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Introduction to Quizbowl

Quizbowl, sometimes spelled Quiz Bowl, is the most common name for a competition involving answering knowledge-testing questions 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 is a two-team competition in which the teams compete to buzz in on tossup questions and then collaborate on bonus questions.

The typical quizbowl competition features questions from a variety of academic subjects, including literature; science; history; religion, mythology, and philosophy; fine arts; social science; and geography.

A transcript of a sample game can be found here.

Quizbowl is played at thousands of colleges, high schools, and middle schools. The United States is the most active quizbowl country, but competitions exist throughout the world.

Some of the alternative names for Quizbowl include Scholastic Bowl, Academic Bowl, Scholars Bowl, Quick Recall, Knowledge Bowl, and College Bowl.


“I really couldn’t imagine the past 8 years of my life without Quizbowl. My experience playing Quizbowl in high school inspired me to learn new things and helped me make friends all across the country.”–Roxanne Ilagan, Grosse Pointe North High School (MI) ‘12

Quizbowl tournaments are buzzer competitions that cover a variety of academic categories. The following things are not quizbowl, even though many of the same people who play quizbowl are interested in them:

  • Written tests or competitions or anything that does not use a buzzer at any time
  • 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 are not quizbowl.

The main format of college quizbowl, which is generally more uniform than the high school game, is ACF, which is a type of Tossup-Bonus Format, i.e. in which each game consists of a packet with 20 tossups and 20 bonuses. (It is not unusual for tournaments to use powers, which ACF does not use.) The high school game is more diverse and regional, but the trend in recent years has been for many high tournaments to move towards being similar to ACF in format. There are also a growing number of middle school tournaments that are similar in format to ACF.

Tossup-bonus is not the only format used. Another common format is the four-quarter format, which may incorporate alternative question types like worksheets and lightning rounds.

Another trend in quizbowl is an increasing use of the tenets of good quizbowl, one of which is pyramidality.


“There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching eight people reaping the fruits of learning for its own sake. It’s always rewarding to see students get enthused about a clue they learned from a class, a movie, a museum, or a book.” –Ben Herman, Henderson High School (PA) ‘11

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. Over the years, many college national, high school national, and high school state championships developed in addition to many local tournaments.


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. More recently, good quizbowl tournaments have emerged in Canada, largely through the establishment of events running the same questions as American tournaments, sometimes with some additional Canadian content added.

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. Similarly to Canada, a few events have been established using American questions, such as the NAQT British Student Quiz Championships.


“Quizbowl has taught me so many things from the geography of the world to learning to take initiative among many other priceless things.” –Kady Hsu, Rancho Bernardo High School (CA) ‘19

Quizbowl teams typically play each other at tournaments. Most tournaments do not require any sort of qualifier. A few tournaments, usually national or state championships, restrict eligibility to teams that qualify by winning smaller, local tournaments.

Most tournament matches consist of two teams competing head to head in individual rounds on a packet of questions. The most common tournament format is round robin pools in the morning with the best teams spread out into different pools followed by round robin pools in the afternoon with the best teams playing each other. Smaller tournaments play a complete round robin.

In the middle school and high school game, tournament questions generally come from an outside vendor, are written by the organization hosting the tournament, or are mirrored from another host. The two most respected question vendors are HSAPQ and NAQT. In the college game, tournament questions generally come from packet submission, meaning that each team attending writes a packet of questions which are then usually sent to an editor or team of editors who weed out any duplicates and who change and/or 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.

Some high school competitions are run as after-school leagues rather than weekend tournaments; though this is a rarer practice, nothing prevents leagues from using good questions or being legitimate. Examples include the Virginia High School League Scholastic Bowl.


Here are many examples of good questions.