Sunday, 5 November 2017

Is It A Question of Age?

Here’s an interesting question which has arisen through comments made about my review of the first repechage match of this season’s University Challenge. Is an average older quizzer more likely to be better than an average younger quizzer?

A few years ago I would probably have said, yes, in all probability an average quizzer in their 50’s is probably going to be better than an average quizzer in their 30s. Now, well, I just don’t know.

The only quizzer I can discuss with any real degree of authority is me, so let’s do that. I began as a quizzer in early 1988. I wasn’t a bad player, and I was lucky to be part of a good team, in local terms, until it broke up about 3 years later. Then I hardly quizzed for 2 or 3 years. So in 1995, when I started to go to the quiz in Aberavon Rugby Club, and to play in the Neath Quiz League, I was 31, and a decent player who hadn’t played in a few years. Am I a better player now than I was in 1995? I would say yes, without doubt I am. I’ve had 22 years’ experience since then. But I would argue that I’m not that much better now than I was by 1997/8. Those first few years in the League and in the Rugby Club were hugely important to my development as a quizzer. I can’t tell you the value of those early years of preparing quizzes for the club every 2 – 4 weeks. By this time I was attending at least 3 quizzes every week as well. Physically I was only 2 years older by 1997 – 33. In terms of quizzing, though, there was no comparison between the 31 year old me and the 33 year old me. In fact I’d say there was far less of a difference between the 33 year old me and the 43 year old me. And probably the 53 year old me, for that matter. 

I’ve never really worked at my quizzing as such. However, for a few years between about 2010 and 2014/15 I was doing the papers every day, writing down things I felt would possibly come up as quiz questions. So I’d say that if I had a ‘peak’ as a quizzer it would be about this time when I was just about turning 50. I’ve probably been gently rolling downhill ever since. We have a more healthy roster of regular setters for the club now, and I doubt that I set a quiz more than once in a couple of months. I’ve stopped playing in the Bridgend league, and the rugby club quiz is the only quiz I do regularly, although I still have a go at Brain of Mensa. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go overboard, but basically, going to different pub quizzes on a Sunday evening was only bringing me grief and aggravation, and I stopped enjoying the League. 

I’m straying a little from my original brief. In all honesty, I don’t know if people in their 20s/30s are naturally going to be weaker quizzers than people in their 40s/50s. I mean, you’d think so purely in terms of life experience. But then when I do the rugby club quiz, when I played in the league and various Sunday night quizzes, I was often struck by – a) How much people don’t know, regardless of their age – and – b) how the same people could keep getting the same questions wrong, year after year. And I suppose it comes down to this – there is a wide gulf separating those who want to work at their quiz, who take it very seriously – and those who don’t, and that’s regardless of age. 

I’d be interested in your opinions on this.


Jack said...

In my opinion, Dave, I think it depends on what sort of quiz you're partaking in.

For example, Chris Tarrant said in his Millionaire autobiography that younger people on the show tended not to fare as well in the chair as they had not as much knowledge as the older generation, but tended to be better at FFF. He then said that the older generation have more knowledge to fare better in the chair, but aren't as good at FFF and thus find it harder to get in.

Last week's UC backed this up a bit, as King's were a decent team, but were soundly beaten by a much younger Merton team who were quicker on the buzzer.

On the other hand, if you're taking part in a standard pub quiz where buzzer work isn't needed, and a good general knowledge is the main attribute required, I'd say an older team would probably have a slight advantage.

TBH, though, I have a lot of respect for anyone, however old, who takes part in TV quiz shows, not at least as it shows they have good general knowledge but confidence in themselves to do well. Not something I can say of myself at the moment, which is why I haven't applied for any. Yet.

Angram said...

I think that generally speaking people aged over 50 have a broader general knowledge, due to education being less exam / league table orientated back in the day.I can remember my teachers often going off at a wildly irrelevant (but memorable and informative) tangent, which would probably be frowned on today with lesson plans, learning outcomes,etc.

Mycool said...

I stand by what I said. If you are a so-so keen quizzer, it takes years to build up a good quiz knowledge. That is difficult for a 20-year-old to build up; you would have to be in a quizzing family doing quiz questions at the breakfast table pre-teens. My quiz teams (charity quiz nights rather than pub quizzes) consist of well-informed people in their 40s-60s who have absorbed knowledge in their long(er) lives and are not interested in quizzing as such. If you have lived through the sixties (The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Space Oddity, Till Death Us Do Part, Steptoe and Son, Monty Python, Juke Box Jury, the 1966 World Cup Final, Mary Rand winning the Long Jump, Ann Jones winning Wimbledon, the death of Jim Clark, Celtic winning the European Cup, Tottenham winning the double under Bill Nicholson, Harold Wilson winning the general election on the day that Kruschev was deposed, the moon landing, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination, My Lai), it is easier to recall them than if you learn them as history. Yes, I do remember where I was when I heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. In my observation, the twenty-somethings know about music, TV and sport of the noughties and the current decade, but they struggle with anything earlier. So they do well in pub quizzes and badly in charity quiz nights. And I agree with Angram that earlier generations had less pressure to perform like parrots in narrow exams and more opportunities to acquire a general education covering many subjects. For example, at primary school I learned that Florence Nightingale was awarded the Order of Merit and forty years later I correctly guessed the answer when we were asked which woman was the first to be awarded the Order of Merit. In my experience the only history that the current generation of sixth-formers know is the Tudors and the Nazis. If you do not believe me, watch The Chase, which I watch more than any other quiz show; the young students do consistently badly. The Chasers fear most a "full house" with a spread of ages, and it is mostly the more-mature contestants (30+) who do best. When a young contestant does not know an answer, Bradley often comments that it is an age thing.

Ian F said...

I'm in awe of the best University Challenge teams with average ages of 20-or-so. When I was their age I knew relatively nothing. Now that I'm 50+ I can just about compete with them.

By the time an enquiring mind gets to 50 it has acquired a huge range of general knowledge. The problem then is that the neurons get slower and feebler, the actual names of people and places become detached from everything else you recall about them, just slightly out of reach..