On the difficulty of nationals

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On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Adi1008 » September 5th, 2015, 10:12 pm

I recently wrote a bit on what I felt about the difficulty of tests at nationals, at least in Division B. You can read it here (shameless self promotion lol): https://somewhatoverwhelmed.wordpress.c ... ivision-b/

I'm curious to hear what others feel about this. To me, I go to nationals every year expecting some super incredibly hard test that leaves me dazed, only to be a bit disappointed as I walk out of the room. Do you guys feel that tests are too easy in terms of the content? Is speed in answering questions a good metric in measuring how well one understands a topic? Am I alone in thinking the content is too easy? Are the tests not as long as I feel they are? Do people in Division C (specifically seniors) feel the same?

Discuss.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby John Richardsim » September 5th, 2015, 11:56 pm

Mmmm, this...I feel like a large part of the quality of a certain test depends on the individual event supervisors (particularly for Division B, it seems). For example, from my understanding, the ES for Meteorology was the same for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and all three years there was a spectacular test (a good mix of long and challenging). However, this past season, there was a new event supervisor and...yeah...let's just sum it up by saying that I didn't know I could be so disappointed by a test...and the crap that was the Anatomy and Physiology test for Division B was ridiculous beyond belief...also the Division B Entomology test was incredibly easy (or that's at least what I heard from everyone who's taken it that I've talked to)...

But yes, as you expressed in that blog post, there should be some amount of questions requiring critical thinking and application of knowledge on every test. For example, on the Meteorology test at nats this past year (no syo, I will NOT stop complaining about it), there were two separate occasions on which it gave us two diagrams of climate feedback and asked us to identify which one represents positive feedback and which one represents negative feedback (and on one of these sets of diagrams, they didn't remove a "+" and "-" sign, so neither critical thinking nor any sort of legitimate preparation was required, only that you are capable of understanding what those two symbols represent...and you were complaining about the Solar System test? (well, just give me a minute, I will discuss that in a moment)). So yeah, those questions about feedback were incredibly easy and only required slight amounts of preparation. Te worst part is, climate feedback isn't simple in the slightest. There are so many ways climate feedback could have been used for an essay question involving critical thinking, but yet these were swapped out for four simple "A or B" multiple choice questions.

As for Solar System, I too feel as though there was a deficiency of questions requiring critical thinking and/or application of knowledge. The Solar System test at the Michigan state competition was full of questions asking us to analyze images, describe the formation of the features in them, and explain their significance. In retrospect, I feel as though these questions themselves had a good balance of preparation and critical thinking properties.

This being said, I would also like to point out that there are still tests at Nationals that do require significant amounts of critical thinking and application of knowledge (Disease Detectives, Bio-Process Lab, Crave the Wave). Heck, the entire setup of Hydrogeology as an event is completely centered around critical thinking and application of knowledge (granted, this is a deviation into the land of Division C in a discussion that so far only pertains to Division B, but still).
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby syo_astro » September 6th, 2015, 7:20 am

The Astronomy test is rock solid in balance ;).

Edit: I forgot to point out that Astronomy can involve rocks! And a lot of things. It's really stellar, that is all.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Magikarpmaster629 » September 6th, 2015, 9:48 am

Heck, the entire setup of Hydrogeology as an event is completely centered around critical thinking and application of knowledge
Well, from what we know right now about the Hydrogeology "critical thinking" part, it doesn't look great....

Part B in Hydrogeology is reeeaaallllyyy dumb. Assuming the practice "challenge" is similar to what it will be like on tests (which according to the rules it is), it just walks you through a three-point-problem. I've been timing myself to see how fast I can do it, my best is 3:43 (minutes:seconds). For 25% of the score.

Part C might be good (this is supposed to be the critical thinking part), but from seeing how bad part B is, I'm not getting my hopes up.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Adi1008 » September 6th, 2015, 2:23 pm

Mmmm, this...I feel like a large part of the quality of a certain test depends on the individual event supervisors (particularly for Division B, it seems). For example, from my understanding, the ES for Meteorology was the same for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and all three years there was a spectacular test (a good mix of long and challenging). However, this past season, there was a new event supervisor and...yeah...let's just sum it up by saying that I didn't know I could be so disappointed by a test...and the crap that was the Anatomy and Physiology test for Division B was ridiculous beyond belief...also the Division B Entomology test was incredibly easy (or that's at least what I heard from everyone who's taken it that I've talked to)...

But yes, as you expressed in that blog post, there should be some amount of questions requiring critical thinking and application of knowledge on every test. For example, on the Meteorology test at nats this past year (no syo, I will NOT stop complaining about it), there were two separate occasions on which it gave us two diagrams of climate feedback and asked us to identify which one represents positive feedback and which one represents negative feedback (and on one of these sets of diagrams, they didn't remove a "+" and "-" sign, so neither critical thinking nor any sort of legitimate preparation was required, only that you are capable of understanding what those two symbols represent...and you were complaining about the Solar System test? (well, just give me a minute, I will discuss that in a moment)). So yeah, those questions about feedback were incredibly easy and only required slight amounts of preparation. Te worst part is, climate feedback isn't simple in the slightest. There are so many ways climate feedback could have been used for an essay question involving critical thinking, but yet these were swapped out for four simple "A or B" multiple choice questions.
The people who did those events for BDJH felt the same way. I don't think the problem is necessarily with the event supervisors. I'm pretty sure that they're all super smart and knowledgeable about the topics, it's just that they think it's too hard for Division B or something (which is a mindset that I hope get dropped). More on ES below.
As for Solar System, I too feel as though there was a deficiency of questions requiring critical thinking and/or application of knowledge. The Solar System test at the Michigan state competition was full of questions asking us to analyze images, describe the formation of the features in them, and explain their significance. In retrospect, I feel as though these questions themselves had a good balance of preparation and critical thinking properties.
There's no doubt that someone like Dr. Schroeder is quite knowledgeable about the topic on which he has to write a test on. I think he just underestimated how much the competitors would know and opted to make the test easier. I really really wanted to see a super hard test form him so solar system was quite disappointing for me, not because of my final placement (which was a disappointment but for other reasons), but because I had expected more form the test. That doesn't go to say that I think the results are invalidated by any means - I'm sure the other competitors thought the test was super easy as well. I hope in the future the ES don't hold back.
This being said, I would also like to point out that there are still tests at Nationals that do require significant amounts of critical thinking and application of knowledge (Disease Detectives, Bio-Process Lab, Crave the Wave). Heck, the entire setup of Hydrogeology as an event is completely centered around critical thinking and application of knowledge (granted, this is a deviation into the land of Division C in a discussion that so far only pertains to Division B, but still).
I guess I disagree with you a bit here. I heard from the people who did Disease that it was super easy this year (but then they got ninth so idk man T_T) and I personally felt as if Crave the Wave was easy as well. BDJH had some problems throughout the year with BPL so I can't say much about that. I did hear from others that it was well done, so props to the BPL ES for a great test.

On the topic of Crave, I thought the test was easy in terms of content, but not because of the lack of advanced math (that doesn't mean to say I thought it was bad because it was still pretty good). What made the test hard was not the content at all (although it was harder than solar system), but the time constraint. I don't think 2(?) minutes (I forgot how many minutes it was per station) was enough to do some of the stations, which resulted in a lot of rushed answers and stuff that could have been explained in much more detail. You guys may recall that earlier, right after nationals was over, the ES for Crave himself talked about how he didn't want to put in too much advanced math. I felt as if he had some good points there. At least at the Division B level, how good you are at math shouldn't be a huge factor in how well you understand a topic like Crave and I respect that. However, I did feel that the test was focused more on speed as opposed to how well you understand topics themselves. Still, the earthquake stations were some of my favorite questions on a crave test ever and the test was by no means bad. I just would have liked to also see some questions that would focus on explaining a topic, like "what does it mean for glasses to be polarized?" or "why doesn't the color of a laser change when it is being refracted?". However, I do think that math is important in a physics event (besides, USAPhO has tons of calc on it, because in order to be really good at physics you ahve to be really good at calc), so idrk man.
The Astronomy test is rock solid in balance ;).

Edit: I forgot to point out that Astronomy can involve rocks! And a lot of things. It's really stellar, that is all.


I've never heard anything bad about the astronomy test at nationals so I'm super hyped (and terrified) about that lol. SLHS has to make nationals first though which is gonna be super tough because Clements and LASA are super OP.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby varunscs11 » September 6th, 2015, 9:48 pm

For a long time, I wondered why state and national tests were easy for me (and the rest of you guys). The reason is proctors at State and Nationals have to have a wide variety of questions that both extremely knowledgable and so-so knowledgable teams can answer. Also they have 60 (at nationals; 30 at state), and if each of them have tons of essay questions and 100's of multiple choice questions, it would be impossible to grade all the tests by the time of the awards ceremonies with 100% accuracy. ES have to be careful about what types of questions they have because some answers are not on the internet and are in college libraries, which Science Olympiad students wouldn't have access to or the question might involve high level mathematics (SciO is designed to not require calculus although its sometimes easier to know it. ES can't expect middle schoolers to know differential equations or complex geometrical and algebraical formulas). But I do agree, I expected nationals tests to be harder but at the same time I understand why they appeared to be easy (which also says how well prepared we are because for the average team, the tests would be very hard and then of course there are those tests that are actually hard like Part 1 of the Green Gen Div C test). I think it is fair to cut National and State ES some slack because some years they may not have had enough time to write an amazing test because they're working on a grant, or their Ph.D, or applying to Graduate Schools, etc. Also in my opinion, Science Olympiad is not only about memorization, but it is about whether people can apply what they have learned to different types of situations.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Adi1008 » September 7th, 2015, 2:12 pm

...if each of them have tons of essay questions and 100's of multiple choice questions, it would be impossible to grade all the tests by the time of the awards ceremonies with 100% accuracy. ES have to be careful about what types of questions they have because some answers are not on the internet and are in college libraries, which Science Olympiad students wouldn't have access to...
Those are some good points I didn't really consider. Is that the reason why Disease Detectives is held in the beginning of the day for all the teams?
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Jaol » September 7th, 2015, 2:16 pm

...if each of them have tons of essay questions and 100's of multiple choice questions, it would be impossible to grade all the tests by the time of the awards ceremonies with 100% accuracy. ES have to be careful about what types of questions they have because some answers are not on the internet and are in college libraries, which Science Olympiad students wouldn't have access to...
Those are some good points I didn't really consider. Is that the reason why Disease Detectives is held in the beginning of the day for all the teams?
Yup, basically.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby bernard » September 7th, 2015, 2:20 pm

Those are some good points I didn't really consider. Is that the reason why Disease Detectives is held in the beginning of the day for all the teams?
I think so. Our state usually schedules Disease Detectives as one of the first events and one year was the last event announced at awards. A lot of explanation questions, which we have on our tests here, makes it take a lot longer to grade.
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Re: On the difficulty of nationals

Postby Adi1008 » September 7th, 2015, 2:28 pm

...if each of them have tons of essay questions and 100's of multiple choice questions, it would be impossible to grade all the tests by the time of the awards ceremonies with 100% accuracy. ES have to be careful about what types of questions they have because some answers are not on the internet and are in college libraries, which Science Olympiad students wouldn't have access to...
Those are some good points I didn't really consider. Is that the reason why Disease Detectives is held in the beginning of the day for all the teams?
Yup, basically.
Those are some good points I didn't really consider. Is that the reason why Disease Detectives is held in the beginning of the day for all the teams?
I think so. Our state usually schedules Disease Detectives as one of the first events and one year was the last event announced at awards. A lot of explanation questions, which we have on our tests here, makes it take a lot longer to grade.
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