National Geographic Bee

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A shot before the national preliminary rounds of the 1999 National Geography Bee.
A shot before the national preliminary rounds of the 1999 National Geography Bee.

The National Geographic Bee (called the National Geography Bee until 2000) is an annual geography contest sponsored by the National Geographic Society. The bee, held every year since 1989, is open to students in the fourth through to the eighth grade in participating schools from the United States.[1]

The entities represented at the national level come from all fifty of the States, the Atlantic Territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), the Pacific Territories (Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and American Samoa), the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

The National Geographic Bee Finals was hosted by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek for its first 25 years (from 1989-2013); However, at the 2013 National Geographic Bee, he announced that that would be his last year hosting the bee. Newscaster Soledad O'Brien took his place in 2014.

The reigning titleholder is Akhil Rekulapelli of Stone Hill Middle School of Loudoun County, Virginia.


School competitions[edit]

The competition begins at the elementary school level (4th grade - 8th grade) usually in November, December, or January. This competition requires at least 6 people entered into the competition: whether it be a homeschooled, private, or public school bee. Any number of competitors may enter these competitions; typically five to six million students enter each year. There are two major stages in these competitions: preliminary and final. The preliminary competition is further split into two parts: preliminary rounds and a semi-final or tiebreaker round, which is used only in the event of a tie at the end of the preliminary rounds.

In the preliminary rounds, the competitors are divided into groups of up to twenty, and each contestant is asked one question from each of the eight themed rounds. Categories in the past have included...

  • Cultural Geography
  • Economic Geography
  • Across-the-Country, Around-the-World
  • Plants and Animals
  • Geographic Comparisons
  • Physical Geography, and
  • Odd-Item-Out (a category where one is given three choices and a description and must determine which of the three choices does not fit that description).

For each question answered correctly, the contestant is awarded one point. At the end of the seven rounds, the players with the top ten scores advance to the finals. A player may ask for a repeat or a spelling during these rounds, but only twice during the whole bee.

Quite often there is a tie, in which case a semi-final tiebreaker round is needed. For example, if six players finished the preliminary rounds with eight points and fifteen finished with seven points, the six who finished with eight points automatically advance to the final competition. The fifteen with six points move into the semi-final round where the top four are determined to fill the remainder of the seats in the finals. This is done by asking every player the same question at the same time and giving each player twelve seconds to write down the answer. Each question is automatically repeated twice. Everyone reveals their answer at the end of the twelve seconds and players are eliminated on a single-elimination basis. If, using the above example of four open seats in the finals, there is a question where eight players are left in the semi-final round and three players get the question right, those three advance to the finals. The other five who got the question wrong will continue with the single-elimination procedure to determine which competitor will take the last open seat in the finals. A player cannot ask for a spelling or repeat in the semi-final round.

The final competition consists of two parts: the final round and the championship round. Each of the ten finalists starts with a clean slate. A player is eliminated after two misses and this continues until the number of contestants drops from ten to two and a third place finisher is determined. A player is not officially eliminated until the end of a series of questions, since if all or all but one competitor makes their second miss in that round, all the players stay in the competition. Again, a player may ask for a spelling or repeat on any question, but only once per question. Early in the round, questions may either require oral answers only or written answers from all the competitors at one time. Quite often, many of the earlier questions in this round contain visuals as part of the question, such as maps or pictures. Examples in the past include pictures of state quarters with the name rubbed off and maps of the US with national forests shown and numbered, where the contestant is given the name of the national forest and he or she much state which numbered forest corresponds to it. At the national level, they may also include items such as flags, musical instruments, hats, and even live animals. After a certain point, all the questions require individual oral answers only.

If there is a tie for the championship round or third place as mentioned above, a single-elimination, written tiebreaker procedure is used. For example, if there are four players left and three make their second miss in one round, the fourth advances to the championship round and the other three enter the tiebreaker. The moderator will ask each of the three players to answer the same question at the same time on a piece of paper, asking the question twice (players may not ask for a spelling or repeat here). If one of those three answers correctly, he or she will take the other seat in the championship round and the other two will continue in the tiebreaker until a third place winner is determined.

In the championship round, both players start with a clean slate again. The moderator asks both contestants the same question at the same time, repeated twice, and both players have fifteen seconds to write their answer. Both players then show their answers and each player who wrote a correct answer receives one point. There are three questions in the championship round. The player with the most points at the end is the champion. If both players are tied at the end, the competition enters the championship tiebreaker round. The rules are the same as for the championship round, except that the last player to answer a question incorrectly is the school champion (single elimination round).

Qualifying Test

The Qualifying Test is the only part of the bee that is entirely written. Every winner from each school takes this test to see if he or she can qualify for the state bee. The test comprises 70 multiple choice (there are four options) questions, which must be completed in 60 minutes. The top 100 scorers in each state or territory advance to the state level competition.[2]

State and national competitions[edit]

The winner of each school-level competition takes a written test, and the top one-hundred in each state or territory qualify for the state bee. The rules at the state level are same as that at the school level, except the preliminary rounds are eight in number instead of seven, and in the preliminary rounds each player is limited to two repeats or spelling for all eight rounds. Players are also limited to two repeats or spellings in the final round, if they qualify. All the state bees are held on the same date, at the same time (in early April or late March) at all locations. State bees originally occurred for the fifty states, five U.S. territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands), Washington D.C., and the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS), for a total of 57. The third place finisher from each state receives $50, the second place finisher $75, and the winner $100. In 1999 the state competitions for Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands were merged into one state competition known as the Pacific Territories, bringing the number down to 55. In 2009, the Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands competitions were merged into a single competition known as the Atlantic Territories, and since then there have only been 54 state competitions. The 54 state champions receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. for the national competition.

The rules at the national level are the same as those at the state, except the preliminary rounds are nine in number instead of eight. The championship round can also consist of five questions instead of three. The competition is held over two days, with the preliminary rounds on the first day and the final rounds on the second. The national finals are held in late May at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. and are hosted by Soledad O'Brien. The ten finalists are guaranteed $500. The fourth-place finisher receives $1000 in cash, the third-place finisher at the national level receives a $10,000 college scholarship, the second-place finisher receives a $15,000 college scholarship, and the national champion receives a $50,000 college scholarship, as well as a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. Since the 2009 national bee, the national champion also wins a trip for two to the Galapagos Islands.

International competition[edit]

There is a international competition, which is also moderated by Soledad O'Brien, but it is run differently. The top finishers from each country's national competition form a team representing their country and participate in an Olympics-style event which includes a team written competition and a team oral competition. The 2013 competition was held in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The 2015 National Geographic World Championship, originally planned to take place in Stockholm, Sweden, was cancelled, and the competition was put on hiatus.


The selection process of the National Geographic Bee competition is not well designed to reliably promote the most qualified contestants as it leaves significant room for chance. This is due to the small number of questions and the fact that each contestant answers different questions. Particularly, during the preliminary rounds contestants are eliminated with a single mistake if there are more than 9 perfect scores. That a single mistake is not a reliable indicator for a contestant's overall strength was demonstrated during the 2014 National competition. The preliminary rounds resulted in 9 contestants with perfect score who accordingly became finalists. The 10th spot was filled by tie breaker rounds between contestants who made a single mistake during the preliminaries and went to the Virginia champion Akhil Rekulapelli, who then went on to win the finals.


National Champions[edit]

Of the twenty-five National Geographic Bee champions, twenty-three are male and two are female. Five are from the state of Washington, four are from the state of Michigan, three are from Texas, two are from Kansas, and various other states have been home to one champion each. Akhil Rekulapelli, the 2014 National Geographic Bee Champion, received a $50,000 scholarship, a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society, and a trip for 2 to the Galapagos Islands. Ameya Mujumdar, the second-place finisher received $25,000. Tuvya Bergeson-Michelson, the third-place finisher received $10,000, and Pranit Nanda the fourth-place finisher received $1,000. Other top ten finishers received $500. Champions and other top finishers are invited to apply to the three-member U.S. team sent to the biannual National Geographic World Championship.[3]

Year Winner's Name State Grade Final Question Answer Notes
1989 Jack Staddon  Kansas Eighth Name the flat intermontane area located at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,050 m) in the central Andes. Altiplano First Champion
1990 Susannah Batko-Yovino  Pennsylvania Sixth Mount Erebus is a volcano on which continent? Antarctica First female champion
1991 David Stillman  Idaho Eighth What type of landform is commonly associated with orographic precipitation? Mountain Had a perfect score in the finals
1992 Lawson Fite  Washington Eighth Many coastal countries have established so-called EEZs—areas extending 200 nautical miles (370 km) from shore over which countries have sovereign rights for resource exploration. What do the initials EEZ stand for? Exclusive Economic Zone Had a perfect score in the finals
1993 Noel Erinjeri  Michigan Eighth Tagalog is one of the three main native languages of which island country in Asia? The Philippines Was in the finals in 1992
1994 Anders Knospe  Montana Eighth The Tagus River roughly divides which European country into two agricultural regions? Portugal
1995 Chris Galeczka  Michigan Eighth Pashtu and Dari are the official languages of which mountainous, landlocked country in southwestern Asia? Afghanistan Was in the finals in 1994
1996 Seyi Fayanju  New Jersey Seventh Name the European co-principality whose heads of state are the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell. Andorra Had a perfect score in the finals; presented an object in the 1994 finals, when he was the New Jersey state champion; was a contestant on the kids game show Figure It Out
1997 Alex Kerchner  Washington Seventh Asia's most densely populated country has about three million people and an area of less than 250 square miles (402 km²). Name this country. Singapore Was in the finals in 1996
1998 Petko Peev  Michigan Eighth More than 80 million people live in the European Union's most populous member country. Name this country. Germany
1999 David Beihl  South Carolina Eighth (homeschooled) The condition characterized by unusually cold ocean temperature in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean is known by what Spanish name? La Niña First home-schooled champion; competed in 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship later in the same month
2000 Felix Peng  Connecticut Eighth Name two of the three largest sections of Denmark, which include its mainland peninsula and two largest islands. Jutland, Sjaelland and Fyn Won after 7 tiebreaker questions in the Championship Round, the all-time record.
2001 Kyle Haddad-Fonda  Washington Eighth Below the equilibrium line of glaciers there is a region of melting, evaporation, and sublimation. Name this zone. Zone of ablation Rhodes Scholar, Harvard graduate; Was in the finals in 1999
2002 Calvin McCarter  Michigan Fifth (homeschooled) Lop Nur, a marshy depression at the east end of the Tarim Basin, is a nuclear test site for which country? China (People's Republic) Youngest champion
2003 James Williams  Washington Eighth (homeschooled) Goa, a state in southwestern India, was a possession of which country until 1961? Portugal Also a competitor in the National Middle School Science Bowl and National Science Olympiad.
2004 Andrew Wojtanik  Kansas Eighth Peshawar, a city in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, has had strategic importance for centuries because of its location near what historic pass? Khyber Pass Wrote Afghanistan to Zimbabwe guide with important information for each country.
2005 Nathan Cornelius  Minnesota Seventh (homeschooled) Lake Gatún, an artificial lake that constitutes part of the Panama Canal system, was created by damming which river? Chagres River
2006 Bonny Jain  Illinois Eighth Name the mountains that extend across much of Wales, from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel. Cambrian Mountains Placed 13th in 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee; was in the finals in 2005
2007 Caitlin Snaring  Washington Eighth (homeschooled) A city that is divided by a river of the same name was the imperial capital of Vietnam for more than a century. Name this city, which is still an important cultural center. Huế Had a perfect score in the finals; second female champion
2008 Akshay Rajagopal  Nebraska Sixth The urban area of Cochabamba has been in the news recently due to protests over the privatization of the municipal water supply and regional autonomy issues. Cochabamba is the third-largest conurbation in what country? Bolivia Had a perfect score in the finals.

Won the Bee on his first attempt at the school, state, and national level.

2009 Eric Yang  Texas Seventh Timis County shares its name with a tributary of the Danube and is located in the western part of which European country? Romania Had a perfect score in the finals
2010 Aadith Moorthy  Florida Eighth The largest city in northern Haiti was renamed following Haiti’s independence from France. What is the present-day name of this city? Cap-Haïtien Won the bee the first year he came to the National Level; became the first person to win the bee after missing his first question in the finals. Achieved a perfect SAT score in 2013.
2011 Tine Valencic  Texas Seventh Thousands of mountain climbers and trekkers rely on Sherpas to aid their ascent of Mount Everest. The southern part of Mount Everest is located in which Nepalese national park? Sagarmatha National Park Had a perfect score in the finals
2012 Rahul Nagvekar  Texas Eighth Name the Bavarian city situated on the Danube River that was a legislative seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806? Regensburg First time contender at the National-Level Bee; finished second in the 2011 Texas Geographic Bee, behind Tine Valencic
2013 Sathwik Karnik  Massachusetts Seventh Because Earth bulges at the equator, the point that is farthest from Earth's center is the summit of a peak in Ecuador. Name this peak. Chimborazo First time contender at the National-Level Bee, Brother Karthik Karnik finished 5th in National Finals in 2011, 6th in National Finals in 2012
2014 Akhil Rekulapelli  Virginia Eighth The discovery of a major shale oil deposit in the Vaca Muerta formation in 2010 has led to an expansion of oil drilling in the Neuquen province in what country? Argentina Akhil finished fourth in 2013

2014 State Champions[edit]

State Name School City/Town Grade
 Alabama Christian Gonzalez Huntsville Area Home Educators Harvest 8th
 Alaska J. Gray Harver Kodiak Middle School Kodiak 8th
 Arizona Ari Mehta Desert Cove E.S. Phoenix 6th
 Arkansas Christian Boekhout Hot Springs Intermediate School Hot Springs 8th
Puerto Rico United States Virgin Islands Atlantic Territories Jael King Alfredo Andrews School St. Croix 6th
 California Tuvya Bergson-Michelson The Nueva School San Carlos 7th 3rd Place
 Colorado Pranit Nanda Aurora Quest K-8 Aurora 8th 4th Place
 Connecticut John Phipps Middlesex Middle School Darien 6th

Finishing in 2nd place was Arjun Katechia from Glastonbury who attends Kingswood-Oxford Middle School.

 Delaware Sohan Shah The Independence School Newark 8th
United States Department of Defense Seal.svg Department of Defense Patrick Lewallen Ryukyu Middle School Japan 8th
 District of Columbia Quentin Powers St. Anselm's Abbey School District of Columbia 8th
 Florida Ameya Mujumdar Turner Elementary School Tampa 5th 2nd Place
 Georgia Ansel Ahabue Trickum Middle School Lilburn 8th 8th Place (tie)

Won the national Academic Team Competition in 2012 with the Trickum Academic Team

 Hawaii Mika Ishii Kaimuki Middle School Honolulu 6th
 Idaho Amrit Singh Grangeville Elementary/Middle School Grangeville 8th
 Illinois Mantra Dave Chiddix Jr. High School Normal 6th
 Indiana Sean Ives Trinity Lutheran School Crown Point 8th
 Iowa Shirlin Kingston Ames Homeschool Assistance Program Ames 5th
 Kansas Chinmay Patil California Trail Middle School Olathe 6th
 Kentucky Nikhil Krishna Corbin Middle School Corbin 8th
 Louisiana Benjamin Link St. Andrew’s Episcopal School New Orleans 8th
 Maine Vincent Falardeau Saco Middle School Saco 8th
 Maryland Abhinav Karthikeyan Clearspring Elementary School Damascus 5th
 Massachusetts Nick Rommel Diamond Middle School Lexington 7th 8th Place (tie)
 Michigan Philip Huang Washtenaw County Home Educators Ann Arbor 8th
 Minnesota Lucas Eggers Hennepin County Homeschool Eden Prairie 6th
 Mississippi Victoria Gong St. Aloysius Vicksburg 7th
 Missouri Evan Hensel Wentzville Middle School Wentzville 8th
 Montana Jesse Zhang Target Range School Missoula 8th
 Nebraska Brendan Pennington Prairie Lane Elementary School Omaha 5th
 Nevada Benjamin Hand Hyde Park Middle School Las Vegas 8th
 New Hampshire Kevin Owens Ross A. Lurgio Middle School Bedford 7th
 New Jersey Charles Mills Trinity Christian School Montville 7th
 New Mexico Gabriel Cuneo Shepherd Lutheran Albuquerque 8th
 New York Gabriel Straus Collegiate School for Boys Manhattan 8th
 North Carolina Sravya Kuchibhotla Davis Drive Middle School Cary 7th
  North Dakota Erik Johnson Bismarck Mandan Home Educators Bismarck 8th
 Ohio Kyle Yu Lee Burneson Middle School Westlake 8th 6th Place
 Oklahoma Aniket Dehardrai Whittier Middle School Norman 8th
 Oregon Tor Parsons Roosevelt Middle School Eugene 7th
American Samoa Guam Northern Mariana Islands Pacific Territories Alex Eagan Pacific Horizons School Pago Pago 6th
 Pennsylvania Ramya Muthukrishnan E.N. Pierce Middle School West Chester 8th
 Rhode Island Maxwell Levine Wheeler School Providence 8th 8th Place (tie)
 South Carolina Krish Patel Pinewood Preparatory School Summerville 8th 5th Place
 South Dakota Bridger Gordon Sturgis Williams Middle School Sturgis 8th
 Tennessee Christopher Damon Meigs Middle Magnet School Nashville 8th
 Texas Benjamin Benjadol Central Junior High School Euless 7th
 Utah Gauri Garg Bear River Charter School North Logan 7th
 Vermont Nicholas Norton Essex Middle School Essex Junction 7th
 Virginia Akhil Rekulapelli Stone Hill Middle School Ashburn 8th 2014 National Champion
 Washington Andrew Ma The Evergreen School Shoreline 8th
 West Virginia Andrew Christy St. Francis Central Catholic School Morgantown 8th
 Wisconsin Asha Jain MHLT Elementary School Minocqua 8th 7th Place; was on the winning team at the 2013 World Geographic Bee Championship with Gopi Ramanathan, from Minnesota, and Neelam Sandhu, from New Hampshire
 Wyoming Degory Day Aspen Elementary School Evanston 5th

Recent competitions[edit]


External links[edit]