To continue with our series about the finer points of USAT scoring, this post is dedicated to the oral Face-Off! round and special cases that sometimes occur. We covered the way raw and ordinalized scoring for this event works in general in another post, but before anyone answers a single question, there are a few things that happen first.
Though some Mind Sprint challenges can easily be facilitated alone, Face-Off! needs two people for it to run smoothly. So, the facilitator/reader is assisted by a scorer/timer. Buzzer strips should be tested before each Meet starts, to make sure they’re working. (For what to do if there is no buzzer system, see below.) At the beginning of each Tri, the facilitator makes sure that the correct teams are competing by checking their team letters against the Meet schedule.
Next, the facilitator asks each team to identify a captain. Any team member may buzz in, but to keep things organized and easy to score, only one voice may answer. The team captain is in charge of giving a team’s official answer, or they may designate another team member by pointing at them before they answer. A team captain can designate a different person each question, if necessary. Only the first answer a team gives is considered; there is no such thing as multiple guesses.
Teams may have writing utensils and scratch paper out for this round, as well as their dictionaries. They gather around the buzzer system (also sometimes called “slap tapes”) so that everyone can reach. When all teams are ready, the challenge begins.
The facilitator reads the question, while the scorer/timer keeps an eye on who buzzes in and how long it takes. As soon as a team buzzes in, the scorer/timer signals the facilitator/reader to stop reading, even if they have not finished the question. (For what to do if the facilitator/reader misses the signal, or how to score Tris with only two teams, see Special Cases, below.)
The scorer/timer identifies which team is to answer, and they have 15 seconds to confer and give their answer.
- If the 15 seconds ends and the captain or designee is still in the middle of giving their answer, they may finish, as long as they have begun an actual response rather than just saying “um,” etc.
- If the 15 seconds ends and/or there is no correct answer given, but another team has also buzzed in, the scorer/timer identifies that team and they have 15 seconds to answer. The facilitator does not repeat the question.
- If no other team has buzzed in, the facilitator repeats the question from the beginning for the remaining teams. As soon as the next team buzzes in, the facilitator stops reading again.
- If the facilitator reads the question in full and no teams buzz in within 10 seconds, the scorer/timer calls “time.” The facilitator gives the answer and moves on to the next question.
An oral Face-Off! round ends when either all 40 questions have been answered, or when the time runs out, whichever comes first. If there is time remaining, a facilitator may ask the teams the alternate questions just for fun, but their answers do not count toward their raw score. Also, a facilitator could ask the teams to write their own Face-Off! questions and give them to the host/facilitator to read for parents and teams while the final scores are being calculated at the end of the Meet.
What can you do if there’s no buzzer system available?
If a buzzer system is not functioning or isn’t present at your Meet, you still may be able to use a computer to judge which team is first to answer. In some cases, multiple keyboards have been plugged in to the same monitor and each team is assigned a row of keys. The scorer/timer can have a Word document open and judge which team “buzzes in” first based on which letter appears first.
During power outages, creative facilitators have used everything from banging on empty apple cider jugs with rulers, to striking staplers as items that students use to “buzz in” to give Face-Off! answers. These methods are more subjective and tougher to score, but the bottom line is that the facilitator has the final say. As long as the scoring method is consistent across all teams, and the facilitator/reader and the scorer/timer are doing their best, that is the most that can be done in the case of a power outage.
What can you do if the reader makes a mistake?
If there is a buzzer system present, it usually makes a sound that will alert the reader to stop reading if a team buzzes in. However, it may be up to the scorer to alert the reader when a team has buzzed in during special cases. If the reader accidentally reads more of a question than they were supposed to, the question must be thrown out and replaced by an alternate question in the same category. The alternate questions are listed at the end of the regular questions.
When it comes to words that are difficult to pronounce, we provide a pronunciation guide in parentheses after the word. It may not be a technical phonetic pronunciation guide, but it will indicate where to put the emphasis of a word by using capital letters. For instance, you may see a question like: “What is agoraphobia (ah-GORE-ah-FOH-bee-ah) a fear of?” This indicates that the second and fourth syllables require emphasis for correct pronunciation. If our pronunciation guide isn’t clear, please double check online. There may also be differences between British English and American English pronunciations, such as the word “glacier.” In the UK, this word sounds like “glass-ee-er” and in the US, it is closer to “glay-sher.” Try to choose the American English pronunciation when possible because our teams are most likely to have heard that pronunciation before. The most important thing is to pronounce the word the same way each time a question is read.
Sometimes, readers may misinterpret the answer or disagree with what is on the answer sheet. When applicable, we try to include our reasoning in parentheses after any answer that may seem tricky. For math problems, we always include the equations. However, it is possible the the USAT writers made a mistake. If a facilitator/reader has an issue with a question or answer, they need to talk to the host/facilitator to resolve the issue before the Tri begins. In most cases, the answer can be checked against a reputable source or an alternate question can be substituted.
What do you do when only two teams compete in an oral Face-Off! Round?
Ideally, Meets have six or nine teams competing. However, we also try to respect travel time and expense for school districts, and may schedule Meets that have a different number of teams. The only event where this can make a difference is in the oral Face-Off! round. If a Tri has only two teams competing, proceed the same as you would in a three-team Tri.
However, this gives those teams an advantage because they only need to “out-buzz” one other opponent rather than two. To counteract this advantage, each team’s score should be multiplied by .67 (two-thirds) and rounded to the nearest whole number before being entered into the scoring spreadsheet and multiplied by 5. We do this because it gives all teams the opportunity to answer all of the same questions, but mathematically creates a “third team” to compete with.
For example, if only Team X and Team Y are competing, and Team X got 25 questions right, their score would be 25 x .67 = 16.75, rounded up to 17, and multiplied by 5 to get a raw oral Face-Off! score of 85. Though it is true that they answered 25 questions right, they also had a greater opportunity to answer all of the questions than teams competing in a three-team Tri. It may be possible that they would have gotten the same 25 questions right if they were in a three-team Tri, but there is no way of knowing that. Instead of speculating on what may have occurred, this process accounts for and eliminates the advantage we definitely know Team X had going into a two-team Tri.
Are there any special cases we missed? Have another question about how Face-Off! scoring works? Leave us a comment or contact Sarah@usacademictriathlon.com.