Press Guide

    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

    Quiz Bowl Basics


    Covering Quiz Bowl


    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: Despite the term “national,” the ICT and HSNCT usually have teams from multiple countries.
    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

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    Middle School National Championship Tournament

    Typically on Mother's Day weekend, featuring nearly 200 middle schools from across the country.

    More About the MSNCT Qualifying Past Winners

    High School National Championship Tournament

    Our biggest tournament, on Memorial Day weekend with over 350 high schools of all sizes.

    More About the HSNCT Qualifying Past Winners

    Small School National Championship Tournament

    For Small High Schools as defined by NAQT, typically in late April.

    More About the SSNCT Qualifying Past Winners

    Community College Championship Tournament

    Usually in late February, featuring 24 community and junior colleges.

    More About the CCCT Qualifying Past Winners

    Intercollegiate Championship Tournament

    In late March or early April, the top college teams gather for the hardest quiz bowl NAQT offers.

    More About the ICT Qualifying Past Winners