Useful to New Teams

How to Be a Good Teammate

Apart from studying and practicing, another important part of quizbowl is figuring out how to work together effectively with your team. Here are ten pieces of advice I try to follow on being a better teammate:

  1. Treat everyone with respect. It should go without saying, but simply being kind helps to create a more welcoming environment at team practices and events. Every player, regardless of experience level or any part of their identity, should feel comfortable being around you.
  2. Avoid constantly pulling rank. Especially if you hold a leadership position like team captain or club president, make sure you aren’t distancing yourself from your teammates. Being friendly and easy to talk to helps with team cohesion, which in turn results in stronger performances.
  3. Go into each match with an open mind. Even if you’re a small, inexperienced team up against a powerhouse, just try your best; upsets can happen! An overly pessimistic mindset won’t help your team’s overall attitude and performance.
  4. Pay attention while the bonus is being read. Don’t be that one person who zones out and wastes precious seconds of conferral time asking teammates to reconstruct the question. And if you’re paying attention and a teammate does happen to zone out, you can then nicely remind them what the question was asking.
  5. Listen to your teammates’ contributions on bonuses. As a first scorer, I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of ignoring valid suggestions from my teammates. Even if you answer the most tossups on your team, there will always be some topic that your teammates know better than you.
  6. Let go of your own negs. No one wants to play on a team with someone who’s still moping about a neg from six rounds ago.
  7. Let go of your teammates’ negs, too. Berating them for an incorrect answer doesn’t change the result and, if anything, will only distract you (and them) from getting upcoming questions.
  8. Stop worrying so much about your individual stats. During a game, you should be focused on trying to beat the team you’re playing against, not on trying to one-up your teammates’ individual stats. Having that all-star points-per-game is nice, but reckless vulching to solely inflate your own PPG isn’t.
  9. Compliment others’ buzzes. Obviously, keep conversation between questions to a minimum, but quickly saying “nice buzz!” or some equivalent is a friendly way to support another player and to make your teammate (or even a player on the other team) feel good for an impressive answer.
  10. Losing a close game isn’t any one person’s fault. There are usually at least twenty tossup-bonus cycles in a game and multiple players on each team, so don’t put all the blame on the one player who unfortunately negged tossup 20 to lose a match by 10 points.

Clearly, this isn’t a complete list of every aspect that goes into being a good teammate; feel free to come up with your own and comment below or tweet at us!

-Jackie

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Quizbowl Summer Study Plans

With the end of the school year finally upon us, the summer break is an excellent opportunity for enterprising quizbowlers to get a head start on next season and learn more awesome stuff. Here are three tips for teams to think about during the break:

Read actual books/poems/plays/essays! Summer is a perfect time to compile a reading list and attempt books that you might have been introduced to during quizbowl. Actually reading a work will likely increase your chances of getting a good buzz on it during the season and will probably lead to a more lasting memory than flashcarding or just reading a summary. So go ahead and tackle those Shakespeare plays or Garcia Marquez novels.

Write up a store of practice questions, then share them with other members of your team. These could be on any subject, but the ideal would be to use the greater amount of free time to spend time going through the question-writing process and then sharing them with fellow members of your team. This might be useful for trying to close any holes that you noticed emerged over last season or if a senior with a strong subject specialty is graduating. Need to work on Religion? Assign someone religious holidays, another one religious texts, and another one various minor religions to write up questions and then share at a summer meet-up or over Skype/Google Video.

Read over the national championship sets from this year once they are available. PACE’s NSC has already been posted and is chock-full of good clues, interesting ideas, and grist for future question writers. NAQT’s HSNCT was available to teams who attended this year, but others can order copies of the set from NAQT here. And HSAPQ’s NASAT will be posted soon as well after some other mirrors of it (many open to high schoolers–check the HSquizbowl forums for details). Even if you’ve already played the sets, it can be immensely helpful to go back over them and note where you could have/should have buzzed and perhaps calculate how well your team did at various subject areas.

Do you have any other ideas for what you’ll be doing with your team? Feel free to post ’em in the comments! 

How to Get the Most out of Practices and Tournaments: Get a Notebook

Every moment that you have a buzzer in your hand while playing quizbowl, you should also have a notebook open next to you ready to take notes in. Here’s a page from mine:

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I really should’ve gotten that Turenne TU. Also, it’s apparently “Siqueiros,” not my more Greek spelling here.

This notebook has been with me since 2006 at my very first national championship tournament. I tried to make sure to put at least one clue that was associated with each answerline down so that I could remember and, ideally, not miss it again. I also wrote down answerlines that sounded interesting or things that I wanted to look up later.

Why bring such a low-tech thing as a notebook to practices and tournaments and not some fancy flashcard program like Anki or an app like QuizBug on Quinterest? First, actually writing things down can help you remember them more effectively than typing them on a computer. Something about the process of writing by hand just seems to stick better.

Second, a notebook is much more portable and useful for a quick glance during downtime en route to tournaments and at practices and tournaments. In between rounds and waiting for the next one to start? Take a quick glance at your notebook. Stuck on a long bus ride up to the next tournament? Peruse your notebook.

Third, with a notebook you have something to do during other teams’ bonuses and tossups on things you definitely have no shot of getting. Too many players just zone out; having a notebook open and ready to write or circle things can be useful to keep your attention on the match. Open it to a blank page for each match and you can even keep score with it too or keep track of the categories for each question (very useful in tournaments with a fixed question distribution so that you can figure out which categories have yet to come up).

And fourth, when you return from a tournament or practice, you can refer to your notebook as a way to review what you learned and figure out where you could improve, especially if you start noticing patterns of what you missed. If you again mixed up Manet and Monet, get them straight by making separate powerpoints of their work. If you mispronounced a play title, this is your chance to learn it now and forever. But if you don’t keep a notebook, you won’t necessarily remember what you need to work on.

A caveat: you shouldn’t write write down everything that you hear in a match in a notebook. Just focus on clues and answerlines in your areas of knowledge or things that sounded interesting. Make sure that you go up and look at those later–you can then incorporate things that you missed into those other study technologies.

You can also write down lists of related things that you want to review during and before tournaments in the same notebook so that you can quickly flip through to study those. For instance, here were some wars I decided to write down while jumping through an old all-history tournament packets:

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Remember, this was for college nationals. Don’t feel like you need to know these wars for your average HS tournament!

This is all part of a larger quest to help maximize your study time in quizbowl. Every practice you should leave having learned new things. Every tournament you should leave having learned new things. Spinning your wheels and expecting to learn by osmosis will not work out very well. Zoning out during questions in practice and repeatedly missing the same clues won’t work very well. But maximizing your time spent in a chair holding a buzzer will make your quizbowl experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Remember, if something comes up at one quizbowl tournament, there’s an excellent chance it will come up in some form at another quizbowl tournament later.

This is the beauty of a notebook–it gives you something to do and read at all times that will help you get better at quizbowl. Get one and use it well.

-Chris 

GPQB Podcast Episode #10: Making Sense of Packet Sets and Difficulty

In the 10th Episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben and Chris discuss different types of quizbowl questions that teams can practice on, from novice to nationals-level packets, and how the difficulty levels differ between different packet sets. Ever wondered what the differences were between “IS” and “IS-A” NAQT questions or where to look for novice questions? This is your guide.

Click here to listen.

Some of the websites mentioned in this podcast include:
The Quizbowl Packet Archive
NAQT 
Quinterest 

How to Invite Teams to Quizbowl Tournaments

Summer is here, but it’s time to start planning next year’s tournaments! Here’s a guide to getting in touch with teams when you’re hosting a tournament: 

One of the most basic questions that teams face when they host a quizbowl tournament is how to get in touch with other schools to invite them to said tournament. While posting a tournament announcement on the HSQB forums and getting your tournament on the GPQB regional schedule are good starting points, you need to invite teams directly as well.

In a few areas of the country, paper invitations mailed to schools are still the standard method of communicating about tournaments. Based on the results of randomly-assigned contact methods that I tried last year, however, in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey email seems to be by far more effective than snail mail in getting a response. So how do you write a good email invitation to a quizbowl tournament?

Personalize Your Invitations. Ideally, the invitation email should be personalized. This helps get past spam filters and immediate deletions; people are just more likely to read an email actually addressed to them than a generic “Dear Coaches” or “To all quizbowl coaches” mass BCC email. Yes, this takes a bit more work, but not that much and the higher response rate that it generates is well worth the effort.

Keep It Short! You want your email to be short and to the point rather than a mass of text. Avoid as much quizbowl jargon and acronyms as possible (remember Strunk and White) and use links judiciously to provide an opportunity for interested recipients to look up more information on their own. Your initial goal is to get a response if people are interested in the general idea of the tournament, at which point you can then provide more information. Educators get dozens of pieces of email every day; you want your invitation to be easily read and understood by your recipient.

Consider Your Audience. A principal at a school that has never played quizbowl before is a very different audience from a quizbowl coach of a team that regularly plays many pyramidal tournaments. There are also some coaches at schools who play local non-pyramidal tournaments and may never have had direct contact with the broader quizbowl circuit before. Figure out which type of school you’re emailing for each and generate a general template for each type that you can then personalize. For instance, if the school calls their team a “Knowledge Bowl” or “Academic Challenge” team, be sure to use that language in the email.

How to Find Contact Information. To get email addresses, I always recommend using school websites. While some websites are more functional than others, you can usually find a list of activities/extracurriculars with sponsors as well as a faculty directory to match up the name of the sponsor with an email. If you can’t find a current team or sponsor, you can try emailing the director of student activities (if the school has one), the vice-principal or dean in charge of student activities (if they have one listed), or just the principal or head of school. NAQT also has a listing of some coaches and contacts for teams that you can search within, although they might not be current since sponsors often vary from year to year. You might also ask other tournament hosts in your area very, very nicely for their contact lists from previous years.

Quizbowl Tournament Invitation Email Templates

Below, I’ve provided some examples of tournament invitation emails that got solid results in the past. “Solid results” doesn’t mean that all of them got responses; I’d say my overall response rate has been about 20%, but that’s still fairly high, so don’t be discouraged if you only get a few replies to your invites initially.  You should feel free to modify these templates as you see fit with local traditions, such as different local terms for quizbowl like “Academic Challenge,” “Knowledge Bowl,” “Brain Bowl,” etc.

Invitation to a school without a quizbowl team:

Dear ___[Contact Person; use “Dr.” or “Principal” as needed]____,

The __[Your Team’s Name]______ Quizbowl Team would like to invite ___[Invitee]__  to compete at our ___[Tournament Name]_____, a quizbowl tournament to be held at __[location]__ on _[date]__.

Quizbowl is a team-based academic knowledge competition that’s a bit like a team version of Jeopardy! with more academically rigorous questions. The topics asked about encompass the whole of the high school curriculum from literature, history, and science to fine arts, the social sciences, and mythology. To get an idea of what quizbowl questions are like, see a brief explanation here and some sample packets of questions here.

The tournament should last from approximately ______ to _______ with a break for lunch; more logistical details will be sent closer to the tournament for teams who register. A list of teams registered and other logistical details will be updated ______[link to your tournament on the HSQB forums]______.

Let us know if you think ____[Invited School’s]____ students might be interested in competing. We enjoy seeing new schools experience quizbowl for the first time and we’d be happy to work with a faculty sponsor and/or interested students to help get a quizbowl team started.

Sincerely,
-_____[Your Name]______
Tournament Director, ___[Your Tournament]____

One thing that I particularly like about this template is that it can be targeted to a principal or a head of school, but it subtly suggests at the end that the principal should delegate responsibility to a teacher or student. Principals are a good point of contact, but they rarely actually sponsor teams, so you want the principal to forward the email out to the faculty members to increase your pool of potential sponsors. This works even better if the principal directly asks for a volunteer to start a team.

You might even want to make this “help start a team” part of the email more direct, especially at the start of a school year when schools are deciding on extracurriculars for the year. Note that these emails to schools without a quizbowl team are probably the most effective just before or right at the start of a school year; most schools will not start a new club late in the school year, although you can still try to get an existing team to come.

Here’s a sample invitation for a team that has a quizbowl-like team, but only plays in a local league or on a local TV tournament. To get an idea of what they call their team (common variations on quizbowl in PA include Scholastic Scrimmage, Academic Competition, Academic Challenge, Academic Bowl), check out the school’s website first.

Invitation to a school with a team, but not a regular quizbowl attendee:

Dear ___[Contact Name]___,

The ____[Your School’s Club]____ Quizbowl Team would like to invite ___[Invited School]____’s ____[Name of the Format or TV Show]____ team to compete at our ____[Tournament Name]_____, a quizbowl tournament to be held at __[location]___ on ___[date]___.

Quizbowl is similar to _____[Name of the Format or TV Show]___ in testing academic knowledge and using a buzzer-based format, so our tournament would likely be useful preparation for _____[Name of the Format or TV Show]____. You can read more about the style of questions that we will be using at our tournament here. Our tournament will also be a qualifier for ___[insert national championship(s) as needed here; usually every tournament can be a PACE qualifier, but only tournaments on NAQT questions can be direct NAQT qualifiers]______.

The tournament will begin at approximately __[start time]_ and last until about ___[expected end time]___ with a lunch break. All teams will be guaranteed at least __[total number of]___ games, including ___[games in the rebracketed playoffs]___ against opponents of similar ability. For additional logistical details, please see our post ____[link to HSQB forum post]_____.

Let us know if we can answer any questions about our tournament or the world of quizbowl in general. We’d love to see ___[Invited School]____ at our tournament in ____[month]____!

Sincerely,
-_____[Your Name]______
Tournament Director, ___[Your Tournament]____

This letter does several things: it makes it clear that you know a bit about their school already by correctly calling their team by the name that they use and are familiar with. It provides more specific logistical details compared to a new-to-quizbowl school (whom you don’t want to overwhelm with too much info in the initial email) to give contacts an idea of what to expect at a weekend pyramidal tournament. It ties into the local format by portraying your tournament as a practice opportunity to improve on that, which is what those coaches tend to initially value the most. And it mentions the wider world of quizbowl by mentioning the national championships (although if your tournament is a novice-only tournament or has a novice-only division, those are usually not national qualifiers, so don’t say that!).

You can also congratulate the school if you found that they won their local tournament or won their last TV match or something similar; it’s a nice gesture that shows you paid attention and again might catch the eye of an otherwise skeptical sponsor.

Invitations to regular quizbowl attendees are a bit easier to write so I won’t provide a template here, but be sure to provide the standard Who/What/When/Where and especially what question set you’re using. Regular attendees are also likely more interested in the format that you’ll be using, the rules for determining final placement, and who will get awards. You can usually save those specifics for a later email closer to the tournament date, but you should remember to send ’em out before the tournament at some point.

Again, these are just templates; feel free to modify them as you might need them for your area. But they seem to have worked in the past for us and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. You can also adapt this to a snail-mail invitation fairly easily. Just include say, a regional tournament schedule or more information about quizbowl on the back of the paper letter as well as your email address. Good luck hosting!

Quizbowl National Championships: A Guide

One sometimes-confusing aspect of quizbowl is the presence of multiple tournaments that claim to be the “national championship” of quizbowl and similar academic competitions (Scholars Bowl, Brain Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, Academic Challenge, etc.). For teams and coaches, getting multiple emails throughout the year telling you that you qualified for different national championships can be a bit of a baffling experience.

This is a brief guide to explaining what these tournaments are, which ones have fair questions and formats (and which ones do not), and how your team can qualify to attend the ones that will provide the best experience for your team and players.

The Quizbowl National Championships:

 NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016):
The Hilton Anatole, Dallas TX
Location (2017): Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA
Field Size:
Approximately 272 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Questions:
Written by NAQT and follows the NAQT HSNCT distribution. The difficulty is significantly harder than regular IS-sets and the questions are slightly longer than regular IS questions. 
Format:
10 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 16 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 6-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all 7-3 or better teams; 6-4 teams start off in the loser’s bracket and are eliminated with one loss. 
How to Qualify:
Finish in the top 15% of any tournament that uses NAQT questions. NAQT highlights those teams in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results:
Available from NAQT’s website from 1999 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
Comments:
HSNCT has rapidly grown into the largest national championship, with over a thousand players taking over a hotel each year to play quizbowl. The power-matching format used in the preliminaries usually ensures that each match pits you against a team more and more similar to your team’s skill level, so the matches tend to be close. The double-elimination format of the playoffs also can be exciting to participate in or watch, though making the playoffs can involve a little bit of luck of the draw for many teams close to the middle of the pack.


PACE’s National Scholastic Championship (NSC)

Sponsor: Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE
Location (in 2016 and 2017):
Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL (a suburb of Chicago next to O’Hare International Airport) 
Field Size:
Approximately 96 teams (based on the 2015 field)
Questions:
Written by PACE members. The distribution is similar to the college ACF distribution and tossups are often 6-8 lines, with 20 point (instead of the usual 15 point) powers and no negs for incorrect answers. Unlike the HSNCT, there are no pop culture questions at the NSC and more of an emphasis on the fine arts and the humanities. Bonuses are bouncebacks, meaning that if one team misses a bonus part the other team gets a chance to answer that part for points. Similar to HSNCT, the difficulty level for the NSC is significantly higher compared to most regular season high school tournaments. 
Format:
Seeded preliminary pools initially, then rebracketed playoff pools, then another rebracket to superplayoff and final placement pools. Basically, every team continues playing games that help determine final placement throughout the tournament. This also means that all teams play at least 18 games (!) over the two days of the tournament. 
How to Qualify:
Qualification depends on finishing highly at various PACE-affiliated tournaments. Almost every quizbowl tournament on good questions is PACE-affiliated, but the exact percentage of teams that qualify from each tournament depends on what level of certification PACE awards. See this page for a more detailed explanation, but in general the top 20-25% of the field qualifies. Wildcards are also available like with NAQT by emailing with a record. 
Previous Results:
Available on PACE’s website here
Comments: I
f you want lots and lots of quizbowl, the NSC gives you the most matches out of any of these tournaments on one of the best-written question sets of the year (see last year’s set here). The NSC field tends to be more “elite” on average than the HSNCT, so a team that finishes at 5-5 in the middle of the pack at HSNCT may finish in the lower tiers of NSC and with a much higher percentage of losses. Some teams prefer the bounce-back bonus format of the NSC since it keeps all teams listening on the bonus regardless of which team got the toss-up question.

NAQT’s Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT)


Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016 and 2017):
 The Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont (Chicago Area) IL 
Field Size:
Approximately 80 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Questions:
Written by NAQT and follows the standard NAQT distribution. The difficulty is approximately the same, if slightly tougher, than regular IS-sets.
Format:
9 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 11 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 5-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all schools with records of 6-3 or better and single-elimination for those at 5-4.
What NAQT defines as a “Small School”: [Via NAQT’s website] “A public high school with 500 or fewer students in grades 10-12 that has a non-selective admissions policy. This excludes all private schools, magnet schools, and home school collectives; it also excludes some charter schools.”
How to Qualify:
[Via NAQT’s website] “Finishing in the top 30% of the small schools at a high school varsity tournament that uses NAQT questions and includes teams from at least three schools (of any size). This includes traditional one-day tournaments, leagues, televised tournaments, and all other events that use questions provided by NAQT whether or not they use NAQT’s official format and rules.” NAQT highlights those teams qualifying for the SSNCT separately in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results: Available from NAQT’s website from 2014 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
Comments:
SSNCT is a great option for smaller schools, from open-admission urban charter schools to rural schools that might not have the resources and student base as larger schools. You can listen to some previous SSNCT matches to get an idea of the level of competition here.

 

HSAPQ’s National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)


Sponsor:
High School Academic Pyramid Questions (HSAPQ
Location (2016):
The University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 
Field Size:
12 (although maximum is as many states that register) 
Questions:
Written by HSAPQ at a very high level comparable to a normal-difficulty college tournament. Distribution is here.  
Format:
A round-robin followed by rebracketed playoffs 
How to Qualify: 
Since this is an All-Star tournament, all states are eligible to send a team. Pennsylvania’s team last year was selected by tryouts and looking at individual statistics from tournaments. If you are interested in competing against the best high school players of each state on very challenging questions, this is your tournament. The 2015-2016 PA NASAT teams can be seen here
Previous Results:
See here.

 


A few frequently-asked questions about the HSNCT and the NSC:

Which national championship should my team attend?

Besides their different locations (which usually rotate every year), the biggest differences between the national championships are the timed rounds at HSNCT vs. the untimed rounds at the NSC and the different question distributions at each. The use of timed rounds at HSNCT adds new strategic elements and means that readers tend to go a lot faster, making games a little bit more frantic. You can see video of the finals of the 2016 HSNCT here to get an idea of what it’s like. Small schools should definitely consider attending SSNCT, but can also attend HSNCT as well if they’re up for the challenge.

The distribution of the question subjects for each tournament also varies in small but important ways: the HSNCT question distribution has more current events, geography, and pop culture/sports; the NSC has more fine arts, more religion, myth, and philosophy, and no pop culture. The formats of each tournament also differ slightly as outlined above. One nice thing about having two national championships is that if you can’t make one due to graduation or prom, the other is still a possibility. Either of these are a good option for teams looking for a challenge and a fun end-of-season trip.

When can/should you register for a national championship?

You should register as soon as possible after you qualify and work quickly to firm up travel and payment plans. The HSNCT and NSC fields historically get close to filling up by late February. While you can get a spot on a waitlist and hope slots open up  later (which tends to happen at the HSNCT in particular), by late March both fields are likely completely filled. Note that both tournaments are now requiring that schools pay a deposit by some point to reserve spots in the field due to high demand, so it’s crucial that you start making arrangements to attend as soon as possible and perhaps budget for nationals attendance at the start of the year if you think you’ll be likely to qualify.

How do we get a wild card into these tournaments?

At a certain date, the HSNCT, SSNCT, and the NSC will open up applications for wild card teams. You should have a good reason explaining why you were not able to normally qualify, such as a lack of tournaments nearby to attend or consistently finishing just out of the qualification level at many tournaments against good teams. Just applying for a wild card does not mean you will be accepted–you need a good reason and must demonstrate strong results to get a wild card to either national.

Can multiple teams from the same school qualify for nationals?

Yes, but generally they must qualify at the same tournament. If Franklin High wants both its A and B teams to qualify for nationals, both teams must finish in the top percentage of the field at the same tournament. If Franklin A qualifies at one tournament (but not Franklin B) and then at the next tournament Franklin B qualifies (but not Franklin A), Franklin can still only send 1 team from Franklin to the national championship. Some schools have sent A, B, C, D, and even E teams to nationals (and done quite well).

Are there special divisions for schools of different sizes?

NAQT runs a separate Small School National Championship Tournament. If you are a non-selective, public high school with fewer than 500 students in grades 10-12, definitely take a look into the SSNCT, which runs on a separate set of NAQT questions at a different location than the HSNCT, usually sometime in April. PACE awards a top small-school title at the NSC, but small schools compete normally alongside other schools. Otherwise, all schools compete together.

Should we attend a national championship even if we know that we won’t win?

Even if you’re not in the running to win, you get to play the best teams from around the country and see just how well you measure up to teams outside of your local region. Knocking off a “name-brand” team or getting revenge on a rival local team can be great fun and just getting a few questions against the best teams in the country can be a rewarding experience. There’s also something about being in the same building as thousands of others involved in quizbowl and getting to meet people from all around the country. You’ll also have the best readers in the country flown in to read some of the toughest yet still well-written questions of the year. The final matches at these tournaments are always open to the public and are often thrilling to watch.

That said, quizbowl nationals are expensive, with a minimum of $800 or so for hotel and registration fees plus the cost of travel. You can attend a lot of other quizbowl tournaments with that funding, so consider your team’s interests and goals early on in the year so that if you do qualify for nationals, you can make sure you can secure the funding (hosting a tournament or two can really help with the cost too). Many teams enjoy the chance to travel and give seniors an appropriate send-off on the best competition quizbowl has to offer.

 



Other Competitions that claim to be “National Championships”

An organization known as Questions Unlimited runs a competition they call the National Academic Championship (NAC). At one time, decades ago, the NAC was the only game in town. Today, however, the NAC has four major problems that make it the quizbowl equivalent of college basketball’s NIT and not an actual national championship in the eyes of GPQB. In fact, we strongly advise schools to stay as far away from the NAC as possible based on the following issues:

Poorly Written Questions
A defining feature of the NAC is a lack of commitment to good quizbowl practices in question-writing, as documented rather extensively here. While there are some quasi-pyramidal questions, the vast majority appear to focus on trivial details and lead to buzzer races. Others also have swerves, hoses, and other aspects of bad quizbowl. One infamous “audio” question asked teams to identify the sound of a blender; others asked about the sounds of barnyard animals. Widely varying difficulty and distributions contribute to the unevenness of the outcomes. In short, the NAC’s questions are, in the opinion of GPQB, extraordinarily unfair to the players and a poor platform for academic competition.

A History of Plagiarism and Question Recycling
Last year, a team at the NAC actually stopped a match because it had heard the exact questions before in a practice packet. This would be unthinkable at any other national quizbowl tournament and exemplifies the history of plagiarism and question-recycling in the NAC.

An Unwieldy and Unfair Format 
The preliminary matches at NAC seem to be very roughly (if at all) seeded, which can lead to lopsided preliminary schedules of widely varying difficulty for different teams (a problem that’s compounded by the use of total points scored for playoff seeding). Unlike other national championships, only 6 games are guaranteed and those are read in an odd game-show-like environment with the focus on the “host” rather than the players.  The playoffs at each tournament site also are single elimination and the winners of each of the three sites come together to play weeks after some of them last played. This, suffice to say, does not seem like a fair format for determining a national champion.

The Best Teams Do Not Play NAC
The repudiation of NAC from former players, coaches, and even former NAC moderators has been nothing short of extraordinary in the past decade. As this graph shows, over time the NAC’s field has been surpassed in number by the HSNCT field. Almost all of the top 200 quizbowl teams in the country on the Morlan HSQBRank poll choose PACE or NAQT over NAC and more continue to abandon NAC every year, further diluting the NAC’s field strength. Additionally, more and more teams at the NAC come from a smaller handful of states like Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New York.

Few teams play both the NAC and the other nationals, but when they have played in good quizbowl tournaments the NAC attendees have not come off well. For instance, the national NAC runner-up in 2015, Lusher Charter, finished 59th at the NSC; a year before, the NAC runner-up in 2014, Pingry, finished 63rd at the NSC.

Put all these together and there is no good reason to attend the NAC. Going there only supports a bad quizbowl organization and will deprive your team of a legitimate national championship experience. If your team does not qualify for a good quizbowl national during the year but you still would like to travel, we recommend attending a regular-season tournament in April of May further away than normal.

Some other competitions also claim to be “national championships” of buzzer-based competitions, but those have even less claim than the NAC. The “National Tournament of Academic Excellence” [currently on hiatus] only attracts a small handful of random schools from a few states to Disney World to play a few very expensive rounds of bad quizbowl. “Hi-Q” sometimes claims to decide a national champion by a Skype match, but they’re only playing a tiny number of other schools from a few very specific geographic regions. And there may be others out there. But for our purposes, the only quizbowl national championships are the HSNCT, the NSC, the SSNCT and the NASAT.

Going to Quizbowl Tournaments: How it Works

The best way to get good at quizbowl or help jumpstart a new quizbowl team is to find some teammates and start attending tournaments. Whether you’re a teacher interested in starting a team, a coach of a current team looking to attend a new quizbowl competition, or just a student hoping to start playing quizbowl, here’s a step-by-step guide to finding tournaments, getting to a tournament, and what to expect at your first quizbowl tournament.

To register for a quizbowl tournament:

Email the Tournament Director. Quizbowl doesn’t have a centralized registration system for most tournaments outside of the national championships, so to register for a tournament you need to get in touch with the tournament director (TD) for each tournament directly. Usually, the email addresses for the tournament directors are given with the tournament announcements that may be emailed to you directly, posted on the regional schedule on GPQB, posted on the HSQB forum under the “Regular Tournament Announcements” section, or searching for tournaments registered on the HSQB database.

Sign up early! Quizbowl tournaments have field caps based on the number of staff and/or rooms available, so it’s usually a good idea to register as soon as you know you can attend. Sometimes the fields fill up 1-2 months before the tournament and the host has to start a waitlist of teams. Make sure you get confirmation from the TD that you’re in the field and registered before you make final travel plans. Good tournaments will often keep a running field of who’s already registered on the tournament announcement, so you can use that as a rough guide of how filled the field is already. It never hurts to ask and there are usually some spots that free up before tournaments.

Provide all needed information. A tournament registration email simply consists of letting the tournament director know that your school wants to attend as well as the following info:

  • How many teams you’re bringing (remember only up to 4 players can play per team at one time, though you can also bring fewer than 4 players on a team as well)
  • How many buzzer sets you’re bringing (this may be 0, but most tournaments give a discount of $5 for each buzzer set you bring, so if you have one you should bring it)
  • How many staffers you’re bringing (this may also be 0 as well; some tournaments may not need extra staffers, others may only want experienced readers and such, so check with the TD and read the tournament announcement)
  • Some tournaments may request that you provide a contact phone number so that the Tournament Director can call you if you’re running late.
  • Some tournaments may also request that you provide the names of your team members, though this is usually not absolutely necessary and doesn’t have to be exactly correct. TDs often ask for this to help facilitate scorekeeping or to verify what players are on what team, which can be useful in the seeding process.

Do not register until you are sure you can attend. While you should feel free to inquire about the details of any tournament, you shouldn’t register for the tournament until you’re sure that you’ll be able to attend. As more than one quizbowl elder has admonished, “Registering is a commitment to attend, not a note that you will probably try to show up unless you hear about something more interesting at any time between now and five minutes before the tournament starts.” Check with all the students you plan on bringing first to the tournament and get confirmation from them as early as possible before you register them and find out they have other commitments.

Keep the number of teams the same even if players drop. You can change the members of your team(s) as circumstances come up, but adding or dropping whole teams after you register is strongly discouraged outside of an emergency since tournaments have to plan for specific numbers of teams in the schedule well in advance. You should email the TD as soon as possible if you absolutely must change the number of teams–remember it’s fine to play with only 3 players on teams.

Paying for a Quizbowl Tournament

–  Calculate the cost. To figure out how much your school owes for a tournament, check the tournament announcement since those should list the costs and discounts. Most tournaments cost $60-80 per team, with discounts for bringing buzzers and/or staffers, traveling long distances, or being a new team to quizbowl. If you’re attending your school’s first-ever pyramidal quizbowl tournament, definitely ask for a discount–most tournaments should be happy to oblige. If you have major financial exigencies that may prevent your school from attending otherwise, you can also ask for some kind of arrangement with the host, though be aware that most hosts will expect at least some payment to help cover the cost of the questions.

Get payment to the host. Payment for tournaments is usually due the morning of the tournament, although occasionally some hosts will accept payment mailed beforehand.  Cash and check seem to be the major methods, though always ask who the check needs to be made out to since it may not be to the school itself. You can and often need to ask for a receipt from the host (hosts should provide receipts) if you’re using funds from a school.

Consider all your funding options. Finding sources of funding to pay for attending tournaments deserves a whole post in itself, but there are a number of options available. Some schools may have student activity funds or specifically designated funds for academic competitions. Sometimes PTAs might be a good source of funding or you could organize an academic booster club. Each school has different regulations that you should make a point to follow. It may be simplest just to ask each competing student to chip in part of the fees–for the price of a movie, you can get a full day’s worth of quizbowl education! Of course, one of the best ways to raise funds for quizbowl is to host a quizbowl tournament and we could certainly use more in Pennsylvania–feel free to ask us for advice on when might be the best time in the already filling schedule.

Getting to a Tournament:

– This can be very simple or could be very complicated, depending on your school’s policies. Sometimes you can just have the coach or an interested parent drive. Sometimes students can even drive themselves. Unfortunately, some schools like to make things complicated, so check with your school’s administration and/or other teachers to figure out the policies that apply to your situation.

– Note that most tournaments will simply require that some adult be responsible for the students from that school–you don’t always have to send the coach; it could be a parent or an alum. Again though, read the tournament announcements and check with your school to see what you need to do.

– If there is an inordinate mass of red tape that prevents you from attending tournaments, you may want to look into sending a non-affiliated team. See this post and check with the tournament director to see if that’s possible.

– If, en route to a tournament, you get lost or stuck in traffic, always let the tournament director know if possible via a phone call so that they can make the proper arrangements and know that you are still planning on coming. More communication is better than less communication here.

At the Tournament: What to Expect and Do 

Find the location of the pre-tournament meeting ASAP. Good hosts will often give you instructions, if not a map, and have signs directing you to the location, but expect to have to do a bit of walking from where you parked. Get there early, if at all possible. At the pre-tournament meeting, you’ll get the schedule for the tournament that indicates what teams you’ll be playing, at least for the first part of the tournament. This is also when you’ll pay for the tournament and drop off your buzzers if you brought them.

Take notes during games. Teams that take notes of what they missed, interesting clues they heard, things that sprang to mind, etc. are teams that are going to improve. Coaches can focus perhaps on the categories that seem to be getting missed while players can write down what they might want to study later. It’s a good idea thus to bring a notebook for each team member.

Expect to be lose some games. It is exceedingly rare for a team making its first tournament appearance to be competitive against the best teams right from the start (though it has happened a few times!). Think about it–even if you assembled a bunch of good athletes, sending them out to play a new sport for the first time against experienced teams would mean they’d probably get trounced. Quizbowl is the same way–while it’s based on factual knowledge, quickly recalling these facts and learning all of the subjects that come up in quizbowl can take work.

Stay for the whole tournament. Most good quizbowl tournaments seed teams in morning round-robin pools and then re-seed them during lunch to have competitive matches against teams with similar records in the morning. Thus, even if you lost all your games in the morning, in the afternoon you’ll play all the other teams who also lost their morning games so the matches should be competitive. The only time to even consider leaving a tournament before it ends is if the host is incompetent and the tournament is running several hours late. Otherwise, stick around the whole time since it’s a logistical nightmare for the host if teams leave early and unfair to other teams who lose out on a chance to play competitive games.

Talk to other teams and staffers. There will be downtime between games and during the pre-tournament meeting, so make use of it to talk to the other people! Ask someone (after the match ends) how they got a good buzz or just see how the other team’s doing. During matches, keep the chatting to a minimum, but afterwards feel free to be social so long as you don’t dawdle getting to the next room. Also, if it’s not clear on when you need to be back after lunch or where your next room is, always feel free to ask the other teams or a staffer.

Give feedback to the TD on how your experience went. Although during the tournament the director is probably going to be extremely busy, it’s always useful to hear from a new team how their experience was and what could be improved in the future after the tournament ends.