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Difficulty can refer to either or both of the following:

  1. How hard the questions at the tournament were for the players to answer, as measured either subjectively by the players themselves or objectively through conversion statistics.
  2. How hard the writers or editors of the tournament expect the questions to be, by analogy to a previously-played tournament or general standard. This is often denoted target difficulty.

Regular difficulty

Main page: Regular difficulty

Regular difficulty is the normative difficulty for questions at a given level of quizbowl. Theoretically, it represents the difficulty level at which any eligible closed team across the whole range of skill levels can play meaningful games against any other eligible team. For example, a regular-difficulty high school set should have a distribution, selection of clues/answers, etc. that allows the more knowledgeable high school team in a given match to consistently win,[1] regardless of whether it's a match between weak teams, average teams, or strong teams.

In practice, regular difficulty sets may not align with the optimal difficulty for the population of active teams, especially among the subset that are nationally competitive. This can skew either way: in high school, the regular difficulty (as set by IS sets) is often considered to be "too easy", while in college regular difficulty (currently still set by ACF Regionals) it is "too hard".

College Level

See also: Collegiate difficulties

At the college and open levels of quizbowl, the four main general standards of difficulty (in increasing order of difficulty) are: novice, regular, nationals, and post-nationals. The first three levels roughly (but not exactly) correspond to the difficulty level of previous ACF Fall, ACF Regionals, and ACF Nationals sets, respectively; the fourth is reserved for anything harder than ACF Nationals.

There have been efforts to reframe "regular difficulty" as something easier than of ACF Regionals, which would be described "Regionals difficulty" instead. ACF Winter, the ACF tournament intermediate in difficulty to Fall and Regionals, lies in this range and returned after a ten-year hiatus in 2020.

Ophir Lifshitz has created a four-dot difficulty scale to remove ambiguities in difficulty terminology.

High School Level

At the high school level, HSAPQ tournament sets and NAQT IS sets are considered the standard for regular difficulty. Most other sets are described in terms of how much easier or harder than these sets a tournament is expected to be. HSQBRank keeps a set of "stat adjustments" that measures the difficulty of different packet sets: NAQT IS sets are set to zero, while more positive numbers indicate more difficult sets and more negative numbers indicate easier sets.

Middle School Level

At the middle school level, NAQT MS sets are considered the standard for regular difficulty. The lower number of middle school sets mean that difficulty is often pinned to high school sets.


  1. Some thoughts on the distribution and regular difficulty by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Sat Nov 13, 2010 9:09 pm