How to Improve

Note: See this page, this page, and this page on more advice on how to improve.
Note: Please read this page first to understand what I mean when I say “synthesis of knowledge”, “shallow knowledge”, and “deep knowledge”.

For Beginners/Novices

  1. Know your strengths – Category specialization is the way to go for creating teams. It’s usually better to have four specialists who each excel in one category than four average generalists. Once you know what you’re good at, you will know what to focus on.
  2. Pay attention in class – Being a good student is the easiest way to become a good Quizbowl player. Quizbowl’s distribution is academic, so you will gain a lot of knowledge from your classes.
  3. Go to club practices – Try to come at least once a week (the more, the better!). Make sure to focus hard and pay attention!
  4. Go to tournaments – There’s no suitable replacement for actual experience. There is no limit to the number of teams a school can send, so everybody can get involved and attend every tournament.
  5. Read packets – However, make sure you are reading a packet of suitable difficulty, such as a novice pack for beginners.
  6. Read study lists (see our Links & Resources page) – These are useful if you know absolutely nothing about a topic and need a starting point.  Good for beginners, but you will quickly outgrow these as they are considered shallow knowledge. See more about lists under “Final Thoughts” and “On Real and Fake Knowledge“.
  7. Surf Wikipedia – It is a great source of general knowledge.
  8. Use a notebook – Take notes and you will remember facts! There’s a reason teachers make you do this–it helps A LOT! Make sure to keep it organized.
  9. Read books – Books are the #1 source of deep knowledge. I know I sound like an old geezer when I say this, but kids these days simply don’t read enough books.
  10. Pay attention to the world around you – Knowledge comes from everywhere. You are immersed in a society blossoming with information at every corner (unless you live under a rock or something). Knowledge can come from anywhere, be it Wikipedia, Sporcle, the news, and other sources wouldn’t expect. Always be seeking knowledge, for it is everywhere.

For Experienced Players

  1. WRITE QUESTIONS – All experienced players should write questions. Not only does it expand your depth of knowledge, many collegiate tournaments require each team to submit a packet. Writing is one of the best ways of obtaining deep knowledge in a subject. In addition, talented and experienced writers earn money from writing and/or editing questions (e.g. house-written tournaments, NAQT, PACE, ACF, etc.)
  2. Bonuses, Bonuses, Bonuses – It seems that tossups are much more studied than bonuses. Although studying tossups is obviously useful, studying bonuses is even better for learning more information quickly. This is because they are less verbose, give related answers on the same topic, and therefore allow for easier synthesis of knowledge.
  3. DON’T use Protobowl as a method of studying – This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play Protobowl; it’s lots of fun and you can learn by osmosis. However, it is more of an application of your knowledge; it’s too fast paced to learn much when playing against friends. The other methods on this list are much better practice methods (although admittedly, are not as fun). See more about Protobowl under “Final Thoughts“.
  4. Read difficult packets – Always read at a difficulty level higher than what you are accustomed to. You’re not learning as much if you’re constantly getting tossups early on. To know which packets to play, use this guide.
  5. Use Quinterest – Not only is the search function useful for writing questions, but its “Study” function is extremely useful for studying. Highly recommended, and not very well-known as it is relatively new.
  6. Use a notebook – Every experienced player really should be taking notes by now. Write down all answer lines you hear at practice and at tournaments, in addition to some memorable clues.
  7. Read books – At this level, studying lists isn’t going to help. Experienced members often have a wide range of shallow knowledge (e.g. can get tossups at the giveaway clue) but may not necessarily have deep knowledge. I can’t stress enough that the easiest way to gain deep knowledge is through reading books.
  8. Synthesis of knowledge is key – Knowledge is not terribly useful unless it can be synthesized together. To acquire this synthesis of knowledge that Quizbowl is all about, always try to acquire deep knowledge (e.g. reading packets or books) rather than shallow knowledge (e.g. study lists, which are only useful as a starting point). Read more about the synthesis of knowledge on this page.

Extra Notes

Study lists are meant ONLY for beginners who require a starting point for their knowledge.  There’s nothing wrong with beginners studying lists – in fact, I highly recommend it to new players so they can learn the Quizbowl canon. I understand that Quizbowl has a steep learning curve, and that lists help build a foundation to lessen this slope. Just remember that lists are merely a foundation or starting point.

Always strive towards deep knowledge. That being said, shallow knowledge is not at all bad – it is perfectly normal to acquire shallow knowledge first before acquiring deep knowledge. I consider shallow knowledge as the foundation for my deep knowledge, and a strong foundation is important to build a sturdy house of knowledge. Some people are good at building the house all at once by jumping into deep knowledge right away, but this does not work for everybody. Other people need to build the house one step at a time by gaining shallow knowledge (through lists) first, then deep knowledge (by reading books) afterwards. That being said, a strong foundation is rather unimpressive and frankly, completely useless, if a house of deep knowledge is never built upon it.

Remember, synthesis of knowledge is the reason we play Quizbowl, not blind memorization of facts.

Protobowl, although it is fun, is only a good study method when you are playing by yourself and have the time to take notes. However, reading packets, using Quizbowl DB, or using Quinterest would all be significantly better alternatives.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, you can become a decent player by simply listening in class and attending practices once a week. You can not study and become a decent player, and there’s nothing wrong with being a decent player. However, this guide is for the passionate players that want to be more than just decent. As with anything else you do with your life, the more time and effort you invest, the better you will become. It’s no secret.

Whenever I say “study”, don’t treat it as a negative connotation. Quizbowl should be fun, and if it’s not fun, then perhaps you should rethink your Quizbowl career. Learning through Quizbowl is a very enjoyable and rewarding activity, as learning to love learning will undoubtedly help you in the long-term future. If you don’t like studying but like Quizbowl, then you’ll have to accept that you WILL get crushed into itsy-bitsy pieces by the hard-core teams. Winning is fun; losing is not fun.

In conclusion: If you try hard, you will become a great player. That’s all there is to it.
~ Ted Gan
If you have other tips on how to become a better Quizbowl player, we’d love to hear them! To provide your useful studying tips, please email Ted Gan.