How to Get Good at This Game

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How to Get Good At This Game is an essay by Raj Bhan about how to improve your quiz bowl skills.

For specific suggestions on improving as a science player, see How to become a good science player, which is not written by Raj Bhan. For more information on this topic, see the pages listed in the improvement methods category. Whether or not it is done strictly for quizbowl, it is always good to Read a book.

Text of the Essay

How to Get Good at This Game

by Roger S. Bhan

Okay, people. Here it is. I've heard the question time and again, so I figured I'd spell it out for everyone's benefit.

A lot of you are probably looking for a simple and fast way to answer more questions. Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn't one. If you find that discouraging, then stop reading. Go jump into a punching bag and let the real players keep beating up on you.

Getting good at this game is a pretty intense process. It involves a good amount of dedication and motivation. However, the process itself is very simple. It's just a matter of sticking to it.

Step 1: Enjoy what you're doing. If you really like sitting at a buzzer and answering (or attempting to answer) questions about stuff other people don't know, then you're already on the right track. This is a game, and games are meant to be fun. If this is frustrating or boring, or too serious for you, stop reading. And stop playing, for that matter. You're ruining it for the rest of us.

Step 2: Figure out what you're good at. This game, regardless of format (ACF, College Bowl, or NAQT), contains tons of categories and subcategories for everyone. Literature, science, history, philosophy, sports, classical music, etc. all appear in varying degrees. No one person is expected to know all this crap. That's why there are four people on a team instead of one. Socrates' axiom, "Know thyself," works pretty well in this case. There will be some categories you rock, some you're so-so in, and some that just fly right over your head. Determine which ones are the best for you.

Step 3: Here's where the waters get a little murky. This is the crucial step that involves all the work necessary at getting better. There are actually three sub-steps involved. I'll list them for you in no particular order.

Step 3 (a): GO TO PRACTICE, you delinquent! You need to have a buzzer in your hand at least once (if not twice) a week. You need to keep the wheels inside your head turning. If they sit still for too long, rust will develop on them. You should be in a competitive environment as often as possible. And don't just sit there with the buzzer in your hand. Practice actively. When a question goes by that you feel you should've known, write it down so you can remember and learn it for next time (I promise it will come up again). Practicing passively will still help some, but will not help as much. Be active. Take an interest in the questions that you are being asked.

Step 3 (b): GO TO TOURNAMENTS! This is the best way to acquire new information. Tournaments are also where you demonstrate your skills gained from all the practicing you've done. Tournaments are a lot of fun, and the more you attend, the better you'll get. And just like practice, compete actively. Write down stuff you don't know for later assimilation. Tournaments are also great for gauging your skill against other people besides your own WUAT members. Depending on what categories you handle, you can see how you rate against the other lit or science or whatever people around the country.

Step 3 (c): WRITE QUESTIONS! This is probably the most important aspect of getting better at this game, so I'll say it one more time. WRITE QUESTIONS! Okay, one more time. WRITE QUESTIONS! It's a time-consuming process, but the more you write, the better you'll get. What do you write about? Write questions in the categories that you do best. Write questions on stuff you learned in class, or read in a novel. Remember all that stuff you wrote down in practice and at the last tournament? Write questions about that stuff! Writing questions helps in several ways. It etches that bit of knowledge into your brain because you took the time to do a little research about your subject matter. It teaches you about the anatomy of a question, how a question is structured (most difficult to least difficult clues, in case you hadn't figured it out). Write two questions a day. Write a toss-up and a bonus. I guarantee you will notice the difference in your play between tournaments if you maintain writing two questions a day. You have no reason not to do this. It takes 20 minutes a day, it makes you smarter, you'll score more points, and it'll make you look attractive to people (okay, maybe not the last part, but you get the idea). If you're having trouble writing questions, ask someone with experience for help. Any older member of WUAT will be glad to help you (or direct you to someone who can).

Step 4: Get your stuff together. Now that you know the three ways to get better at this game, integrate that stuff. Write some questions. When the stuff you wrote about comes up in practice, impress your friends by nailing the toss-up five words into the question. Take that knowledge to the next tournament and lead your team to sweet victory. It's a process that reinforces itself every time you write a question about something you think you should've known.

Step 5: Get motivated and motivate others! Remember, you're on a team and no one person can win by himself or herself. You're going to notice the difference very soon if you keep writing questions and your teammates don't. And it'll just become more frustrating as you answer more questions and your team still isn't winning. Form some friendly rivalries with your teammates. See who can outscore each other at tournaments, or see who can learn art history best, or something like that. Get motivated to win!

Some people might look at this little regimen as taking the fun out of the game. I have two responses to that. First, this is a learning process, and learning the information described above can be lots of fun. It's tons of fun when you hear a toss-up on a question you wrote the day before and nail it five words into the question. It's a lot of fun when you smash other teams into oblivion because you know ten times more than them. Second, the other teams are going to follow this regimen, whether you do or not. If that's the case, you will lose every time. And I don't care how little self-esteem you have. Losing is never fun.

The bottom line: Put in a little effort, get big results. And that, my friends, is how you get good at this game.


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