This page answers frequently asked questions and provides other background on quiz bowl and NAQT’s national championships for journalists. We’re happy to address additional questions; please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quiz Bowl Basics
What is quiz bowl?
Quiz bowl is a competition of questions and answers, played by teams with buzzers (or, occasionally, individual players not on teams).
Questions are read, and players buzz in (without consulting) when they think they know the answer. If they give a correct answer, they earn points plus a bonus question in which they can work with their team to earn additional points.
Questions cover a wide range of academic topics plus pop culture, sports, and current events.
Is quiz bowl unique to NAQT?
No. NAQT is the largest and most widespread provider of quiz bowl competitions, but there are non-NAQT competitions in all-subject quiz bowl as well as a number of quiz bowl-like competitions focused on individual subjects (e.g. science).
Is quiz bowl trivia?
Not really. There is some element of trivia, which gets lumped into a category of “general knowledge” in quiz bowl, and some questions contain trivial information to spark players’ interest, but the vast majority of the competition is focused on important academic subjects. Science, literature, history, fine arts, geography, philosophy and the social sciences represent over 85% of the questions asked.
What prizes are there?
Winners receive large team and small individual trophies, but the real prize is the knowledge, experience, and fun players pick up along the way.
Where can people watch quiz bowl?
There are many places to watch local competitions online. NAQT has recorded audio in at least one room of most of its championship tournaments since 2005.
Who are the defending national champions?
Here are the latest winners of each national championship title awarded by NAQT:
- At the 2021 High School National Championship Tournament online in May (336 teams): Barrington High School (Barrington, Illinois)
- At the 2022 Middle School National Championship Tournament in Chicago in May (141 teams): Longfellow Middle School’s A team (Falls Church, Virginia)
At the 2022 Small School National Championship Tournament in Chicago in April (110 teams):
- Traditional Public Schools Division: Glasgow High School (Glasgow, Kentucky) won their fourth title in the last five iterations of the event
- Very Small Schools Subdivision: James A. Garfield High School (Garrettsville, Ohio)
- Open Division: St. Mark’s School of Texas’s A team (Dallas) won their third title in the last five iterations of the event
At the 2022 Individual Player National Championship Tournament in Chicago in April:
- High School Division (53 players): Karsten Ullr Rynearson, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
- Middle School Division (27 players): Pranavkrishna Bharanidharan, California Montessori Project — Orangevale Campus, Orangevale, California
- At the 2022 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament in Chicago in April (64 teams):
- At the 2022 Community College Championship Tournament online in February: Inver Hills Community College (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota)
More information on past champions is available.
Who plays quiz bowl?
Quiz bowl competition goes from elementary school to graduate school, and there are “open” summer tournaments for players out of school. Quiz bowl brings together students from schools of all types, from exclusive private schools to rural and inner-city public schools, plus home-school collectives. The common thread is intellectual curiosity and a love of competition.
In 2018–2019, approximately 1,200 middle schools, 4,000 high schools, and 400 colleges played NAQT quiz bowl.
In 2018–2019, approximately 10,000 middle school students, 40,000 high school students, and 3,200 college students played NAQT quiz bowl.
How many quiz bowl tournaments are there?
In 2018–2019 there were approximately 200 middle school tournaments, 750 high school tournaments, and 120 college tournaments that used NAQT questions. There are also many quiz bowl tournaments that do not use NAQT questions.
- How does one start a team?
How do teams qualify for national championships?
Teams qualify for the Intercollegiate Championship Tournament and Community College Championship Tournament via their performances at Sectional Championship Tournaments (which are separate for four-year and two-year schools).
Teams qualify for the High School National Championship Tournament and Middle School National Championship Tournament by finishing in the top 15% of teams at local varsity tournaments on NAQT questions or by winning non-NAQT state championships.
Teams qualify for the Small School National Championship Tournament by finishing in the top 30% of Small School teams at local varsity tournaments on NAQT questions or by winning non-NAQT state championships.
For all national championships, wildcards may be available by special request, though for collegiate nationals they are extremely rare. The above explanations are summaries and gloss over some details.
How do quiz bowl teams prepare?
Teams often practice weekly or even daily at their schools. They compete in local tournaments to prepare and qualify for national championships. Players also study subjects independent from their school work, or write their own questions for their teams’ practices. There are also online practice sessions and software to improve players’ skills.
Who comes up with the questions?
The current pool of NAQT writers and editors ranges from current college students to educators, doctors, attorneys, engineers, journalists, researchers, and other subject experts. A single tournament can include questions written and edited by over 100 people.
How did quiz bowl start?
The original quiz bowl competitions stem from two independent sources. The first chronologically was based in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and was a county-wide competition for high schools. The other source was a competition for radio between colleges, which expanded onto television in the 1950s under the name College Bowl. From those origins, the concept spread to televised high school competitions, leagues around the country, and eventually into an independent circuit of colleges that compete in weekend tournaments.
When was NAQT founded?
NAQT was founded in 1996 by twelve former players and coaches based on their interest in increasing quality of events and expanding the independent circuit of collegiate teams. From that original group running a set of college events, NAQT has expanded to a company which holds over 700 events for colleges, community colleges, high schools, and middle schools. Events in NAQT’s 2017–2018 season took place in eight countries on three continents.
Is NAQT a governing body?
No. NAQT provides questions for local tournaments and runs national championships. In the course of doing so, NAQT develops rules and other policies that can be adopted by local circuits, but NAQT has no authority over any tournaments other than its own.
When did various tournaments start?
The independent circuit started in the 1980s, with questions being mailed to editors. The circuit blossomed with the rise of email and Usenet in the 1990s, which permitted a community of teams to easily maintain contact and organize throughout the year. In short order, quiz bowl went from an activity confined to February to April to a year-round phenomenon.
Have any famous people competed in quiz bowl??
- Hillary Clinton was on Maine South High School’s (Park Ridge, Illinois) team for It’s Academic, a televised quiz bowl competition in Chicago.
- Pete Buttigieg played for Saint Joseph (South Bend, Indiana). His coach, Ben Dillon, still coaches the team.
- Randy Buehler went from playing in the first NAQT Sectional tournaments to finding aptitude with card games. In the 2000s Buehler managed the development of Magic: The Gathering.
- Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics and other books, played for St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1980s.
- Ken Jennings played in the 1998 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament for Brigham Young University, then became a writer, editor and member of NAQT, before going on a record winning streak on Jeopardy! and later hosting the show.
- Comedian Erik Charles Nielsen, who appeared on the television show Community, competed for UCLA and Boston University.
- Mike Zarren was on the 1999 Intercollegiate Championship-winning team from the University of Chicago. After going to law school, he began working for the Boston Celtics. Today he is the Assistant General Manager of the Celtics.
- Many journalists competed in NAQT quiz bowl. For example, Dylan Matthews, now of Vox Media, played for Hanover High School (New Hampshire) at the 2007 High School National Championship Tournament.
Not all of these people played NAQT quiz bowl (Hillary Clinton, for example, graduated high school 31 years before NAQT was founded), but they all played competitions that modern quiz bowlers would generally recognize as quiz bowl.
Covering Quiz Bowl
Can I quote a sample question?
Yes! Here are three sample tossup questions at different difficulty levels. The bold, starred portion represents “powers,” that is, if a player gives a correct answer while the bold portion is being read, they earn 15 points instead of just 10. Underlining indicates the minimal required part of the answered line (e.g., a player can just give “Vonnegut” and be correct, without saying “Kurt.”)
Middle School National Championship TournamentOne story by this man is set in the year 2081, when “everybody was finally equal.” This author of a story about a 14-year-old genius named Harrison Bergeron wrote a novel that depicts the firebombing of Dresden. Billy Pilgrim appears in—for 10 points—what author’s Slaughterhouse-Five?Kurt Vonnegut (Jr.)
High School National Championship TournamentRho squared times this function of the polar angle is used to change an integral from Cartesian to spherical coordinates. This function’s Taylor series begins “x, minus x cubed over 3 factorial.” In Euler’s formula this function is multiplied by i. This odd function gives 1 at pi over 2. For 10 points—in a right triangle, what trig function gives the ratio of the opposite side length to the hypotenuse length?sine (of x)
Intercollegiate Championship Tournament, Division IIWilliam Carlos Williams’s In the American Grain describes the “destruction” of this city, whose fall is also depicted in Lew Wallace’s first novel, The Fair God. The Battle of Otumba followed a 1520 retreat from this city, which became known as “La Noche Triste.” This city was legendarily founded in 1325 on the spot where an eagle eating a snake sat atop a cactus. For 10 points—name this capital of the Aztec empire.Tenochtitlán
Intercollegiate Championship Tournament, Division IIn 2009 the Guardian reported that the longtime ruler of this country ordered his “Green Boys” to conduct literal witch hunts and feed detainees a hallucinogenic potion. In January 2017 the chair of a commission in this country, Alieu Momar Njie, fled it after receiving death threats. In 2017 a three- country coalition invaded this country after its president refused to transfer power. Adama Barrow succeeded dictator Yahya Jammeh in—for 10 points—what African country surrounded by Senegal?(The Islamic Republic of) the Gambia
What’s a great sample game?
One of the best matches of all time was the finals of the 2005 High School National Championship Tournament. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, Virginia) met Lakeside School (Seattle, Washington). Thomas Jefferson entered the tournament as the prohibitive favorite, while Lakeside had competed in only one other NAQT tournament. The match was recorded.
- Quiz bowl (also known as “quizbowl” and by other regional names)
- A competition of questions and answers, played with buzzers. NAQT competition consists of two teams of four players at a time, with questions on all subjects. There are many variants.
- “Quiz bowl” as a noun refers to the activity in general, but not specific events, and it does not take an article. “Quiz bowl” is also used as an adjective. For example, we might write John has played quiz bowl for five years or Mary went to the quiz bowl tournament, but not Pat went to the quiz bowl.
- The game official who reads the questions. The moderator is usually assisted by a scorekeeper and sometimes by other officials.
- Tossup question
- A question read to both teams. Players cannot confer with each other, and they buzz in as soon as they think they know the answer. They earn 10 points for a correct answer, earn 15 points for a correct answer (“power”) given particularly early in the question, or lose 5 points for an incorrect answer that interrupted the question.
- Bonus question or Bonus
- A question read to a team that has just answered a tossup question correctly. Teams may confer on bonuses. Each bonus question consists of three parts with a common theme, each worth 10 points.
- The receipt of 15 points, instead of just 10, for a correct answer to a tossup question given especially early.
- Neg or Neg 5
- Nickname for a 5-point interrupt penalty assessed when a player gives a wrong answer to a tossup question before the moderator has finished reading the question. This can be a noun or verb: “John was given a neg for his wrong answer”; “Mary negged the tossup.”
- Thirty or Sweep
- To answer all three parts of a bonus question correctly, thereby earning 30 points. (“The players pumped their fists after thirtying the bonus.”)
- The set of questions that will be read in a particular round of competition. Each NAQT packet contains 24 tossup questions and 24 bonus questions and is balanced by category to cover a large number of topics.
- One unit of competition between two teams. Games at the Intercollegiate Championship Tournament consist of two 11-minute halves; games at the High School National Championship Tournament, Small School National Championship Tournament, and Middle School National Championship Tournament consist of two 9-minute halves, and games at the Community College Championship Tournament consist of two 10-minute halves. In each half, as many questions are read as time allows, up to the maximum number of questions in the packet. If necessary, overtime consists of three tossups with no bonuses, followed by sudden death if necessary.
- A player who is broadly knowledgable about many subjects in quiz bowl, and thus can answer a variety of questions during a match.
- A player who is not as broadly knowledgable as a generalist but is expert in one or two fields, especially fields complementary to the skills of the team’s generalist(s). Science is a particularly sought-after specialty.
- Each team is allotted one 30-second timeout per game, during which its players may consult with the coach and/or each other, check the score, and/or make substitutions. The same may occur at halftime and before overtime (if overtime is to be played).
- Questions on popular culture and sports. Initially intended as a term of derision, it is now mostly used non-judgmentally.
- A team, B team, etc.
- It is common for a school to send multiple teams to the same event. The team expected to be strongest is designated the A team, and so on. For example, if Harvard University sends three teams to a competition, they would be designated “Harvard A,” “Harvard B,” and “Harvard C.”
- Teams play regular-season events, and the top teams from those events qualify for national championships (see below).
- There is only one varsity-level regular-season tournament in NAQT collegiate play, the Sectional Championship Tournaments held in February, but most college teams play other regular-season events not organized by NAQT.
- Middle schools, high schools, and community colleges have a robust regular-season schedule of weekend tournaments throughout the year. Many middle schools and high schools also play weeknight leagues.
- National championships
NAQT currently runs six national championships:
- The Intercollegiate Championship Tournament (ICT) for four-year colleges and universities (two divisions, one for less experienced players and one for all players)
- The High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT) for high schools of all sizes
- The Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT) for small high schools (two divisions, one for traditional public schools and one for all other Small Schools)
- The Middle School National Championship Tournament (MSNCT)
- The Community College Championship Tournament (CCCT)
- The Individual Player National Championship Tournament (IPNCT) for high school players to compete not as part of teams
- Division I and Division II
- Division II collegiate play is for players who have never previously qualified for, or played at, the Intercollegiate Championship Tournament—that is, players with relatively little collegiate quiz bowl experience or success (though many Division II players had extensive, successful high school quiz bowl careers)
- Division I collegiate play is primarily for college students who are no longer eligible to compete in Division II, i.e., more experienced and successful players. The questions are more difficult than those for Division II.
- Unlike in other competitions, Division I and Division II have nothing to do with school size—they are a function of the players on a team. Schools can enter teams in each division, even at the same tournament.
- Small School
Although state activities associations use widely varying definitions of the concept of a small school, NAQT has settled on the following definitions for its Small School National Championship Tournament:
- Traditional Public Small Schools: public high schools with a non-selective admissions policy and no more than 500 students in its top three grades
- Open Small Schools: any high school that does not meet the definition of a Traditional Public Small School and has no more than 350 students in its top three grades