Good quizbowl

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"Good quizbowl" is a designation which refers to quizbowl conventions, questions, and tournaments that reward teams for demonstrating differing levels of academic knowledge in a fair and consistent manner. Necessary features of "good quizbowl" include:

  • Questions that consistently reward knowledge of a topic over buzzer speed, as exemplified by tossups that contain many clues arranged in rough order from most obscure to least obscure (pyramidality) and bonuses/team rounds that contain "easy", "medium," and "hard" parts
  • Questions whose clues uniquely point to their desired answer(s) and which are written clearly
  • A range of topics that the target audience should and does know much about, supplemented by subjects that are not as well known but nevertheless demonstrably important and answerable (the canon for that level)
  • An emphasis on the academic nature of quizbowl and eschewal of questions on excess general knowledge or trash, spelling, and other non-academic "fluff" (see trivia for a discussion)
  • A tournament structure and management that is fair to all teams, allows all teams to play many matches, follows rules that are announced in advance, and preferably does not eliminate a team from championship contention for losing one match

Competitions which deviate from the fairness and competitive spirit of "good quizbowl" by lacking the above are "bad quizbowl" or not quizbowl.

Though use of the tossup-bonus format is not essential to "good quizbowl", an overwhelming majority of "good" quizbowl tournaments use that format.

"Good quizbowl" vs. Good quizbowl

"Good quizbowl", referring to that which adheres to the set of standards and principles enumerated in this article, is not the same as good quizbowl (quizbowl that is good). It is possible for a set which has a strong sense of pyramidality and only focuses on academic content to be low-quality. It is also technically possible for tournaments which fail these criteria to have well-written questions, though much less common. In general, when individuals critique tournaments as being "not good", they are referring to quality, but this ambiguity can make it unclear what they meant. As such, the phrase "good quizbowl" is confusing enough that it should be largely avoided, even among members of the community which are aware of its intended meaning. "Pyramidality" can generally be substituted, even though it does not refer to exactly the same thing.

Common Misconceptions about "Good Quizbowl"

The term "good quizbowl" emerged because it was once much more important to draw a distinction between "good" and "bad" forms of quizbowl. The following are rebuttals of several of the arguments that were common in that time period.

  • Confusing "good quizbowl" with high-difficulty quizbowl.
"Good quizbowl" is not more inherently more difficult than "bad quizbowl" in terms of how many questions are answered and in what knowledge students need to answer questions and get points. In fact, "good quizbowl" using pyramidal tossups and bonuses should have more tossups that get answered by a wider array of teams than "bad quizbowl" formats that often use speed-check questions that are more likely to go dead entirely. Adding more clues (that may be difficult at first) actually increases the chance of each tossup getting converted.
  • Considering only the use of pyramidal questions to be necessary for "good quizbowl."
Pyramidality is important, but there are other important factors to consider in a competition such as the format, seeding, and question distribution in order for it to be considered "good quizbowl." Practices such as seeding teams completely at random or grouping the top teams all in one prelim bracket are certainly "bad quizbowl" regardless of what questions are used.
  • Claiming that "good quizbowl" moves too slowly.
Poorly-run tournaments and ill-trained moderators in the past may have left some teams with a false impression about the speed of "good quizbowl", but in general most "good quizbowl" tournaments now average under 30 minutes a round. As anyone who has attended the HSNCT can attest, "good quizbowl" can move very quickly and cover a wide range of material in a short amount of time.