Reach for the Top

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Reach for the Top is the dominant high school quiz competition in Canada. It is composed largely of speed-check questions, has no explicit academic focus, and is usually considered to be a separate game from quizbowl.

Francophone high school students usually play Genies en herbe, while university students play in the quizbowl format.


The majority of questions in Reach for the Top are approximately the length of quizbowl bonus questions (1-2 sentences), and are worth, for the most part, 10 points each. Interruption of the questions for early guesses are not only allowed but also encouraged, as the game is based heavily on speed. Consultation is permitted at almost all times in Reach for the Top (see "Shootouts" and "Assigned" for exceptions). There are no negs or powers in Reach, although negs (-5) appeared in the 2007 Nationals for the first time.



Forming the bulk of Reach for the Top questions, these consist of 1-2 sentence questions open to both teams and are worth ten points each. Snapout/Snapstart categories take place at the beginning and end of each round, respectively, and the subject of each question varies (i.e. none are linked by a category). "Open" questions are 2-4 questions (20-40 points) that are linked by a similar category (e.g. "40 point open on architects") and are open to both teams.

"20 Point Special"

Like an open question (see last category), but the answer often requires 2 answers in one (e.g. Q: Name both years in which a player's strike or owner's lockout was responsible for the cancellation of some or all of the games in an NHL season. A: 1994-95 and 2004-05 [sic] and 2012-13). Rarely, the 20 point special can require one very long answer, for example, the provincial motto of Newfoundland, Quaerite primum regnum Dei.


A maximum of 12 questions are posed in this category. Once one player has answered a question correctly, they may no longer answer any questions. This player is now "out". Once one team has every one of its 4 players "out", they gain 40 points, and the other team gains 0. Consultation is forbidden at all times in this category. Shootouts are typically placed near the end of a match just before the final set of snappers.

Chain Snappers

Similar to a snapstart/snapout, chain snappers involve the answer to one question forming the topic of the succeeding question. As a result, the best and fastest teams can often answer the next question with only 3-4 words read.

Who am I/What am I

Who am I/What am I (WAI) questions consist of four clues that refer to a single answer where the clues are intended to be pyramidal. A correct answer on the first clue gives a team 40 points, a correct answer on the second clue gives a team 30 points, and so on. Teams are allowed to guess on each of the four clues. WAIs often used to feature non-unique clues and non-pyramidal clue ordering, although this has substantially diminished in recent years. However, the ability of teams to guess on each clue can still lead to transparency issues even on well-written questions.


Worth 80 points in total, assigned questions are posed to specific individuals. One team, designated "Team A", will have each of its team members asked one question. If answered incorrectly, the player sitting directly across from that player will have an opportunity to answer that question. Once team A has had all of its players asked a question, team B's players are then asked questions one-by-one in a similar fashion. All of the questions relate to one category (e.g. European national capitals). Consultation is forbidden.

Team Questions

Team questions work similarly to quizbowl tossup/bonus questions. One "scramble" question is posed to both teams. The team that correctly answers the scramble has an opportunity to answer three more questions on a related topic.


Relay questions are four questions on a specific topic, intended to be increasing in difficulty, that are posed to only one team. If a team answers a question incorrectly, they forfeit the ability to answer any remaining questions. The first three questions are worth 10 points each and the fourth question is worth 20 points.


Worth 50 points, this category involves teams alternating in turns to complete a list. Both teams have an opportunity to buzz in for the first answer. After each question is answered correctly the other team has an opportunity to give an answer. Once a team gets a question wrong, they may no longer answer any further questions. This question format has largely been discontinued. e.g. List all of the professional teams that Wayne Gretzky played for. Team A (buzzes in): "Edmonton Oilers" - Correct Team B: "New York Rangers" - Correct Team A: "St. Louis Blues" - Correct Team B: "Philadelphia Flyers" - Incorrect Team A: "Los Angeles Kings & Indianapolis Racers" - Correct x 2

Canadian Tournament Play

The modern Reach for the Top season begins with SchoolReach - regional leagues playing in classrooms. Teams much purchase a subscription to participate in events during the school year, and the subscription fee is generally considered to be high for the number of questions a team hears. For most provinces, a "region" encompasses the entire province, while BC and Ontario are divided into smaller regions either for league play (in BC) or to serve as qualifiers for a provincial tournament (in Ontario). A few provinces have their playoff matches televised. The territories, Saskatchewan, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador do not currently have provincial tournaments; any schools from those regions may participate in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, respectively.

Provincial tournaments will qualify either one, two, or three teams to the national tournament, held for the past several years in Toronto. The national tournament typically consists of a full round-robin between 16 teams, followed by single-elimination playoffs. There is some controversy over the fact that only three teams have qualified from Ontario in recent years (the same as from BC and Alberta) despite Ontario having many more good teams than any other province. This has led to the unusual situation where the Ontario provincial championships is arguably a more difficult tournament to place well at than the national championship.

Most regions offer an "Intermediate" division tournament open to students in grades 8-10, but there is no Intermediate national tournament (although BC has an Intermediate provincial championship). Reach attempted to start a university tournament in the early 2000s, but some NAQT tournaments had already taken root at the time.

There is a growing number of Reach (or Reach-style) tournaments held during the year that are independent of the Reach for the Top organization. In recent years, Lisgar, UTS, Martingrove, and UBC have all produced housewrites which have been mirrored across Canada. However, until recently few of these tournaments existed and formal tournaments in many regions were largely confined to provincial championships. The lack of a tradition of playing tournaments outside of provincial championships has also resulted in low attendance at some of these housewrites.

More so than many similar competitions, Reach for the Top is a fairly famous cultural institution in Canada due to its longtime status as a major television show, although it has been many years since it was regularly broadcast. This history may make some schools more willing to provide resources to create a Reach for the Top team, although there are many parts of the country with no teams whatsoever.

National Champions

Reach for the Top had televised matches as early as 1961, but no national champions were declared until 1966. There were no national champions from 1986-88.

Year Champion Prov Runner-up Prov Location Notes
1966 Vincent Massey ON Winnipeg, MB
1967 Rideau ON Montreal, QC
1968 Oak Bay BC Vancouver, BC
1969 Neil McNeil ON Kelvin MB St. John's, NL
1970 Kelvin MB Edmonton, AB
1971 River East MB Halifax, NS
1972 O'Leary AB Winnipeg, MB
1973 Lorne Jenkins AB QC Ottawa, ON
1974 Gonzaga NL O'Leary AB St. John's, NL Only NL champion
1975 Queen Elizabeth NS Vancouver, BC
1976 Central Peel ON O'Leary AB Windsor, ON
1977 Glenlawn MB Dryden ON Calgary, AB
1978 Vincent Massey (2) ON Dryden ON Charlottetown, PE First two-time champions; defeated 1978 Richview
1979 Banting Memorial ON Dryden ON Montreal, QC
1980 Hillcrest ON Sir Winston Churchill QC Ottawa, ON
1981 Cobequid NS Corner Brook, NL
1982 Dakota MB Hillcrest ON Winnipeg, MB
1983 Roland Michener ON Toronto, ON
1984 Deloraine MB Moncton NB Regina, SK
1985 Kate Andrews AB Wagar QC Moncton, NB Last year on CBC
1989 Tagwi ON Mount Douglas BC Winnipeg, MB Revival as "Schoolreach"
1990 Memorial NS
1991 St. George's BC St. Albert AB
1992 Saunders ON Ancaster ON London, ON
1993 St. Joseph's ON William E. Hay AB London, ON
1994 Bell ON Fredericton NB London, ON
1995 Fredericton NB Saunders ON Toronto, ON
1996 Saunders (2) ON Fredericton NB Toronto, ON First two-time champion player: Dave Thorsley
1997 Earl Haig ON Gloucester ON Vancouver, BC
1998 Gloucester ON Kingston CVI ON Halifax, NS
1999 Frontenac ON Saunders ON Toronto, ON Frontenac's 600-410 win is highest-ever score in final match
2000 Merivale ON Ridley ON Edmonton, AB National finals return to TV
2001 Gloucester (2) ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2002 UTS ON St. George's BC Edmonton, AB
2003 UTS (2) ON Dawson QC Edmonton, AB First back-to-back championships
2004 St. George's (2) BC Leaside ON Edmonton, AB
2005 Cobequid (2) NS St. George's BC Edmonton, AB First champion of both CBC and SchoolReach eras
2006 Woburn ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2007 London Central ON Kennebecasis NB Edmonton, AB
2008 Lisgar ON UTS ON Edmonton, AB
2009 London Central (2) ON Kennebecasis NB Toronto, ON Excluding the final game, the National Finals left TV.
2010 Kennebecasis NB Cobequid NS Toronto, ON
2011 Kennebecasis (2) NB Centennial ON Toronto, ON Semifinals and Finals were played at Canada's Wonderland
2012 UTS (3) ON London Central ON Toronto, ON
2013 UTS (4) ON Bellerose AB Toronto, ON
2014 Martingrove ON London Central ON Toronto, ON
2015 Lisgar (2) ON Kennebecasis NB Toronto, ON
2016 Kennebecasis (3) NB Eric Hamber BC Toronto, ON
2017 Lisgar (3) ON UTS ON Toronto, ON
2018 UTS (5) ON London Central ON Toronto, ON
2019 Westmount ON Lisgar ON Toronto, ON
2021 Glebe ON UTS ON Online Tournament held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic
2022 Glebe ON Lisgar ON Online Tournament held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic
2023 University of Toronto Schools ON The Renert School AB Online Tournament held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic
2024 University of Toronto Schools ON The Renert School AB Ottawa, ON Tournament held in Ottawa for the first time at Glebe Collegiate Institute

National Final Appearances

Not all runners-up are confirmed

Notable Participants

As a long-standing and highly-regarded establishment in Canada, several people have participated during their high school years and gone on to great success. A list of notable former players, coaches, and Reach personnel follows (names in bold won the national championship):


  • Kim Campbell - Prime Minister of Canada (1993)
  • Mark Carney - Governor of the Bank of Canada (2008- )
  • Grant Devine - Premier of Saskatchewan (1982-91)
  • Stephen Harper - Prime Minister of Canada (2006- )
  • Ken Kowalski - Speaker of the Legislature of Alberta (1997- )
  • Bernard Lord - Premier of New Brunswick (1999-2006)
  • Stuart Smith - Leader of the Opposition of Ontario (1977-81)



  • Malcolm Gladwell - Author of the bestsellers The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers
  • Bernard Hibbitts - Law professor at the University of Pittsburgh [1]; founder of JURIST news service
  • Dr. Sethu Reddy - Former professor of medicine at Dalhousie & Harvard; chairman at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio

Historical Controversies

Championship Disputes

Since the conversion from a CBC program to SchoolReach, there have been incidents that have left a national title in dispute by some parties:

  • 1989 Tagwi: Tagwi won an early match because of a (possibly) incorrect ruling over the ingredients of borscht. The team got screwed over in the end, though. They never got a trophy because of a dispute between Reach and the old CBC champions, and their scheduled exhibition match with the NAC champions was cancelled because a party in the US (the team? the TV crew? Chip Beall?) didn't want to travel to Canada.
  • 1995 Fredericton: In the aftermath of issues surrounding the 1995 Bell team, a team from Lisgar that won the zone match to earn a berth in provincials never got the opportunity to play. How well the Lisgar team would have fared is now only speculative.
  • 2008 Lisgar: Down by 5 points, the runner-up team from UTS claimed they buzzed in at the end of the game before the time alarm went off. It had to go to a video review, and Reach judged in favour of Lisgar. A small edit war erupted on Wikipedia between anonymous Toronto IPs and quizbowlers apparently "sympathetic" to Lisgar over how the championship should be listed in the article.
  • 2009 London Central: London Central's opponents in the finals from Kennebecasis were not informed by either Reach For The Top or TVO that there would be a change in format for the final game until minutes before the game began. The team from Kennebecasis had also never played using TVOs format (which eliminates the shootout and includes relatively easy questions among other changes) before. The London Central team had played using TVOs format two weeks earlier for the Ontario Provincials, giving them an advantage for the finals. The national tournament was also notable for the recycling of several questions during the round robin portion which could have also affected the outcome of the tournament in terms of seeding the teams for the playoffs.

Rule 1 Issues

Rule #1 of Reach for the Top states:

"Any student who is 19 or under at the beginning of the school year and has been continuously enrolled in a Secondary School is eligible to play both SCHOOLREACH and REACH FOR THE TOP."

This rule originally accommodated the 5-year high school system in Ontario, which ended with students entering in 1999. This rule has since not changed, even with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador having 3-year high schools. As such, some players and teams have exploited this loophole to various degrees of success:

  • Quebec's league was established in the 2001-02 season. CEGEPs, which have high school graduates, are allowed to compete under the rule (although only students who are in their first year, which corresponds to grade 12, have played in recent years). Royal West Academy, a high school, broke this trend by qualifying for Nationals in 2008.
  • Andy Saunders played Reach For The Top for six seasons in high school due to Rule #1.
  • A player from Leaside celebrated his 19th birthday at the Ontario provincial tournament his team ended up winning in 2005. They failed to win Nationals, however.

It should be noted that several Ontario teams have managed to win the national championships in the 4-year system. It does not appear that any successful teams have benefited from this rule in recent years.

See Also