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Quizbowl, sometimes spelled Quiz Bowl, is the most common name for a competition involving answering questions and attemping to provide the correct answer, usually with a buzzer. Quizbowl has many different names and is played in many different formats throughout the world, but the most common format on the national high school and college level involves two teams buzzing on tossup questions and then collaborating on bonus questions on NAQT, ACF, or mACF formats.


United States

Don Reid developed a quizzing game for soldiers during WWII. He modified his game to produce College Bowl for radio in 1953, featuring teams of college students. College Bowl later moved to, then left, television, and its format was further modified to create the different quizbowl formats offered today.


I.Q. was a CBC radio quiz show for high school teams based on College Bowl's format. It was canceled at about the same time that CBC Television began airing Reach for the Top, based on the UK's Top of the Form radio show. Reach for the Top left television in 1985, but continues within schools.

United Kingdom

BBC radio produced Top of the Form for high school students in 1948 and continued into the 1980s. At the university level, Don Reid brought College Bowl's format to British television with University Challenge in 1962, a program that still airs to this day.



The college game is in general more uniform than the high school game. The main formats are ACF (and non-affiliated but similar style mACF tournaments) and NAQT. CBI, which used to be the main college format, fell out of favor with most people that enjoy good quizbowl for numerous reasons (see bad quizbowl, for instance), and in June 2008 the CBI program was suspended indefinitely.

The high school game is very diverse, although national tournaments like NAQT's HSNCT and PACE's NSC help unify different regions of the country. Both of those tournaments feature formats that are relatively similar to the predominant college game, in that they feature pyramidal questions and generally focus on academic subjects. While nothing inherent to the four quarter format prevents tournaments using it from being just as good as the tossup/bonus format, many of the most prominent tournaments in four quarter, such as the NAC, are terrible. Other tournaments such as the Brookwood Invitational Scholars Bowl use the four quarter format to a high degree of respect.

Pop culture tournaments, usually called trash tournaments are typically in the mACF or NAQT style and are aimed for college level or general audiences.

What is and is not quizbowl

While some opine that College Bowl, the National Academic Championship, and bizarre state formats such as OAC are so aberrant that they should not be considered the same game as mainstream quizbowl, this division is controversial and often exaggerated for rhetorical effect. What is clear to almost everyone is that the following things are not quizbowl, even though many of the same people who play quizbowl are interested in them. Editors of the Wikipedia article on quizbowl and people looking to crow about their own accomplishments should take note:

  • Written tests or competitions or anything that does not use a buzzer
  • Network game shows
  • Bar trivia/NTN
  • Trivial Pursuit and other board games
  • Subject-specific tournaments run by and largely for non-quizbowl people (Science Bowl, Entomology Bowl, Beef Bowl, and so on)

Such activities may have plenty of merits, but they should be conceived of separately from what is meant by reference to the high school and collegiate quizbowl communities.


Quizbowl teams typically play each other at tournaments. Most tournaments are open tournaments, in that anyone who fits the eligibility requirements (such as having a team consisting entirely of students from one high school) can participate in the tournament. A few tournaments, usually national tournaments, restrict eligibility to teams that qualify by winning smaller, local tournaments.

Most tournaments, especially at the college and elite high school levels, consist of two teams competing head to head in individual rounds on a packet of questions. Tournaments usually feature a number of preliminary rounds before teams are seeded into some sort of playoff structure. College tournaments tend to favor using a round robin playoff schedule so that more games are played by each team, while many high school tournaments use an elimination playoff system.

In the high school game, tournament questions almost always come from an outside vendor or are written by the organization hosting the tournament. This is also true for college tournaments held on NAQT or CBI questions. mACF and ACF college tournaments, however, usually are packet submission (although there are noted exceptions to this, such as EFT or PARFAIT; there is nothing inherent in the mACF or ACF rules that require these tournaments to be packet submission). Each team attending a packet submission tournament writes a packet (somewhere around 20-26 tossups and bonuses) of questions which are then usually sent to an editor or team of editors who weed out any duplicates and change and replace questions that are problematic. Since individual teams have not told the other teams what they've written, packet submission tournaments are able to take place by having the team that wrote the packet sit out of one round while the other teams play the packet.