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Improving in science?

Posted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 7:09 pm
by WilliamofOrange
Hi guys. I was wondering how I might be able to get better in the sciences, particularly math and physics. Classes are all fine and dandy, but for example (oh noes, anecdotal evidence!), even after honors chemistry, AP chemistry (5), and some semi-micro qualitative analysis, 3/4 of the chemistry questions go over my head with names and obscure reactions until a little after the power mark. In and of itself, that's okay for tossups, but that won't hold against any particularly good team.

There's always the "studying old packets" route, which is great and works for the stranger stock clues (e.g. Euler Characteristic questions scarcely change.) It can serve to impress sometimes, since something you picked up on may have been incredibly obscure and worthy of the highest praise. But for all intents and purposes, it's spotty.

Basically what I'm wondering is if there is a way to learn science to be a competitive science player (hopefully on a high level) that doesn't involve trudging through packet after packet after packet, and really connects things rather than having simply individual little packages of information. Thanks!

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 4:51 am
by dividebyzero
Wow, ummm science was usually a decently strong point for us, so I'll take a stab at this, but it's just my opinion. Feel free to correct.

Actually, couple of questions first:
When you say math, do you mean calculation or theory?
Which questions were going completely over your head? (as in, which packets/from which providers?)
Also, did you already complete the course in AP Chemistry?*
What other science classes have you taken? (I've found that I learned a lot of the information in AP Physics, Bio, and Chem)

Now, to something that can apply to everyone:
Keeping in mind that you're not going to power every single question (not trying to discourage, definitely work at it) I like to look at it this way. Chances are you'll get the answer eventually, at least by the giveaway clue if you've taken any high level chemistry. Not always, but there's a good chance. But if you want to power something, you need more in-depth knowledge about the subject. I'm of the opinion that reading old questions helps, because it exposes you to the kind of stuff that's actually asked, but I do see what you're getting at with "spottiness."

Here's another possible [related] approach: Figure out what crops up a lot. Read a ton of questions about those particular topics (if you don't already know about them), especially focusing on more obscure clues. I've found it helps not just to memorize what the seemingly confusing stuff they're saying, but to actually understand what processes/concepts they are referring to (since a lot of questions mention a certain property or larger concept that the answer relates to/is a part of in some way).

Now, in addition to just reading questions, which have a narrower focus but pull information from different aspects of that topic (sorry if I'm being a little vague. What I mean to describe is the fact that, for example a question about lactic acid may talk about: structure, formation, chemical/biological processes it's involved in, alternative names, applications/uses) you may find it helpful to use other [reliable] sources to read up on the same information that is being asked about, but in more detail. Specifically, don't just read about the answer (in the example, lactic acid), but read about the broader topics they touch upon (such as cellular respiration and the like).
[Granted it may not be obvious what the topic they're referring to is if you don't already have the material down, so it may take a little digging. But you'll only learn more in the process of finding it :D]. In this way, you'll be more likely to not only get questions about the topic you saw in the question (say, that lactic acid is formed during fermentation), but you'll hopefully be more prepared to answer any questions about other aspects of cellular respiration.

Also, if you then see some topic that interests you (and preferably could be asked about, but knowledge for knowledge's sake is encouraged as well), start branching out. Read about related topics. Make connections between the different concepts and check to see if these are ever asked about. Remember, you're not just being asked useless trivia. All of these academic questions ought to in some way be of relevance in their respective fields.

Bottom line, if you hear something that goes over your head, don't just dismiss it as an obscure clue. Go look it up. Read into the subject, and see if you can actually form an understanding of the topic, enough to answer that question if asked again, and others related to it.

*I know there's a strong chem/bio focus here, don't think I'm biased. Personally, I'd much rather destroy a physics question. The same general process should apply to any science topics.

(Yes, I know this process is time consuming and can't be done for every question you read/hear, but applying it even a little should help)


Like I may have alluded to before, I'm not necessarily an expert in studying science for quizbowl, so anybody feel free to [kindly, I have feelings too] correct anything I said. Sorry for the long post, not usually my style.

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 11:36 pm
by WilliamofOrange
Oh sorry, I mean theory. I do just fine with calculations (plus they're on their way out of the distribution anyway.) Well, by "going over my head" I mean it's just something I don't recognize. Usually when the question really starts namedropping, they're at least familiar to me, but the lesser-known reactions and names in the beginning are usually foreign to moi. And yep, I did finish AP chem; the 5 in parentheses indicated my score on the exam. For science classes I admit that I'm pretty one-sided, but even on that one side I don't do that amazing; I've had honors bio, honors chem, AP chem (5 on exam), semi-micro qualitative analysis (currently taking), physics, and AP Physics C (5 on both exams)

Haha, and thanks I do appreciate the length of the post. I generally look everything up in a question that isn't immediately familiar or I could become more familiar with, but sometimes they're just ridiculous. It just seems to me like there'd be a simpler way to study science, without throwing a dart at a random problem, and just spending enough time throwing darts to fill the metaphorical dart board that is the quizbowl science "canon". Some sort of systematic way, you know? I think research on what parts I don't understand will definitely help fill in gaps, but I'm still jumping across stepping stones placed randomly over a river, and it'd be nice to have a solid bridge (or, barring the possibility, a rope.)

On that note, maybe it's time to create some science frequency lists.

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 10:35 am
by dividebyzero
Science is a...pretty wide range of topics to put it lightly. There's no way you're gonna become an expert in all of it. So my suggestion would be to focus on certain areas at any given time. Here's the NAQT distribution for 09-10 from their website. If you compare science to say psychology, there's obviously a much larger range of topics covered and in turn, more questions asked. Even so, the ACF database works well. You can sort questions by category and see what tends to crop up. With something like psychology you'll start to see trends pretty quickly, but science tends to have a lot more stuff to cover, even if you narrow it down to one discipline. Still, it's something to take a look at.

Honestly though, you're exactly right in what you say. Reading the questions will be somewhat like random darts. But if you study interconnected concepts, your random knowledge will cover a relatively more congruous area. What you're suggesting is that you don't want so many holes in what you know, in which case you should try to at least cover what you find tends to come up a lot. All I have for you there is the database, because honestly, I've never studied a lot of science (with the exception of a handful of niche topics I was confident would be useful) for quizbowl. Unless someone else has some other resources, I don't see anything other than that and experience helping you out. We just tended to go with the flow and try to remember anything we didn't already learn from all the classes we took in school. So I may not be the best person to be giving advice here :p

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:08 am
by ZhangC1459
Ohhh, science...

Personally, I agree with Ammar, since that's definitely what I should've done. Most of my science quizbowl knowledge came from actual classes, reading random books and memorizing interesting things in them, or just remembering something from questions past... which honestly isn't that helpful if you want to be good at it, lol

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 5:39 pm
by Charbroil
ZhangC1459 wrote:Personally, I agree with Ammar, since that's definitely what I should've done. Most of my science quizbowl knowledge came from actual classes, reading random books and memorizing interesting things in them, or just remembering something from questions past... which honestly isn't that helpful if you want to be good at it, lol
A combination of classes, reading books, and reading questions are probably the best way to get good at any topic in Quiz I'm not quite sure what you're talking about.

Re: Improving in science?

Posted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 7:15 pm
by logic2718
To power chem questions, you have to learn orgo. look for orgo reactions in old packets and take notes on them (I use an excel sheet to organize this). Also, go thru the first 50ish Nobel Prize winners and see what they did. that's usually useful.