Bridging Theory and Practice; Johns Hopkins PhD Epidemiology student writes On NSMQ 23 Question Tagged Incorrect – The 10% Law

Bridging Theory and Practice; Johns Hopkins PhD Epidemiology student writes On NSMQ 23 Question Tagged Incorrect – The 10% Law

First, Congratulations to Presbyterian Boys’ SHS for clinching the title in this year’s National Science and Math Quiz (NSMQ), and heartfelt appreciation to Primetime and all sponsors for facilitating this esteemed competition.

The NSMQ has indeed grown in stature, now rivaling our national love for soccer in popularity. While the competition continues to excel, it’s prudent to offer constructive feedback to further hone its impact and sustain interest.

This piece seeks to address a notable incident from this year’s competition, reflecting on the balance between theoretical precision and practical understanding, a key element in nurturing innovative minds capable of tackling real-world challenges.

The “10% law” question provides an opportune moment to reflect on the essence and impact of educational competitions.


A question concerning the “10% Law” in the context of food chains saw a response marked incorrect due to a minor omission, despite the understanding of the concept being evidently clear.

Name the law that explains that each trophic level in a FOOD CHAIN transfers 10% of its energy to the level above it, and the other 90% of its energy is lost to heat or reproduction.

❌ Answer given by OPOKU WARE SCHOOL: The 10% law.

However, our beloved quiz mistress marked this response as incorrect, stipulating the answer should have been “The 10% law in food chain”.

However, the context of the question was clearly delineated; hence, the phrase “in food chain” was implicitly understood, making the given answer accurate and succinct.

The penalization for a perceived lack of completeness, in this case, underscores a prevalent concern in our educational fabric – the emphasis on mechanical/verbatim memorization over a nuanced/holistic understanding of concepts.

While precision in scientific terminology is vital, the pendulum should not swing to the extreme where the essence of learning is overshadowed by the rigidity of expression.

Here is why we need to rethink such rigidity in expression.

📌 Strict Adherence to Terminology

While technical precision is important in scientific communication, the emphasis on exact wording to the detriment of conceptual understanding can be counterproductive, especially in an educational setting designed to inspire and nurture young minds.

📌 Impediment to Practical Learning

This approach can potentially hinder creativity and critical thinking essential for real-world problem-solving.

The focus shifts from a practical understanding of concepts and their applications to a memorization of textbook definitions and terminologies. This does not foster an environment conducive to practical learning and innovative thinking, which is crucial for tackling real-world challenges.

📌Impact on Student Engagement

Such rigid adjudication may also deter student engagement and enthusiasm.

When students are penalized for minor omissions in terminology despite demonstrating a clear understanding of the concept, it can be demoralizing and may affect their confidence and performance.

Educational competitions like the NSMQ are pivotal in inspiring and nurturing scientific inquiry among young learners.

They serve as platforms for not merely disseminating knowledge but for promoting critical thinking, innovative problem-solving, and practical application of theoretical concepts.

📌Way forward🤝

Integrating more real-world scenarios and problem-solving exercises can enrich the learning experience and demonstrate the relevance of theoretical knowledge.

In essence, while maintaining a high standard of excellence, it’s imperative that educational competitions like the NSMQ evolve to foster a conducive environment for practical learning and innovative thinking.

This balanced approach can significantly contribute to nurturing a generation of thinkers, innovators, and problem solvers well-equipped to tackle the multifaceted challenges of our contemporary world.

Banda Khalifa MD, MPH, MBA
PhD Epidemiology Student, Johns Hopkins University
President, Epidemiology Student Organization


Peter N. Djangmah is a multifaceted individual with a passion for education, entrepreneurship, and blogging. With a firm belief in the power of digital education and science, I am affectionately known as the Private Minister of Information. Connect with me
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