National Consumers League

Confessions of a LifeSmarts question setter


By Seth Woods, LifeSmarts Outreach Coordinator

Check out our new LifeSmarts blog! A new year, a new champion: now the LifeSmarts competition is starting to heat up! As our first state tournament was held last week in New Jersey, and with more soon to follow, I thought it would be helpful to give some advice to the hundreds of students who will soon nervously be sitting behind the buzzers. You see, I have a confession to make: I’m the one that puts together the competition scripts. After the questions used in LifeSmarts are written by knowledgeable consumer experts, and reviewed by even more knowledgeable experts, the decision as to which questions end up at the tournament comes down to me. And it’s a doozy of a task, but it’s one I take seriously. The 2013 state tournament script is 359 pages long (!), and contains 723 questions from our five categories: the environment, personal finance, health and safety, consumer rights, and technology. That’s a lot of knowledge to cover, and it’s the main reason I’m writing this now: to give coaches and players a view into my mind while I prepared the competition script. Here are some things you should know:
  • The main purpose of LifeSmarts is for everyone to learn something, and the questions reflect that purpose. It doesn’t matter whether someone has studied for months or walked on stage by accident—I want everyone to go home with information they didn’t know when they arrived that morning.
  • There will be easy questions, particularly in the opening rounds. LifeSmarts is about demonstrating what teen consumers know, and the fact is they already know a lot—so teams should be rewarded for it. You know what dialing 911 will do? Good! If you’re first to the buzzer, that’s 5 points.
  • There will be difficult questions, but it doesn’t hurt to guess. The ultimate purpose of the day is to crown a state champion, and the only way to winnow out a winner is with tough questions. That said, you can not lose points in LifeSmarts, so it’s in your best interest to make an educated guess. Don’t know which federal agency investigates claims of wage theft? Take a guess! It’s probably part of the Department of Labor.
  • Expect some “current event” questions. Being an informed consumer never stops, there’s always something new we have to watch out for. Major changes in things like health care, credit cards, even robocalls merit consumers’ attention. Questions like that will show up, too.
  • Don’t forget the old chestnuts. Every once in a while a question from a few years ago might show up. I pulled a few questions from the activities on the Web site and even the online competition, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked a question you’ve seen before. I put them in to reward those who visit regularly.
  • I love terrible puns. You’ve been warned. The lightning rounds used in the later rounds all have titles that may have different meanings; for example, the round “Call Me Maybe” is about telephones. There will be other awful jokes in there, for those already groaning just be glad “Oppa Gangrene Style!” didn’t make the cut.
I hope this helps all the coaches and players out there preparing for competition, and when someone thinks, “Why did they ask that?” you’ll know. Because knowledge is power, and with great power comes great response ability. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all night—I’ve got a national tournament script to prepare!