How Quizbowl Works

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Playing Quizbowl

  • Quizbowl is usually played in rounds, which may be timed or untimed. In timed rounds, a moderator reads as many questions as possible within the time constraints.
  • Quizbowl usually takes place between two teams of 1-4 players each who come from the same school (in official tournaments; unofficial tournaments may allow mixed teams). Players on both sides use a buzzer system to answer.
  • Almost all versions of quizbowl use the tossup/bonus format—that is, both teams have a chance to compete for a tossup and then the team that successfully answers the tossup has a bonus read to them, which the other team can not answer. Values for tossups and bonuses can vary, but usually are 10 points for correctly answering a tossup and up to 30 points possible on a bonus. Some formats, including NAQT, reward 15 points for correctly answering a tossup sufficiently early. Incorrect answers given while the question is being read lose a team 5 points and that team is not allowed to answer on that question.

Sample Game

  • Moderator: This range’s highest point was originally named Fisherman’s Peak but was renamed to honor a governor. Formed as a series of massive granite batholiths during the Jurassic but uplifted later during the Tertiary, it features the ski resort of Mammoth—

[Player 1 buzzes in]

  • Player 1: The Rockies?
  • Moderator: Incorrect, neg 5.

[Player 1’s team loses 5 points and cannot ring again during the question]

  • Moderator: Continuing... Mammoth Lakes just south of Lake Mono in the Long Valley Caldera while Kings Canyon National park is near its southern end. Famously crossed by John C. Frémont in the winter of 1843, for 10 points, name this mountain range traversed by the Donner Pass and home to Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

[Player 2 buzzes in]

  • Player 2: The Sierra Nevada?
  • Moderator: Correct, 10 points, now your bonus.

[Player 2’s team is awarded 10 points and gets a bonus question with the possibility of earning 30 extra points. The bonus is composed of 3 parts, each worth 10 points]

  • Moderator: Answer the following about various declarations and demands around the turn of the 20th century, for ten points each. First, the Omaha Platform was the political platform of this party who ran James Weaver for President in 1892 and won over a million popular votes.

[Player 2’s Team now has 5 seconds to discuss and come up with a possible answer.]

  • Player 2: Populists?
  • Moderator: Correct. Earlier, the Farmer’s Alliance made these 1890 demands, which were named for a city in Florida, advocating many populist principles such as free silver and abolishing national banks.
  • Player 2: Umm... I don’t know.
  • Moderator: That’s the Ocala Demands... The Osawatomie Declaration by this man in 1910 echoed many of the populists demands and combined them with the tenets of his own Progressive party.
  • Player 2: Oh yeah, that’s Roosevelt.
  • Moderator: I need more. [Since there are several famous Roosevelts, players need to provide more specific information]
  • Player 2: Teddy.
  • Moderator: Correct, 20 points on the bonus.

[Player 2’s team earns 20 points for their correct answers of Populists and Teddy Roosevelt out of a possible 30 points]

  • Moderator: Next tossup... [This cycle of Tossups and Bonuses continues until the end of the match is reached, either after a certain number of tossups or if a time limit expires, depending on the format]

Question Sources and Formats

National Tournaments/Titles

Somewhat like wrestling, quizbowl has a number of different organizations that host tournaments billed as “national championships.” However, not all of these tournaments are created equally. For high school, the premiere tournaments are PACE’s National Scholastics Championship and NAQT’s heavily-attended High School National Championship Tournament. Additionally, Chip Beall and his company Questions Unlimited run the National Academic Championship, but this tournament and the format it uses are experiencing a decline in popularity.

For a discussion of the reasons NAC is not a valid national championship, see NAC Popularity and Legitimacy and Reasons for NAC's Continued Existence.

On the college circuit, Academic Competition Federation runs a national championship tournament in ACF format which does not require any previous qualification but which usually attracts all the top collegiate players and teams. NAQT also runs an Intercollegiate Championship Tournament, usually held in early April each year. Teams qualify for the ICT based upon how well they perform at NAQT’s Sectional Championship Tournaments, usually held in February. College Bowl used to run a National Championship Tournament, but that championship was not regarded as a legitimate national title and is now defunct.

Online Quizbowl Community

Quizbowl players have formed an active online community, centered around the HSQB Forums and the IRC channel. Members of the media are welcome to observe or ask questions, but should first search this wiki or other quizbowl sites as most answers can be gleaned from information freely available online.

Common Misconceptions about Quizbowl

  • Quizbowl is like Jeopardy!:

Quizbowl is similar to Jeopardy! in that both involve questions and answers with some mix of academic knowledge and buzzer skills. Quizbowl differs by allowing players to ring in before the end of a question (indeed, this is how most quizbowl questions are answered by good teams); not having categories announced before questions (although some state high school formats, notably IHSA, may do so); featuring longer, clue-dense questions; and containing usually more difficult academic topics than might be common on Jeopardy! Nevertheless, a number of quizbowl players have appeared on Jeopardy! and done quite well. See Jeopardy.

  • All events involving questions and answers are equally legitimate versions of “quizbowl.”
  • A player who finishes at the top of the individual statistical standings is the best player at the tournament:

Not true in most cases. Playing alone or with weaker teammates may allow players to rack up high individual scores without winning many games. For instance, player A on a weak team may average 60 PPG and finish near-last at a tournament, while player B may average only 30 PPG but finish on the winning team where his/her teammates also average around 20-30 PPG. In that case, though player A finishes higher in the individual statistics, player B is likely a superior player.