kids, etc. There is a consistent national trend towards pyramidality, however, although it may not have reached your area quite yet.
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Post by Kechara » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:49 am

cquillin wrote: At this point, I feel that I'm going to have to research every question to find details and then analyze the pyramidial order of stating the question. And, I thought I could write one in just ten minutes? Not quite! Not a good one.
The more you write pyramidal questions and the more you see the same topics, the faster you will be able to write. Obviously, you will also be able to write faster in areas that you are more familiar with...I can write a question on schizophrenia in 1/4 to 1/8 the time it would take me to write one on The Great Gatsby, which I've never read.

One thing that will be a huge help (and possibly much easier for you, being a teacher) is to get high school level (including intro college level, to cover what would be in AP classes) textbooks in areas you're not familiar with. This helps you judge what is high school level and gives you a good source for answers. For short questions, you might be able to write something pyramidal out of the textbook, while a longer pyramidal question might require you to get information from elsewhere.

Where do you live/teach, anyway?
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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:02 am

It is a long process for sure. I study a LOT before writing a single tossup. While this leads to me working at a much slower pace than would be required to write under a short deadline as is sometimes the case for a question company, you can still learn plenty and write in a relatively short period. For example, instead of reading the whole essay on Paul Cezanne, as I would normally do, just maybe skim and look for useful clues to include. I would definitely speed up if I were not just doing it mainly for learning purposes and secondly for writing since I still have a lot of improving to do as a player.

I definitely would recommend looking into that PACE writing camp as Missouri and the surrounding area desperately needs a quality writer to market to the smaller schools. I know that you consider them lower level schools and this is true of many of them but I believe that if they are challenged more by the questions, they will adapt their studying habits. Just look at NAQT's tournament results and notice their small schools champions. Most of those teams could at least hang in games with national powers. Brindlee Mountain is a relatively small school in Alabama which has had great success on a national level for a school their size (not sure of actual enrollment). Danville High School in KY is another good example as they won the small schools division with 500 students. We should be continuously challenging schools to improve as a whole rather than coddling them with easiness.


Trust me, I have seen some BAD teams in my years playing in Southeast Missouri and now writing for tournaments at Truman State. Those bad teams are usually the ones who are satisfied with those short questions because they haven't put any effort into getting better. However, there are some very small schools around here that have heard our questions and adapted well to the pyramidal nature. Those teams then know what to expect better and will perform better at the district and state tournaments. Also know that the district and state tournaments will be getting more pyramidal if one of the hsquizbowl.org writers gets the contract with MSHSAA so pyramidality is most likely the way quiz bowl will be shifting as a whole in MO.

If you want to see a tournament run on pyramidal questions, we will be hosting our high school tournament on Saturday, October 13th. It will be a qualifier for the PACE national tournament so I will be making sure the questions are up to the proper standards although I can't guarantee they will be perfect (they never are).



**also a note on Grammar/vocab/spelling..... I know that MSHSAA includes this in their provisions but they only SUGGEST that you include it in your questions..... Ask Christopher about some of his LA questions as he wrote all of them for our last tournament. I will say that only one of them was spelling and I will not be including ANY spelling in our Fall tournament and vocabulary will be limited to a question setup like that mentioned by Reinstein (at least I believe it was Reinstein).

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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:05 am

Kechara wrote:
cquillin wrote: At this point, I feel that I'm going to have to research every question to find details and then analyze the pyramidial order of stating the question. And, I thought I could write one in just ten minutes? Not quite! Not a good one.
The more you write pyramidal questions and the more you see the same topics, the faster you will be able to write. Obviously, you will also be able to write faster in areas that you are more familiar with...I can write a question on schizophrenia in 1/4 to 1/8 the time it would take me to write one on The Great Gatsby, which I've never read.

One thing that will be a huge help (and possibly much easier for you, being a teacher) is to get high school level (including intro college level, to cover what would be in AP classes) textbooks in areas you're not familiar with. This helps you judge what is high school level and gives you a good source for answers. For short questions, you might be able to write something pyramidal out of the textbook, while a longer pyramidal question might require you to get information from elsewhere.

Where do you live/teach, anyway?


I agree there. However, textbooks often provide information out of its proper context for someone who knows little about the subject. It is not practical to read the whole textbook for one tossup. What I have found extremely helpful is using my old notes from classes. These usually provide good examples that the teachers will throw in that are applicable to the questions.

However, I am not sure if you have a ready supply of high school or college students with notes on subjects you need help with so that may not be practical either.

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Post by First Chairman » Thu Jun 28, 2007 7:46 am

Because I forgot the link, here's the registration site for the Bootcamp. Again, it's a pilot project this year, but we intend to get the workshop and format structured to run it "in full" next year.

http://survey.ssg.gmu.edu/survey/entry. ... 9715052025
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Post by Kechara » Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:17 am

Kentb426 wrote: It is not practical to read the whole textbook for one tossup.
Of course it's not. What is practical, though, is to skim the textbook, writing down bolded words and key concepts to generate an answer list for all of the biology, US History/economics questions that one will be writing for a given set. What I find easiest is to, in addition to writing down a list, flag the pages with Post-it notes that I've written the potential answer on so that I can easily find each one again when I write the question.
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Post by Kechara » Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:19 am

Using a textbook as a source for answer ideas does also help keep the answer selection close to the Missouri curriculum, the website says that they aim to do.
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Post by Ryan » Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:06 am

As someone who has actually attended a tournament in March a Reed's Spring utilizing your questions perhaps can offer some insights.

Your questions were very poor in comparison to every other tournament I have ever attended as there were many more problems in the set your provided other than not being pyramidal.

It's been a few months so I can't remember many specific examples. There were far to many mistakes in actually getting the correct answer on the piece of paper. Your math questions especially which at least once per game there was an error in the answer to the question. Also I think asking questions such as "what is a 90 degree angle" is a little inappropriate for a high school competition much less 4 questions along those lines in one tournament.

There were also a significant number of repeats including the exact same question coming up twice in the same.

Your answer selection seemed rather poor. In literature especially where I and the other teams there had never heard of. You also managed to butcher the title of Bless Me Ultima one of the few books I had heard of.
Also there were a lot of sci-fi and fantasy which I answered but they were fairly difficult even so. If you are going to ask such questions ask about Asimov or Wells not Orson Scott Card's most obscure work.

Anyway that's all the comments I can think of off the top of my head.

It's good to see you are trying to get better at question writing as the questions you provided were very disappointing for most of us who attended this tournament. Most teams have pretty tight budgets and it can be pretty upsetting to have wasted an entire Saturday and a large chunk of your team's budget on a tournament with awful questions. It can also hurt a tournament's reputation because while the tournament a Reed's Spring was very well run the poor questions definatly made it a sub-par tournament experience.

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To Christopher, Jessie, Kent and Ryan

Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:51 am

Christopher – Your mention that pyramid-style in some areas is resented was noted by me before I made my first attempts seven years ago. As a reader, I heard complaints that the questions were so long that by the conclusion, the earlier information had been forgotten or obscured by non-essential details. My first buyer (coach) actually gave me suggestions that I should intentionally throw in false leads in a long question! Obviously this mind-set is changing and I have been unaware.

Jessie- I retired from 25 years as a K-12 (mostly HS) librarian in the Lamar, Missouri area. I have mainly used textbooks as sources and am familiar with the curriculum (MSIP committee during several cycles). Schools in rural areas tend to have enrollments of around 600 in grades 9 – 12.

Kent- I hope that the pilot PACE writing camp, that E.T. Chuck called to my attention, will be so successful that more camps will be held in other regions of the country. DC is a fabulous place (I was privileged to be an instructor in the Presidential Classroom three summers ago). But, at this time I am not financially able to take advantage of this opportunity. St. Louis would be a convenient central locale some day. hint, hint!

I agree that school size does not (or should not) dictate success or failure. So much depends on the coach’s interest and ability to promote the academic team and inspire students to a higher standard.

I would LOVE to come to KV on Oct. 13. I’m putting it on my calendar NOW!

Ryan – I am fortunate to have your feedback, especially the specifics that you enumerated. Perhaps I can salvage myself by using advice I’ve gained here to improve and revamp my questions, and offer free sets to RS.

The errors noted in math answers does surprise me as I’ve used teacher’s manuals with answers as the basis, changing only enough to avoid plagiarism (not the numbers). For the literature category, I feel that not enough questions cover newer works. IMO, students should be encouraged to continue reading recent novels and popular non-fiction rather than expecting only questions on the classics. To formulate questions from more current books, I check the ALA site for lists of recommended reading for teens and young adults (as well as adult books appropriate for young readers). I also include questions from Newbery and other award winners that HS students should have read as upper elementary and JH students. From there I read summaries posted by ALA and amazon.com using outstanding characters and plot lines to compose the question.

My very first attempt at writing tournament questions was a disaster. A local coach was desperate and prevailed upon me to write fourteen short sets (1,162 questions) giving me one month. There were around 30 teams participating. If you think my questions are bad NOW…!

Thanks to all posters for your interest and consideration. None of your advice and suggestions will go unheeded.
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Post by millionwaves » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:06 pm

cquillin wrote: That DID help. It was fascinating to read the same question "fleshed out" in that manner. What a challenge! But, like the scholar bowlers, I enjoy challenges. At this point, I feel that I'm going to have to research every question to find details and then analyze the pyramidial order of stating the question. And, I thought I could write one in just ten minutes? Not quite! Not a good one.
I'm glad it helped!

Writing longer, pyramidal questions like that can be a challenge, yes, but you're embracing it, which is exciting. The whole process of writing it and editing it took 15-20 minutes, which I suppose does sort of cut your productivity. Good sources can really help with that, though. If you can get all of your information in 2 places (all of the information for that came from Masterplots and Benet's Readers' Encyclopedia, for instance), it'll save you on time, I think.
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Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:22 pm

Another thing is that thematic clues are not generally good clues for early in questions because they are non-unique. That leads to situations where the question is unanswerable until a late point, penalizes knowledge, or both.
To take up the example of your question, someone with extensive knowledge of poetry is likely to know a large number of poems whose themes could be summarized "Carpe Diem," (for example, a well-read high schooler might know the eleventh Horatian ode that originated the phrase, Herrick's "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time," "The Rubaiyat," and some others.) Therefore, your first clue is of little use to that person: they would likely be prevented from buzzing or led to buzz with an answer that fits the clue but is wrong. Conversely, someone who knows very little about poetry might only know "The Rubaiyat" and be able to convert your lead-in.
Anyway, as a more basic principle, questions should reward knowledge first and foremost. That means starting with harder, but uniquely identifying, clues and working your way towards easier ones. You can do that even if your market demands questions with only three or four clues.

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Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:32 pm

Excellently stated point, MaS. Thank you for your attention.
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Re: To Christopher, Jessie, Kent and Ryan

Post by Kechara » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:56 pm

cquillin wrote: For the literature category, I feel that not enough questions cover newer works. IMO, students should be encouraged to continue reading recent novels and popular non-fiction rather than expecting only questions on the classics. To formulate questions from more current books, I check the ALA site for lists of recommended reading for teens and young adults (as well as adult books appropriate for young readers). I also include questions from Newbery and other award winners that HS students should have read as upper elementary and JH students. From there I read summaries posted by ALA and amazon.com using outstanding characters and plot lines to compose the question.
Whether to use newer works is a question of some debate in the quizbowl community. One benchmark that some people use for newer books is whether it is assigned reading or a summer reading choice for any curriculums (although that doesn't help much in some areas that hate to teach newer books). Another way that some writers and tournament directors work that type of thing in is to have a section of the distribution for "general knowledge" instead of putting it in "literature." That's where my question about The Killer Angels ended up one year, for instance. This tends to include newer books, but also things that don't fit as well into other categories, like a question about tanks. For the books that HS students might have read in elementary or middle school, many tournament writers put that into the pop culture section of the distribution.

Different people have different philosophies on this subject, and you are certainly welcome to your own. I'm just providing this as a quick summary of the most common points of view and ways that people include newer books.
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Literature - new as well as classic?

Post by cquillin » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:24 pm

Yes, new vs. classic literature has long been discussed with highly divergent opinions. I think the answer for me will probably be to include a mix under the literature category. Of course with a library background, I encourage reading for enjoyment as well as for knowledge. There are many excellent novels and children's books of the past decade that I think could be future classics, and should be in high school student’s knowledge base. For example, who could forget Shiloh by Naylor and Holes by Sachar? There really aren't any definitive answers as to their appropriate category: literature or popular culture?

Popular Culture is a newer category that was not in existence in Missouri when I started. I would think that movies, television, current music would be the prime subjects in this area. Earlier these types of questions either had to be squeezed in Arts (under performing arts- nebulous) or most safely in Miscellaneous.
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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:47 pm

I would consider children's literature to be in pop culture mainly because by the time we are in high school, those books are long past us and should be treated more as fond memories of easier times rather than on the same level as Thomas Mann, Virgil, Oe, Borges, etc.

While Shiloh and Holes are good reads for kids, the target audience is high school students who have been studying works more relevant to their progression in learning. While Shiloh is a good story about a boy and his dog, I don't see it as having a place in high school quiz bowl unless in pop culture because even non-intellectual kids have probably read it at some point or seen the movie.

As far as pop culture in general goes, I try to limit it as much as possible. While the questions are fun, they can also determine a game and I do not believe games should be swayed by too much pop culture because again, non-intellectuals and some intelligent monkies can get pop culture questions. At our high school tournament, I have one question per round reserved for all things TRASH and that is more than enough even though I enjoy reading, writing, and playing those questions.

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Post by catsasslippers » Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:23 pm

I think perhaps your reasoning for writing many tossups on more popular/children's lit is flawed. You said that students should be encouraged to read recent novels, and to not just expect questions on the classics. Student who are involved in quizbowl read for pleasure without any prodding. If they're serious their reading list won't consist of only things that they believe will come up in quizbowl. It is also mainly a high school (and middle school) activity. As a high school student I know I want to be challenged. I didn't join quizbowl so I could be asked about Maniac Magee and Wringer .
As a fun respite from grueling answer choices, include them as part of the popular culture or general knowledge distribution. I don't want to give up my tossup on Ward No. 6 for Jerry Spinelli.
While I find some of your reasoning flawed, I would like to commend you on coming onto these forums to better yourself as a question writer, and for putting up with some of the less than pleasant feedback.

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Post by quizbowllee » Fri Jun 29, 2007 12:01 am

I have read this thread with great interest. I started out writing terrible questions because it was all I knew. Fortunately, I have learned to write much better ones through experience. I am ashamed when I look at some of the questions I wrote when I first started.... :cry:

Anyway, as a quiz bowl coach AND a literature teacher, I URGE you to avoid writing about "new" literature until a work has had sufficient time to prove its relevancy in the literary world. If a book has caused significant (like Da Vinci Code levels) controversy and gained extreme news-worthiness in a short amount of time, then perhaps ease it into your questions. Otherwise, stick to the tried-and-true. You do want your questions to be ANSWERED, right?

Also, avoid young adult books and Newberry winners like the plague.

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Post by First Chairman » Fri Jun 29, 2007 6:38 am

And absolutely avoid Harry Potter. Please. Maybe once every few tournaments, but not once every game.
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Post by Deviant Insider » Fri Jun 29, 2007 9:05 am

If your questions are good, some very good students will leave the tournament thinking "Gee, I need to read more ________." If it's my questions, I want students to fill in that blank with books I think are worthwhile for strong high school students. As long as I write questions, there will always be a significant number about books in the high school and college curricula. I don't want students to think that the secret to getting better at high school quizbowl is to read books aimed at a 6th grade audience, even though there are some very good books aimed at a 6th grade audience. (If your questions are bad, some very good students will leave the tournament thinking, "Gee, I need to join the ______ team.")

Dr. Chuck is absolutely correct about Harry Potter. Congress should pass a law stating that every tournament should have at most one Harry Potter question, tossup or bonus. Furthermore, because Harry Potter bonuses always get swept, they should be worth fewer points than other bonuses.

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Well justified points

Post by cquillin » Fri Jun 29, 2007 9:15 am

All of you are in agreement, and I'm glad to see the points you've made. Thank you for taking the time to post. There will be no more "fluffy" literature questions.
Don't worry about my "feelings". A sensitive person does not long "make it" as a high school teacher. They will go on to other professions. One poster above recognizes that earlier questions written are awful. Perfection will never be reached; but, a worthy individual will always strive toward that goal. There are times we are all teachers as well as students.
Last edited by cquillin on Fri Jun 29, 2007 11:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Jun 29, 2007 11:02 am

For some reason this thread wasn't marked as unread until now, so I've only now come upon this stuff.

I'm glad to see that another Missourian is trying to improve themselves as question writers. Right now the vast majority of tournaments here (including the state championship) use hideous questions. If we can get just a few more that are good then that's a good step in the right direction.

For the reasons stated above, your questions up to now have been bad. Now I hope you can expand out to good stuff. Something I would recommend is going through the Stanford Archives (someone else post the link, I'm lazy) and reading packets there. Bear in mind that they are mostly college, with some high school tournaments thrown in, so not everything there is appropriate to ask about for High Schoolers (especially many of those in Missouri. I guess we unfortunately proved at HSNCT that, other than NKC, Missouri's best is only mediocre nationally on really hard stuff). However, I do encourage you to try incorporating some of that hard material into questions about easier things in hopes of expanding the canon. Also, read a number of guides on how to write good questions (same deal, I'll post the links later).

Please do not do childrens/youth lit. That's bad.
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Post by cquillin » Fri Jun 29, 2007 11:07 am

Thanks, Charlie! All feedback is great to have, but that coming from "home" is particularly interesting.
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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:32 am

here's the Stanford Archive link http://quizbowl.stanford.edu/archive/. Here's the ACF stuff with some writing guides http://www.acf-quizbowl.com/documents.html

Here's another writing guide that I found decent too http://www.umich.edu/~uac/mac/rules/memorandum2002.html

Bear in mind that everything here is for colleges. It would be totally inappropriate, for instance, to ask ACF difficulty questions in Missouri because the final scores would probably end up 0-0 with no possible tiebreaking. However, the general principles of ACF and company are mostly applicable to lower level high school events (with some adaptations for format, math content, question length). However, I encourage you to include some 'canon expanding' clues as the openers to easier tossups that you write for Missouri. That to me is the best way to expand quality quizbowl into this region. Once teams master those 2 or 3 liners, then there might be more of a movement to even longer, more difficult questions. However, I know there's a ton a coach inertia here, so don't expect anything overnight. I'd be willing to help overlook some of your sets that you're working on, too (as I'm sure many quality editors who use this board would) to try and work more directly with you. My email is charlie16 at gmail dot com.
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Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:36 am

charlieDfromNKC wrote:here's the Stanford Archive link http://quizbowl.stanford.edu/archive/. Here's the ACF stuff with some writing guides http://www.acf-quizbowl.com/documents.html

Here's another writing guide that I found decent too http://www.umich.edu/~uac/mac/rules/memorandum2002.html
You should definitely ignore all extant writing guides except Jerry's at http://www.acf-quizbowl.com/documents/howtowrite.html . The Michigan one is very out of date as are the similar documents on which it was based.

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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:38 am

The Michigan one I found to be more easily applicable to a place like Missouri (because of the topics it addresses). Matt, I don't think you understand the true magnitude of how far behind Missouri is.
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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:58 am

charlieDfromNKC wrote:The Michigan one I found to be more easily applicable to a place like Missouri (because of the topics it addresses). Matt, I don't think you understand the true magnitude of how far behind Missouri is.
QFT

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Grateful!

Post by cquillin » Mon Jul 02, 2007 6:55 am

Charlie, thanks for your offer to scan questions for me. I just may take you up on that! I'm relieved to see that both you and Kent feel that Missouri is seriously behind. That does make me feel a tiny bit less retarded; as I've been supplying what I thought was wanted, but this group has made me aware of a changing climate. On my web site I had indicated that I would attempt to post decent questions as samples by July 6th. Things have been crazy and will continue that way until after the 4th; so I may have late "homework". :oops:
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Sample question for your critique

Post by cquillin » Mon Jul 02, 2007 11:07 am

If you have time and are inclined to mess with it, I have written a question I think is better (thanks to your suggestions). Any hints as to how it could be improved, or is this one also "hopeless"?

Literature - This novel was written in four months and published in 1931. It is set in a utopian World State that has the motto "community, identity, stability". Daily doses of soma combat depression, babies are born in laboratories, and "feelies" are movies that stimulate the senses. Give the title of this Aldous Huxley work.
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Re: Sample question for your critique

Post by quizbowllee » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:01 pm

cquillin wrote:If you have time and are inclined to mess with it, I have written a question I think is better (thanks to your suggestions). Any hints as to how it could be improved, or is this one also "hopeless"?

Literature - This novel was written in four months and published in 1931. It is set in a utopian World State that has the motto "community, identity, stability". Daily doses of soma combat depression, babies are born in laboratories, and "feelies" are movies that stimulate the senses. Give the title of this Aldous Huxley work.
That's a huge improvement. There is still some work to be done - that first sentence is all but useless - but, I would be thrilled to go to a tuornament in Alabama with questions like this. You see, Alabama is even more behind-the-times than Missouri.

Keep up the good work.

-Lee

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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Mon Jul 02, 2007 1:14 pm

Yeah, that question is a major improvement, I agree.

The first sentence does not help the player get the question too much unless they know exactly when it was written. I would probably say something like

Written in 1931.... and then continue.

Soma is giveaway clue for Brave New World so I would include it closer to the end. Maybe switch the order of the clues for soma and "feelies".

That is much better though overall.

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Post by cquillin » Mon Jul 02, 2007 2:04 pm

Whew! Thanks, Lee and Kent. So, I will continue on ths vein keeping your suggestions in mind. That one only took 15 min. (even with referring to the cliff notes). :lol: I think I'm safe using books listed on the ALA site (and other similar lists) as suggested reading for the college bound.
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Post by Deviant Insider » Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:23 pm

I agree with Kent and Lee. I think your question, like most questions, could be improved, but I've heard a lot worse. I would also move any mention of utopia (or, more appropriately, dystopia) to the end of the question. If the question is about a novel, then the first few clues should be for people who read the novel. You can say that the novel is set in a place where the motto is...

The clues at the end should be for people who have not read the book.

Just for comparison's sake, here's a question I wrote five years ago:
In which novel do leaders have titles such as Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury, Director of Predestination, and Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning? Most people wear clothes that identify them as being in a particular caste, and they revere Henry Ford. Identify this 1932 anti-utopian novel by Aldous Huxley.

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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma » Mon Jul 02, 2007 11:29 pm

That is a good example of giving the more difficult clues first and moving toward a giveaway at the end. I haven't read the book but saw the movie and hatcheries was what did it for me but for those that have read the book, the other titles should help out a lot.

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