The High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT) is a premier national tournament run by NAQT every May, typically over Memorial Day weekend. The tournament is a two-day affair, with preliminary rounds Saturday and playoff rounds Sunday. There are also optional practice rounds on the Friday before.
The HSNCT currently draws the largest field of any national tournament. In 2013 it attracted 256 high school teams from 203 different schools. The most common way to qualify for the HSNCT is to finish in the top 15% at a tournament using NAQT questions during the season, though there are alternative ways listed on the NAQT HSNCT website.
The HSNCT tournament set contains 27 packets, each of 24 tossups and 24 bonuses. Its distribution can be found here. Matches use nine-minute halves, so it is common for a match to not get through all of the tossups in a packet. When the timer goes off, moderators finish the question they are reading, and if that question is a tossup that gets answered they read the associated bonus.
(The following two paragraphs describe the format used from 2008 through 2013. Past years were similar but not identical and formats in future years may change based on decisions to be made by NAQT.)
On Saturday, the first day of competition, each team plays ten matches. There are fifteen or sixteen rounds, so each team gets five or six byes. HSNCT uses power-matching; each team is guaranteed to play each of its matches against opponents that have a record within one win of its own record. (In other words, if your current record is 3-5, then your next opponent will be 4-4, 3-5, or 2-6.) Teams need to win at least six of their ten matches to continue play on Sunday.
On Sunday, teams that won six matches on Saturday are eliminated by their first Sunday loss, and teams that won seven or more matches on Saturday are eliminated by their second Sunday loss. With a few exceptions, teams on the verge of elimination play each other, while teams that still have one match to lose also play each other. Play continues until all teams but one are eliminated, and the rest of the final standings in the tournament are based on which teams last the longest on Sunday before being eliminated.
From 2001 to 2013, the HSNCT also recognized a Small School Champion. Schools fitting the criteria played as part of the regular tournament Saturday and Sunday. After they were eliminated from the regular tournament, they played in a separate set of playoff rounds that determined the Small School Champion. As of the 2014 HSNCT the Small School Champion will instead be decided at a separate event.