And the four Big Quiz finalists are...

Hwa Chong Institution survived getting "sabo-ed" twice to win the semi-final round of The Big Quiz.

The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz, held yesterday at *Scape, proved to be as much about strategy as general knowledge.

Four of six teams made the finals, with Raffles Institution (RI), River Valley High School (RVHS) and Nanyang Junior College (NYJC) joining HCI.

RVHS and RI shot two questions they could not answer to HCI - playing their "Sabo King" cards to sabotage as part of their strategy.

Still, HCI emerged with 260 points. A delighted team member, 17-year-old Noelle Huang, said: "Hopefully we will be able to replicate this at the finals."

Teams were split into two groups. In the first, NYJC blazed ahead of Anglo-Chinese Junior College and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), finishing with 160 points. In the second, RVHS, RI and HCI duked it out, with Raffles Institution eventually going head to head with Hwa Chong Institution.

"The strategic element really added spice to the competition," said Mr Simon Reynolds, the head judge and assistant director of MOE's English Language and Literature branch of the Curriculum Planning and Development Division. "It's not just about answering the questions as quickly as possible but a tactical game - almost like a spectator sport."

Game play moved fast, with one turning out to be a particular challenge. In Make Your Point, contestants had to craft and deliver an argument in 90 seconds on a topic assigned on the spot. After just 10 seconds to think, they presented arguments to questions such as "Should advertisers be allowed to target children?"; "Are we spending too much time on digital devices?"; and "Have recycling efforts in Singapore been effective?"

ST Schools team editor Serene Goh called the round "the true test". She said: "There was no multiple-choice guessing, so it's really impressive how quickly teams formed coherent responses from scratch. It's as if they'd been debating all their lives."

Two teams did not make the cut, although not for want of trying.

Anglo-Chinese Junior College and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) played well, and ACSI student Brandon Pek, 17, found himself regretting he would no longer get to compete.

"We are not sad about not being able to win the cash prize but that we will not be able to participate in such a fun quiz any more," he said. "It's a pity that there aren't more quizzes like this in Singapore."

The Big Quiz is organised by The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education and sponsored by the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation and innovation partner Shell. The four finalist teams will meet next week on Wednesday and vie for the top prize of $5,000 and the championship trophy at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

For full details of The Big Quiz, head to www. straitstimes.com/thebigquiz


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