Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

(Rockford, IL – March 31, 2016) Hello! I’m Brad Fischer, NHBB’s Director of Question Production. My playing days preceded NHBB, but I’ve played and coached in all-subject quizbowl for over a decade, in addition to teaching math in Rockford, Illinois. To me, the best part about academic competitions like quizbowl and History Bowl is the ability to see yourself grow through competition.

New History Bowl players often ask, “What’s the best way to study for History Bowl?” There’s no single answer to this question — different people learn in different ways — but one of the most effective ways to become a better player is writing your own questions, especially for players with a fair amount of playing experience already.

Question writing is a fantastic way to study for History Bowl because it makes you an active researcher and learner. You have to find sources for interesting clue material, read them carefully to understand the material, and make critical decisions on what is or isn’t worth using in your question. By going through this work, you learn what is truly important and interesting about the subject.

Once you’ve found information worth testing in a question, you further develop your understanding of the subject by constructing the question itself. Your clues have to be “buzzable,” avoiding vague descriptions that, even though they’re true, aren’t specific enough to let players buzz in confidently. (Example: “This leader responded to criticism by passing tax reform” could, quite possibly, be a true phrase for every world leader ever, depending on what you mean by “criticism” and “tax reform.”) In addition, a good question has hard clues, medium clues, and easy clues; you have to think critically about what other people know about the subject, and you have to order your clues correctly and smoothly, making sure the movement is gradual enough to prevent “buzzer races.”
This just scratches the surface of what goes into writing good questions for competition; NHBB will be posting a complete guide to these aspects of question writing, as used in our Provisional Writer Program, later this school year. If you’d like an update when that’s available, e-mail me at brad@historybowl.com.
Of course, when you write as a study method, you should consider these needs, but your primary goal is learning and mastering the material; you don’t have to immediately worry about whether they’ll play well for others. My advice to new writers is to enjoy the process of learning without worrying too much about the finer details of question construction. And, as always, have fun with it!
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