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Want to boost your trivia score? Learn from these high school trivia whiz kids

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When it comes to mastering trivia, it seems reading and a natural curiosity is key.

English, history, entertainment, math and geography: high school trivia teams could be quizzed on any of it when they compete at the Reach for the Top Nationals in Ottawa in June.

“I take in a lot of information from reading a lot of things and just kind of, what sticks will stick,” Luke White, a student at Fredericton High school, told CTV News. “What doesn’t stick will stick eventually probably when I read it again.”

The games are a mixed-bag of questions—from blurting out fictional rabbits to Nobel Peace Prize winners. Musicians, politicians and mathematical equations are all on the table, and students have mere seconds to answer.

Zoë Jarvis, one of White’s teammates on Fredericton High School, likes to brush up on subjects that interest her, such as music. She spends a lot of time on YouTube, Wikipedia and WatchMojo.

“I like to just kind of have obscure knowledge that I can just whip out anytime,” Jarvis said.

Another teammate, Sara Hughes, tunes into a lot of Jeopardy.

“I’m really inspired by Mattea Roach from Nova Scotia who won all those games. I think she’s pretty cool,” she said. “I just, I read a lot of books. I’m always on Wikipedia looking up stuff like that.”

Hughes said she only remembers information that interests her.

“But I’m interested in a lot of things so I guess it works out,” she said. “You’ll never see me answer a sports question. You’ll never see me answer a math question.”

At the Reach for the Top 2024 provincials, Fredericton High School’s team bested Bernice MacNaughton High School. Both teams secured a spot at nationals and have a chance to compete against the best in Canada on June 1 and 2.

Step inside Natasha LeBlanc’s classroom at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, N.B., and signs of study are everywhere, as lists mark whiteboards and walls.

Premiers. Bodies of Water. Names etched in history. One hundred-and-eighteen brightly coloured sticky notes are posted on a board, mapping out every element of the Periodic table.

“How much stuff can you pack in your brain?,” we asked Bernice MacNaughton High School’s Charlotte Upright.

“A surprising amount,” she said smiling. “It’s a lot easier than it probably seems, studying and remembering everything because we all come from different backgrounds of interest.”

Upright said most of the stuff they learn are interests they have, adding it’s not about cramming but expanding on the knowledge they have.

Curiosity plays an important role. Spend a few minutes with these students, and it’s obvious they ask a lot of questions, naturally thirsty for knowledge.

These days, even going to the fridge has turned into a hunt for more information.

“I was going through my fridge and I saw a mini can of Pepsi and I was like ‘How many millilitres is this and I was like ‘Okay, remember that,” said Sarah Hackett.

Unlike cramming for exams, students say preparing for nationals is fun and stress-free.

“It’s not a mandatory like ‘okay I have to study now,’” Hackett said. “It’s a ‘I really want to do this cause I love it so much.”

Boosting memory

Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, noted how trivia doesn’t just require memorizing random information, but being exposed to knowledge and facts.

But processing information meaningfully, known as deep processing, could help. Labelling words as good or bad is one example of how to deep process information.

When it comes to boosting one’s ability to recall information they memorized, Joordens said attaching it to something that’s already in one’s mind can help.

“And often using things like bizarre imagery and other things to connect stuff with the mind,” Joordens said.

He says some people use what’s known as a memory palace, where people envision a space they’re familiar with and place information in an area within that space.

Mnemonic strategies like acronyms can also help to remember and retrieve information.   

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