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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.

College Level

See also: List of Collegiate Difficulties

At the college and open levels of quizbowl, there are four main general standards of difficulty: in increasing order of difficulty, 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.

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.