Collegiate difficulties

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College is Hard
See also: Difficulty

Collegiate quizbowl tournaments span a wide range of difficulty levels, from the easiest difficulties intended for college students who are complete beginners to quizbowl (which overlap with the difficulties of high school quizbowl), to the hardest difficulties intended to challenge college students, college graduates, and seasoned players at national championships, open tournaments, and beyond.

The terminology for collegiate difficulties can be ambiguous, competing, or ill-defined. This page attempts to explain commonly-used collegiate tournament difficulties.


There are four broad categories of college difficulty: novice, regular, nationals, and post-nationals.

The first three correspond roughly to ACF Fall, ACF Regionals, and ACF Nationals respectively. In turn, ACF Regionals difficulty corresponds to DI SCT and ACF Nationals to DI ICT; there is no exact NAQT equivalent to ACF Fall, though DII SCT is similar. Each of these pairs of ACF and NAQT tournaments are roughly interchangeable. The fourth "post-nationals" difficulty designates any tournament harder than ACF Nationals, of which Chicago Open is the prototypical example.

"Plus" and "Minus"

Tournaments that aim to be easier or harder than a reference difficulty level can be denoted by appending "plus" or "minus" to the reference difficulty level. For example, a tournament that aims to be more difficult than ACF Regionals might be called "Regionals-plus" or "regular-plus."

"Regular" vs. "Regionals"

See also: Regular difficulty#Redefining regular

Some people define "regular" difficulty as the same difficulty of ACF Regionals. However, regular typically refers to a wider range of difficulties and includes a number of easier tournaments. This distinction between the "regular" and "Regionals" difficulties has been pushed further by arguments to have ACF Regionals no longer represent the difficulty of the median tournament, e.g. by lowering the difficulty of other tournaments relative to Regionals or by making Regionals itself easier.

Advocates for lowering the average difficulty of college quizbowl to be roughly the difficulty of 2018 EFT may sometimes use "regular" difficulty to refer to this new difficulty - "Regionals" difficulty would then represent the unchanged objective difficulty of ACF Regionals, which would now be harder than "regular".

College Quizbowl Calendar Scale

As part of his work to improve tournament scheduling, cooperation, and knowledge sharing in quizbowl, Ophir Lifshitz developed the college quizbowl calendar difficulty scale in March 2018 to remove much of the ambiguity associated with the previously mentioned terms and to better communicate the difficulty of the tournaments being listed side-by-side on the College Quizbowl Calendar. The scale uses four broad ordinal categories, spanning from one to four "dots", to cover the range of difficulties of mainstream college quizbowl tournaments, with two principal relative thresholds ("too easy for experts" and "too hard for beginners") defining 2 and 3 dots. Thus, it is not recommended for question sets to target fine-grained difficulty levels (or "half-dots") in between each of these categories.

Difficulty dots.png

The List

: by convention, the college quizbowl calendar scale does not recommend half-dot increments