Every day I'm Sporcling: How a trivia website helps me succeed in university

Monday, January 29, 2018
by Kate Stericker

the homepage of Sporcle.com

Online trivia has been a trend in recent years, with apps like QuizUp and Trivia Crack receiving millions of downloads. Personally, my trivia platform of choice is a website: Sporcle.com. The site, which contains quizzes in various formats on subjects ranging from television to religion,  was first introduced to me in high school by the coach of my Reach for the Top competitive trivia team. Since I was the literature specialist of our team, she thought that playing quizzes like 100 Books, 100 Authors would help me prepare for our trivia tournaments. (Incidentally, if you can outscore a result of 86/100, then you could also have beaten me in competition.) Although I started out using the site as a study tool, I soon discovered quizzes that functioned as entertaining diversions rather than tests of knowledge, like Underwhelmed Tourists and Missing Word: History Misconceptions, and found myself spending hours on the site just for fun.

In fact, I became so fascinated by the creative and unconventional quizzes on the site that I started to wonder if I could transform my own ideas into quizzes to share with other users. Fortunately, Sporcle has a set of tools that make the process of creating quizzes easy and intuitive. I started out making quizzes on topics that interested me, like webcomics and Broadway musicals. However, I quickly realized that making quizzes didn’t have to be just a distraction from my schoolwork; I could use the site’s quiz-making tools and the games contributed by other users to become a better student. I find Sporcle such a valuable academic tool that I continue to make regular use of it today, in my fourth year of university. Read on to learn about the three main functions that make Sporcle an asset to my studies.

1. Making quizzes

Studies have shown that the more you engage with the material you’re trying to learn, the more likely you are to retain it. That’s why writing a fact down is better than reading it, and quizzing yourself with flashcards is better than just reviewing your notes. For me, it’s always been a challenge to devise high-level study strategies that I can execute on my own; I appreciate being quizzed by classmates, but techniques like writing up flashcards for my own use have never clicked with me. Sporcle is the perfect solution to this problem: if you format the information you need to study as a quiz, you can test yourself and get clear feedback on what you don’t know without the awkwardness of covering answers with your hand or debating whether the answer you thought of is ‘close enough’ to what’s written on the flash card.

However, in my experience, the most helpful part of the process isn’t playing the quizzes, but making them. Creating a study game from scratch involves reviewing the material you’re testing over and over with a clear goal in mind. For example, to create this simple vocab quiz about Renaissance Rhetoric, I had to comb through my notes to pick out the most important terms, find concise definitions for those terms, type those definitions into the back end of the quiz-making tool, and run through the questions several times to check for typos and ensure everything was working correctly. By the point at which the quiz was ready to publish, I’d reviewed the material many times without feeling like I was enduring a boring grind; instead, the process was fun and motivating because I was working towards a concrete goal. Over time, my ideas have become more complex, resulting in quizzes like this break-down of Piaget’s developmental stages made for PSYCH 101 and this timeline of social media events made for ENGL 295. The more elaborate the quiz, the more deeply I engage with the material and the more comfortable I become with course content!

2. Playing quizzes

Even if you aren’t interested in making your own quizzes, the vast number of user-created quizzes on Sporcle can still provide a fun and effective method for reviewing material. Although there may not be a lot of quizzes on niche topics like Renaissance Rhetoric or Religion in Sociological Perspective, any relatively common subject is likely to have plenty of content already available. For example, when I was trying to learn the structure of the brain for my psychology class, one search directed me to relevant quizzes in the picture click, map, clickable, and classic formats. This variety of styles helped me to increase the challenge level as my understanding of the material increased, and it also kept the revision process from getting repetitive. Some subjects offered at the University of Waterloo, like Studies in Islam or Geology, correspond to specially curated subpages of the Sporcle site, meaning you’ll never run out of quizzes to test or expand your knowledge. When I took Spanish 101 in second year, I burned through hundreds of Spanish quizzes and found it really helped me get a grasp on the basics of the language!

3. Quizzes as motivation

The final way I use Sporcle to help me succeed isn’t directly related to learning material, but it’s still made a huge difference to my study habits. As I mentioned before, one of my favourite elements of the site is the range of silly, enjoyable quizzes that you can play without needing exhaustive knowledge of any particular subject. If I have an essay to work on or a test to study for, I can harness this interest as a motivating tool. You’ve likely heard of the Pomodoro Technique, a productivity strategy which involves a series of 25-minute work sessions separated by 5-minute breaks. Although this approach can be very effective, I prefer methods which are based on the amount of work accomplished rather than the amount of time elapsed. Thus, I’ll often establish a work pattern that involves writing one page of an essay before breaking to play five Sporcle quizzes, or sticking to a different combination of work and reward that is appropriate for the task at hand. This system is effective because it gives me something to work towards and allows me to take short breaks without the need to tear myself away from a book or TV show before I’m ready. This method is most enjoyable when I’m playing quizzes to work towards one of Sporcle’s many achievement badges, since I can experience a rush of accomplishment during my work period and my break period!

Whether I’m making quizzes or playing them, Sporcle is a huge help to me as a student. However, even if this particular site doesn’t hold much interest for you, I hope this post still demonstrates that unconventional tools can make a huge difference to your study habits. If you’ve tried all the classic suggestions for study tools and haven’t clicked with any of them, don’t worry--you might discover an obscure app or website which transforms your academic experience!