Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What is a good quiz question?

This from inquizitive mailing list:

Dear all,
following a recent post with five questions, I replied to the quizmaster with my suggestions regarding the style of the question. I thought I'd share my opinion with all of you too, and have taken the permission of my original correspondent.
The example question was originally put as:
> Which modern technology is named for a 10th century Danish king?
I suggested that it might be re-written taking into account this King's ancestry (being the son of King Gorm the Old), or the name of his wife (Gunnhild), or that the conflict with the German Holy Roman Emperor caused him to build the Danawirk fortifications, or that he was responsible for spreading Christianity, or that he was also technically King of Norway, or that his bones are still preserved walled up in a pillar at the cathedral at Roskilde, or that he met his death during a rebellion led by his own son.
Or one could mention something about the "modern technology" - for instance that the identifying logo is based on the runes of the King's initials, or that it was pioneered by a Swedish company, or that it was inspired more by the potrayal of the historical King in the Swedish novel Red Orm (later editions translated the title as The Long Ships) etc.
The core question might well stay the same, but the quizzing I knew and loved during my college days was full of trivia which promoted lateral thinking. Even if I wouldn't be able to answer a question, my interest would be piqued and I would tend to learn more - then and later - than if a dry fact were sought.

I completely agree. The joy of answering a question from clues is a victory of problem solving over knowledge. While one of the joys is getting to know some trivia or connection as part of the question or the answer (as pointed out in the mail above), there is also the joy of inspired guesswork based on some clue which sparks off a lateral connection in your mind.

Let me illustrate through an example. In the last BQC quiz that I attended, Gaurav had a theme round. 6 questions, the answers of which all connected to one common theme.

The answer to the first question was Mirabai and the answer to the second question was Comedy of Errors. This is when another team got the answer. We had to go for the theme at that moment itself and risk getting -2 points. However, unless we went for it, the other team would have taken the lead from us. My philosophy of quizzing these days is go for it. I did.

I knew that Comedy of Errors had been made into Angoor in the 70s. Sanjeev Kumar acted in it. However, I could not imagine what connection Sanjeev Kumar had with Mirabai. Hence, I went to Mirabai. The piece of trivia I knew about her was that M.S. had acted in the movie. However, I could not find any connection with Angoor. Somewhere in my stomach Gulzar came up. Some quiz question somewhere. Gulzar probably directed Meera. I don't know why. Then, I realised that he could have been the director of Angoor. Then I realised that he probably is. Since it was Gaurav, it had to be a popular culture connection.

I wrote Gulzar. It was correct. All because of some lateral connection.

Anyway, the question now is what makes a good quiz question? Two things we have talked about are:
  1. Should have clues which enable 'working out', lateral thinking, problem solving...
  2. Should be enriching - have interesting facts, make people find out more about a book, a film, an event in history. I remember reading Umberto Eco due to quizzes I attended in school. The way to do this is to make the question a reflection of ourselves, our tastes.
I can think of one more criteria:
This question should not be too long and definitely should not be a string of factoids. Any question which takes more than 30-45 seconds to tell is probably too long. Any more and it reflects either of two things: a) the quizmaster is lazy not to frame the question properly and thus rattles a huge set of facts. b) the quizmaster hasn't been able to prioritise properly and thus presents all the facts.

What else? By the way, are these criteria correct? And don't you think I have way too much time?


Anonymous said...

Agreed on both criteria. I'd probably add one more: the quizmaster should have added something [a connection, a fact] that is new to him. "Originality", in the sense of questions which no one has heard before is an impossible ideal. But, at the very least, the questions should be original for the QM.
On a slightly different note, I believe that most questions on a subject should challenge the specialist while not being entirely inaccessible to the non-specialist. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, since at least some quizzers prefer to focus on accessibility.


Write Wing Media said...

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