What Is Quizbowl?

An example of quizbowl practice at Arcadia High School. Orange juice not necessary.

Quizbowl is an academic competition in which two teams of students compete using buzzers to answer questions on subjects drawn from the curriculum such as science, literature, history, and fine arts. This website focuses on the middle and high school quizbowl circuits in Southern California.

What are the rules of quizbowl?

A game of quizbowl pits two teams of four players against each other. In a game, there are twenty (20) tossup questions and twenty (20) bonus questions. Tossups are read to both teams, who compete to buzz in and answer before the other team. If a team answers a tossup correctly, they are awarded a bonus question. If a team answers a tossup incorrectly, the opposing team is given a free chance to answer the tossup (and potentially the subsequent bonus).


The tossup-bonus cycle visualized.

Each tossup is about two to four sentences long, with “clues” of information arranged from hardest to easiest. At any point, a player may interrupt the moderator to buzz in with an answer. Each team has one chance to answer a tossup; if a player gives an incorrect answer, their entire team is locked out for the remainder of the tossup.

Each bonus comprises three related questions, which are read one at a time. The team in possession is given the opportunity to confer with one another and give an answer. The opposing team may not answer the bonus, and buzzers are not used during bonuses.

A correct tossup answer is worth 10 points. In certain tournaments, answering a tossup especially early awards 15 points instead (called a “power“). The first team to interrupt the moderator with an incorrect tossup answer is deducted 5 points (called a “neg“). Each bonus part is worth 10 points; there are no penalties for incorrect bonus answers.

What is a quizbowl tournament?

quizbowl tournament is held on the weekend and lasts until the late afternoon. Tournaments in Southern California usually attract twenty to thirty teams and are divided into two phases: the preliminary rounds and the playoffs.

During the preliminary rounds, teams are seeded into pools of five to eight teams. There, they play a round robin against each team in their pool. Preliminary rounds usually end around noon (12:00 PM), after which follows a lunch break.

Afterwards, teams are re-seeded into playoff pools. Teams with the best record are seeded into the highest playoff pool and compete for the tournament championship, while other teams play competitive matches against each other in consolation pools.

A tournament begins at 9:00 AM sharp and lasts until anywhere from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM, depending on the number of teams present. Teams have the opportunity to play roughly eight to ten games at a single tournament.

Why quizbowl?

Quizbowl places an emphasis on developing both breadth and depth of factual knowledge across multiple academic subject areas. Students are encouraged to improve in subject areas they find most interesting, with the breadth coming from the differing interests of each of the four team members. There are no quotas, requirements, or prerequisites for interested students – anyone can join a team and participate!

Quizbowl places a strong emphasis on the Western Canon (American and European literature, history, and culture), multicultural studies (literature, history, and culture of non-Western societies), and science (both natural and social). Students are exposed to culturally, historically, and scientifically important concepts, works, and individuals outside of the breadth of their schooling.

Quizbowl is one of the most cost-effective extracurricular programs available. Practice questions and past question sets are available for free at quizbowlpackets.com or for purchase. Interested teams can purchase a buzzer system for just over $200 in order to help facilitate practices and qualify for tournament discounts. Generous discounts are available for new teams and teams who provide buzzer systems and volunteer staffers or travel long distances. It is possible for a single team to participate in an entire season of quizbowl for a budget of roughly $100 per person.

Quizbowl tournaments are flexible and on an opt-in basis. Multiple teams from the same school may attend a single tournament, and schools may make changes to their team rosters from tournament to tournament. There are roughly a dozen tournaments each season, many of which are qualifiers for national tournaments. As a result, most teams pick and choose a select number of tournaments to attend.

What are the opportunities to compete outside of Southern California?

There are two large national tournaments each year: NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT) and the National Scholastic Championship (NSC). The 2017 HSNCT will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, where 304 teams from across the country will compete. The 2017 NSC will be held in Chicago, Illinois, where 96 teams from across the country will compete. The HSNCT and the NSC are roughly the same difficulty; however, the HSNCT has more questions on science, geography, current events, and popular culture, whereas the NSC has more questions on fine art, thought, and social science. Teams can qualify for a national tournament by competing at any NAQT- or PACE-affiliated event.

In addition, teams are encouraged to travel and compete in other quizbowl circuits around the country, such as Northern California, Arizona, and Nevada.

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