What is Quizbowl?

Quizbowl is an academic competition in which two teams of students compete to buzz-in before the other team on toss-up questions and collaborate with their teammates to answer bonus questions.


Two teams of up to four players at a time compete to buzz-in on tossup questions and then collaborate on bonuses as a moderator reads questions during a quizbowl match.

A common comparison is Jeopardy! (or the old College Bowl TV show), but unlike Jeopardy! quizbowl focuses on rewarding more knowledge rather than faster thumb speed and features more academically-oriented questions.

Why quiz bowl?

Go beyond the high school curriculum. Quizbowl is a unique extracurricular in that it covers the entirety of the high school curriculum and beyond. From American Literature to Physics to Greek Myth to Current Events, quizbowl covers a wide variety of topics from most school curricula but also goes beyond to encourage students to learn outside the classroom. In the process of preparing for and playing quiz bowl, students will learn about many culturally, historically, and scientifically important concepts, works, and individuals that they had likely never previously encountered.

Quizbowl is also a great way for students to apply what they learn in school to friendly competition with other students. The camaraderie at quizbowl tournaments in the shared pursuit of knowledge is always great to see. If you’re intellectually curious and enjoy learning, quizbowl is the competition for you.

Compete without breaking the bank. Quiz bowl is one of the most cost-effective extracurricular programs available for high schools. Practice questions and study programs are freely available online; tens of thousands of high-quality practice questions are available for free in many online archives or through interactive question search programs. You can purchase questions and study guides from some companies for a small fee too, but many teams simply create their own.

Local tournaments cost anywhere from $30 to $80 per team and often offer discounts for bringing a buzzer system, volunteering staffers, traveling a large distance, or being a new team. A buzzer system only costs about $250 for 8-10 players and isn’t necessary to begin a team (many teams start out playing “slapbowl” or shouting “buzz”). Furthermore, quiz bowl teams are encouraged to host tournaments, which can be a relatively lucrative source of fundraising and fully fund a team for the year without the school providing anything other than rooms for the tournament.

Flexibility for teachers and students. Teams can play as many or as few quizbowl tournaments as they would like during a year, from a couple of local tournaments to one practically every weekend if you’re willing to drive a few hours. Practices can take place any time, anywhere (even online). Schools can bring multiple teams to most tournaments, so anyone interested in quizbowl can get a chance to play – there is no need to limit yourself to bringing a single “A-team” (some schools send A, B, C, D, and even E teams to tournaments). There are also no quotas for students with specified GPAs; any student interested can compete. 

Check the current regional schedule for a list of currently announced tournaments in the PA area as well as the forums on HSQB.

 What is a quiz bowl game like? 

A standard quiz bowl game pits two teams of up to four players each against each other (up to two players can “sub” in too at halftime). Each player holds a buzzer that can be used to “buzz in” when the player thinks he or she knows the answer to a question. Unlike in Jeopardy!, players in quiz bowl may buzz in as soon as they think they know the answer to the question. Thus the race is against the members of the other team in identifying the answer based on knowledge, not in just pressing the buzzer faster.

Most pyramidal quizbowl matches consist of twenty “tossup” and accompanying “bonus” questions. Tossup questions are read to both teams at once; any player on either team has the opportunity to interrupt the moderator with an answer by buzzing in during tossup questions. If a player gives an incorrect answer, his or her team is deducted 5 points and locked out during the remainder of the tossup. A team that correctly answers a tossup question is awarded 10 points (or 15 points for early buzzes–called “powers”–at certain tournaments) and is then read a bonus question.

Bonus questions consist of three parts, each worth 10 points; after each part is read, the team in possession is given five seconds to confer as a team and give a single answer. The opposing team may not answer the bonus question, and buzzers are not used during a bonus question. After the bonus question is finished, the next tossup is read, repeating the tossup-bonus cycle until all twenty questions have been read and, if necessary, any tiebreaker questions.

Here’s a YouTube video showing a pretty typical quizbowl practice. You can listen to some podcasts of quizbowl matches here.

What is a quiz bowl tournament like?

A standard quiz bowl tournament is held on a Saturday and begins around 9:00 AM. Local tournaments may attract anywhere from a handful of schools in a single county to 48+ teams from several different states. Depending on field size, each team usually plays five to six preliminary round-robin matches in a quasi-seeded bracket. There are, increasingly, also JV/novice divisions as well as separate Open/Varsity divisions to help newer players and teams ease into competing against similar levels of competition.

Preliminary rounds usually end at noon (12:00 PM). Teams then break for lunch while new playoff brackets are drawn up based on performance in the preliminary rounds. Playoffs usually consist of rebracketed groups of teams based on performance in the preliminary rounds. This means that even if your team loses all its matches in the morning, it will then play against other teams that also lost all their matches in the morning–matches in these rebracketed groups are often quite close and are designed to encourage teams of all levels to improve.

The teams with the best record in the highest-seeded playoff brackets then compete for the tournament championship and the tournaments usually end around 4 PM or 5 PM with all teams having played 8-12 matches.

We have a guide to attending tournaments that might be useful for new teams to consult as well.


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