Real knowledge

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Saint Jerome in His Study

"Real knowledge" is a term used to indicate knowledge which was gained outside of quizbowl. This is contrasted to word association and meta-knowledge of stock clues and the canon ("quizbowl knowledge" or, more derisively, "fake knowledge").

The concept of "real knowledge" exists for all categories, but is most significant in those which require specialism, e.g. science and auditory fine arts. Question writers who have a lack of "real knowledge" in these subjects are much more likely to use inappropriate terminology and constructions. This is part of the larger trend of "Quizbowlese".


The broadest definition of "real knowledge" is "strong knowledge of a subject gained from outside quizbowl". Because quizbowl is closely tied to schools, it is typically assumed to have been gained via coursework or other formalized learning - however, it is possible for someone to gain it from self-study.

All knowledge is "real" in a vacuum, but the designation's significance comes from the intersection of the information that someone gains outside of the game and the space of things that come up in quizbowl.

The dichotomy between "real knowledge" and its complement (sometimes derisively called "fake knowledge") is a practical way to organize facts into those which a player is more likely to know from independent study (e.g. from coursework) versus time with the game, respectively. However, the term is almost always accompanied by a value judgement: players with "real knowledge" are thought to have a purer engagement with material, and clues which reward "real knowledge" are consequently held in higher regard. While there are benefits to specifically targeting the body of information which a player is likely to know from other sources, focusing on the distinction between "real" and "fake" is negative for a variety of reasons:

  • the divide is artificial: quizbowl is a game and does not (and could not) distinguish between how players learned a piece of information
  • because "real knowledge" is defined by how one encounters it, sets of facts can be "real" or "fake" for different players in inconsistent or outright contradictory ways
    • one example of this is that there are things that are routinely taught in college curricula but rarely, if ever, encountered in high school - as a result, clues that are very "real" for college players are "fake" for high schoolers, as they likely encounter them through packets
    • another example is that, even though it is always possible for people to learn a piece of information from outside the game, the moment that it becomes a clue some fraction of players will view it as "fake" despite the fact being unchanged

Rewarding real knowledge

Despite the aforementioned issues with the label, writers often seek to reward players who have "real knowledge". However, it is difficult (or even impossible) to specifically reward it because of the structure of the game. Nevertheless, encountering information for the first time outside of quizbowl is a useful proxy for a deeper level of engagement characteristic of structured learning (i.e. taking a class). Since a key feature of classroom learning is knowing related pieces of information and in particular awareness of things without names (like procedures and methods), questions which seek to reward this will typically use clues of this nature with the expectation that it will benefit those with "real knowledge" proportionally more, especially in the long run.

The other major strategy for writing questions that reward "real knowledge" is to use metrics like database hits to assess how often a clue comes up (and thus how "fake" it is) and either replace them or move them down. When uncontrolled, however, this has the consequence of causing rapid difficulty creep. The main way to combat this is to be willing to have clues which come up more often, especially at the end of questions.

Relationship to other concepts


Main article: Carding

Carding (shorthand for flashcarding) is a method of retention involving the creation and consistent review of flashcards containing discrete facts. It is often thought of as a distinct study method and in particular one which favors rote memorization over "real knowledge", but this is a false dichotomy: carding can be used with any type of studying and can be used for any kind of information.


Main article: Fraud

Frauding is the action of answering a question based off a very rudimentary level of knowledge, or using very simplistic heuristics. For example, a player who binary associated key phrases with specific answerlines could fraud questions based off a very minimal level of knowledge. Whether or not a given buzz is fraud is typically a value judgement made by the player who made it based on their personal assessment of how "real" their knowledge is.

See also