Missouri S&T ACO Question-Writing Guidelines
Look here for High School Tournament question guidelins.
by Ben Lea
Guidelines as amended by Bill Stallard and Matt Chadbourne, Spring 2006
Guiding principle -- We are providing teams with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, not opportunities to demonstrate our own.
General -- Provide pronunciation guides for any words or formulae -- like 4,4'-(Hexamethylenedioxy)dibenzamidine -- that may be difficult for a non-major in that field to pronounce. (If you don't know how to pronounce it, look it up.) Provide alternate answers whenever appropriate, and give explicit instructions what may or may not be prompted on. Remember that the moderators for these tournaments are volunteering their time; be kind to them.
Ben's personal question-writing philosophy -- Writing questions with personality is good; writing questions with inside jokes, or personal feelings or views is not so good. (ACF so-called "purists" may queue up to bite me at their leisure.)
- 3 to 4 sentences in length
- 3 to 4 facts, increasingly easy:
After the 1st fact, a major in that field should have a shot at it.
After the 2nd fact, someone who took that course as an elective should have a shot at it.
After the last fact, it should be reasonably accessible for anyone with a knowledge of that field.
- The phrase "for 10 points" must appear in the LAST sentence. This is non-negotiable.
- If there's a giveaway clue, contort your grammar however possible to end the question with it.
- Get a fact that is unique to the subject into the question as early as possible.
- 2 good teams should answer between 18 and 20 tossups.
- Pronoun rule: The antecedent to the 1st pronoun (he, she, it, they, this, these, that, those) in the question should be the answer you're looking for.
- Do not write "left-turn" questions (questions that flout these rules intentionally, for the sake of making other teams look bad); they are not clever, not cute, and not funny. Schools and players have been hounded off the circuit for this.
- One of the easiest tossup lead-ins to write is "Born in City, State in Year, he went to Named University where he majored in Subject." Hearing a lot of those gets boring, so don't use more than one or two in a round.
- Perhaps most importantly, you do not have to put every fact you know about the subject into a question. Again, you're not showing off how much you know; you're trying to help the player get to the answer.
- All bonuses are 30 points.
- No 1-part bonuses.
- The trend is away from 6-part, 5 points each bonuses, so don't write a lot of them.
- No more than 3 or 4 30-20-10 bonuses.
- Vary the structure; a few 30-20-10s, a few 3-part 10 points each, a few 5-10-15s, a few 5-5-10-10s, and so forth.
- Good teams shouldn't bagel bonuses, even if they don't have an expert in that particular field on the team.
- Do not write a 30-20-10 bonus unless the subject has a good 10 point clue; 3 clues does not a 30-20-10 mke. Do not write a 30-20-10-5-1 bonus unless (a) it's a trash round, and (b) there's a good one point clue (e.g., "His son, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr..." or "He starred as himself in The Jackie Robinson Story").
- Try to spread the subject material throughout the round. Don't put all the science questions (for example) in one stretch of 7 questions. Try putting science tossups at 1, 5, 9, and 16 or so.
- Numbers 1, 10, 11, & 20 should be the best tossups (most fun, best written, easiest, however you want to define "best"). Thus, each half starts and ends on a high note.
- Put the fun bonuses at the beginning, since you want them to be heard. Put the best bonuses between #10 and #16, because the later bonuses may decide the round.
- Very, very rarely, like once every 3 (non-trash) tournaments, a theme round is acceptable.
- Balance the subject material within a field. In other words, 4 literature questions per round is fine, but 4 questions about British poetry in one round is not.
Also available: The SHAG Method
Write 6 & 6 in each category. Within the categories, write the following number of tossups & bonuses:
1 Math/Comp Sci
2 more science (not the same one -- don't write 3 physics tossups)
1 American history
1 European history
1 Ancient/World history
2 more history (again, not the same sub-category)
1 Social Science (economics, sociology, linguistics, psychology, librarianship!, etc.)
1 American literature
1 British or French literature
1 World literature
1 more literature (your choice -- I'd suggest American)
1 Art/Classical Music
1 more art (your choice)
1 Religion/Philosophy/Mythology (hereinafter abbreviated RPM)
1 Movies/TV/Popular Music
2 General Knowledge (like a name the year, 30-20-10, or something else that transcends ONE category)
1 more general (your choice)