Quizbowl is an academic competition in which two teams of students compete to answer as many questions as possible on topics including literature, history, science, art, music, mythology, religion, philosophy, social science, geography, current events, and pop culture.
What is a game of quizbowl like?
A standard quizbowl match pits two teams of up to four players each against each other. Each player holds a buzzer that can be used to “buzz in” when the player knows the answer to a question.
Matches consist of two ten-minute halves of up to 24 tossup and bonus questions. Tossup questions are read to both teams; any player on either team has the opportunity to interrupt the moderator with an answer by buzzing in. If a player gives an incorrect answer, his or her team is deducted 5 points and barred from buzzing in during the remainder of the tossup. A team that correctly answers a tossup question (the team “in possession”) is awarded 10 points and is 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.
What is NAQT?
National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT) is a company that produces question sets and organizes the High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT). NAQT produces five “Invitational Series” (IS) sets each year for use in regular high school tournaments, in additional to five “Introductory Series” (IS-A) sets each year for use in novice tournaments. NAQT’s question sets have slightly higher proportions of questions on geography, current events, and popular culture.
What are pyramidal questions?
One of the main differentiating features of quizbowl is the use of “pyramidal” tossup questions. This history question from the 2010 Fall Novice Tournament gives a specific example of how pyramidal questions are more fair, fun, and rewarding to teams.
Note how the question begins with an interesting, specific clue that rewards students who know a lot about WWII naval battles (sink the Bismarck!). The question makes clear from the start what it’s looking for by using the phrase “this man.” The question then describes some of the things Bismarck did, going from more obscure (the Three Emperor’s League) to more well-known (Franco-Prussian War) to a “giveaway” with his nickname and finally the mention of Germany.
Compare that pyramidal question to this simple one-line question.
See the difference? The pyramidal question rewards students who know the historical importance of Otto von Bismarck. The other question does not. In fact, it baits players to buzz on “Chancellor” because “there’s only one German Chancellor, of course” (even though the pyramidal question, in fact, reveals that there were other men who held the Chancellorship!). A player who knew more than one German chancellor would logically wait for more revealing information, thus losing the buzzer race to a player who knew less information.
These links provide good arguments for and examples of pyramidal questions.
- A good explanation of pyramidal questions from the Missouri Quizbowl Alliance
- HSAPQ has a more philosophical explanation of the impetus behind pyramidal questions and other “good quizbowl” practices as well as an enlightening treatise on the problems with math calculation questions
- The Quizbowl Wiki has a short overview of pyramidal questions and additional links that explain other aspects of “good quizbowl”
- PACE provides a comprehensive guide to pyramidal questions from the point of view of a person trying to write pyramidal questions. Highly recommended for aspiring question writers.
- And once again, for practice questions in the pyramidal format, there are literally thousands available at the Quizbowl Packet Archive.
What are bonus questions?
It should be noted that bonus questions are not pyramidal–only tossup questions, which are open to both teams, abide by the pyramid structure. Instead, bonuses are a series of three questions (known as “bonus parts”) directed at the team whose player correctly answered the tossup, and teams can collaborate when answering them (it is highly recommended that the team allows the moderator to finish reading a bonus part before answering). For each bonus, there is one easy part, medium part, and hard part each, but NOT necessarily in that order. For instance, there may be a bonus that has as its order a hard, easy, and medium part. For more information about tossups and bonuses, see this Introduction to QuizBowl presentation.
What are negs, powers, prompts, and trash?
A neg is short for “negative” and refers to an incorrect buzz that costs the player’s team 5 points.
Powers Tossup questions are “powermarked” up to a certain point that is not revealed to either team. If a question is answered correctly during the powermarked portion, the team is rewarded fifteen points (in some formats, twenty) instead of ten. Powermarks generally fall in places at which the difficulty of a question drops significantly, as seen in this example question, in which the bolded part up to the (*) is powermarked.
A prompt is given if a player provides an answer that is too vague to determine its correctness. For example, if the correct answer is “Louis XIV” and a player answers “Louis,” he or she will be prompted to give more information.
Trash is a somewhat derogatory term given to questions on popular culture and other subjects that are not strictly academic.