On “Real” and “Fake” Knowledge

Quizbowl study tactics vary wildly; each individual has their own study techniques that work for some but not others.

Some people use study lists and/or memorize clue-topic associations. Some would consider this to be “fraudulent” or “fake” knowledge. However, this is a misnomer. This knowledge is not at all fraudulent or fake–it is simply not deep. I strongly dislike the terms “real” and “fake” knowledge. This is because what people consider “fake” knowledge isn’t false; it is simply not the best type of knowledge for the reasons outlined later in this article. I prefer to refer to what people call “fake” knowledge as shallow knowledge. Likewise, I prefer the term deep knowledge to “real” knowledge.

This is not to say that study lists, clue-topic associations, stock clues, or “membowl” (answering Protobowl questions early only because you’ve seen them before) are not sources of deep knowledge. They are not the best ways of learning, but at least you are still learning something. In fact, study lists are HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended for beginners who require a knowledge base and a grasp of the Quizbowl canon. They are the best starting point for any new or inexperienced Quizbowl player. That being said–the reason why the above methods of studying are often referred to as “fake” or “fraudulent” is because they are inferior in the sense that they do not synthesize knowledge. As any intelligent person will tell you, knowledge is not very useful unless it can be integrated together, like a web or network of facts.

Let us take the following example:

From a study list, one could possibly acquire the following information:

Harper Lee —> To Kill a Mockingbird

Yes, this allows you to answer a tossup at the giveaway line. Yes, that is knowledge. I would recommend studying this to anybody who has never heard of To Kill a Mockingbird before, such as a beginner. It is a simple way for establishing a foundation for your knowledge.

However, reading a tossup, bonus, or Wikipedia article would at the very least give you the following information (but you’ll probably learn a lot more):

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is narrated by Scout Finch. Her father Atticus Finch is a lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, who is wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting Mayella Ewell.

Not only is this better in the sense that it gives more information, the information is much more synthesized. THIS SYNTHESIS OF KNOWLEDGE IS KEY. It enables you not only to remember information more easily, but allows one to put their knowledge to good use.

I admit that you could probably get many tossups on To Kill a Mockingbird simply by memorizing key words and proper nouns without knowing what they mean (“Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, Scout Finch, Calpurnia”). However, I strongly, STRONGLY discourage this, as it defeats the purpose of Quizbowl. Quizbowl isn’t meant to be blind memorization of creators and their works or characters in a book; anybody who thinks of Quizbowl this way is destroying the core values of the game. The reason we play Quizbowl is to gain deep knowledge. You aren’t going to find any of this deep knowledge in lists, but you will in deeper texts such as books. Remember: deeper knowledge is your end goal, and lists are just a kickstart you should leave behind as soon as possible as you become more experienced and knowledgeable.

The number one thing I have to say about studying is to never stop synthesizing knowledge. Interested in South American poetry? Then surf the web for other South American poets. A plot summary of Catch-22 caught your eye? Then go and actually read the book! Just as lists are a starting point to get you interested in sources of deep knowledge such as articles and books, treat Quizbowl as a mere starting point to get you interested in the general pursuit of knowledge over the course of your entire life. That, my friend, is what Quizbowl is all about.

~ Ted Gan