Transitioning to College Quizbowl

For all Quizbowlers, the transition from high school difficulty to college difficulty appears incredibly challenging, no matter what your skill level going in. The questions are harder and longer, the veteran players on the team seem to be snatching up all the tossups, and the discussion on bonuses boils down to one person occasionally proffering a timid, half-answer. It can be difficult to break into the game at a higher level, even if you were extremely capable in high school, and many players quit early in the game without understanding that the keys to success in the college game are slightly changed from the ones that got them through high school.

An excellent guide to high school Quizbowl has already been written by the illustrious Max Schindler, which you can find here on the Quizbowl forums. As a summary (though everyone should really give it a read), Max traces out the evolution of a standard high school Quizbowl player from a beginner at a first practice jotting down disjointed notes in a notebook to a well-rounded generalist who is able to buzz on most categories with confidence. Throughout the way, Max emphasizes the importance of good study techniques to build real knowledge in a subject, rather than superficial awareness of an answer-line that recurs often, and that is the topic that I would like to focus on in this guide.

In high school, because the level of opposing play is generally significantly lower than in the college circuit, Quizbowl questions are written so that the vast majority of teams in the field can answer tossups by the end and receive 10 PPB on bonuses. Because of this, it can be very easy to coast along and pick up the tossups left dead by other teams due to holes in their knowledge, thus collecting a significant amount of points with a small input of time into learning the topics that come up often, or the canon. Many high school generalists achieve their greatest successes by playing against teams that I would categorize as “pointy”: that is to say, teams that may have extremely deep pockets of knowledge in some subjects while completely neglecting others. Top scorers at high school tournaments typically reach their gaudy scoring totals through broad coverage, and not necessarily deep knowledge of a subject area.

In the college game, however, the emphasis completely changes. Deep knowledge is rewarded in the form of powers on clues that have never come up in the game before, as well as bonus parts where the hard parts have as much to do with real-world exposure to the topic as they do with hardcore packet studying. The broad, surface-level studying that is so prevalent among high school players who are decent, but not transcendently so, no longer works as well, and can lead to Quizbowl becoming boring and unengaging. Attempting to do too much can be greatly exhausting, while doing too little lessens engagement with the game.

Re-evaluating the way that Quizbowl is understood as far as studying habits go is critical to enjoying the game at the college level. Much like in real life, once you get to college, you’ll be asked to specialize to a degree that might seem uncomfortable at first. Embrace it! Choosing one major section of the distribution (Literature, History, Science) and one minor section of the distribution (RMP, Fine Arts, Geography, Current Events, etc.) can give you a nice base of knowledge from which to start becoming competitive in the college game. Focus on locking down categories and taking ownership of them: if someone beats you to a tossup or gets a bonus part that you wouldn’t have gotten in your category, make the effort to know what they know and eclipse them! Studying should be a rewarding experience, where every practice brings improvements in your depth and breadth of knowledge. To do so, taking ownership of a section of the distribution can make you an infinitely better player than if you tried to be an ineffectual jack-of-all-trades.

After selecting your categories, pay attention to the college canon, or in other words, the kinds of questions that get asked about a lot. Topics that frequently recur are gold mines for studying and development; without them, the best Quizbowl players are left fumbling in the dark. First, develop a general sense of what the canon’s scope is. By reading packets and listening to old questions at practice, any individual can come up with a general sense of what the college canon in their subject entails within a few weeks. Next, make sure that your awareness of that canon goes beyond the surface level. At this level, studying for Quizbowl is the most productive, but also the most difficult. You must be able to understand not only the nodes, or individual clues that make up answer-lines and clues, but the connections between the answer-lines. Understanding how different topics relate to each other not only helps you become a more flexible Quizbowl player, but also allows you to use knowledge obtained through Quizbowl in the real world.

Hopefully this guide helps you all develop a better framework in thinking about college Quizbowl and its differences from high school Quizbowl. Happy studying!