|Years active||c. 1953–present|
|Age range||School-aged and up|
|Playing time||~30 minutes (can vary)|
|Skill(s) required||Knowledge, learning, recall|
|Material(s) required||Lockout buzzer system, questions|
Quiz bowl (also known as quizbowl, scholastic bowl, academic bowl, and other names) is a quiz game that tests players on academic subjects. Standardized quiz bowl formats are played by high school and university students throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The game is typically played with a lockout buzzer system between at least two teams, usually consisting of four or five players each. Players are read questions and try to score points for their team by buzzing first and responding with the correct answer.
Quiz bowl is most commonly played in a tossup/bonus format, which consists of two distinct types of questions. Other formats played, particularly in local competitions, may use slight variations on the above rules.
Most forms of modern quiz bowl are modeled after game shows. In particular, a USO activity for US service men during World War II created by Don Reid became the basis for the College Bowl game show. College Bowl, also known as "The College Quiz Bowl", started on radio in 1953 and then aired on national television from 1959 to 1970. In 1977, it was revived as an activity on college campuses by College Bowl Company Inc. (CBCI).
In the last century, many other quiz bowl-like student quiz show competitions have been created. The It's Academic television program has been run for high school teams in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area since 1961 and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running quiz program in television history. It's Academic has been spun-off in many other US media markets and has inspired many other televised high school competitions.
In September 1990, the Academic Competition Federation (ACF) was founded as the first major alternative to The College Bowl Company. The College Bowl program abruptly ended in 2008, although the company itself continues to operate several other competitions[which?] including the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC). National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT) was founded in 1996 and currently organizes national competitions at all levels in the United States and supplies tournament questions for grade school and college teams across North America and other parts of the world.
During a quiz bowl game, two or more teams of usually up to four or five players are read questions by a moderator. In most forms of quiz bowl, there are two basic types of questions: tossups and bonuses. Tossups are questions that any individual player can attempt to answer, and players are generally not allowed to confer with each other. Each player will usually have a signaling device, also called a buzzer, to signal in at any time during the question to give an answer. If the answer given is incorrect, then no other member of that team may give an answer. If a tossup is successfully answered, the correctly answering team is given an opportunity to answer a bonus question. Bonuses are usually worth a total of 30 points, and consist of three individual questions worth ten points each. Team members are generally permitted to confer with each other on these questions.
Regional or local tournaments may dispose of any number of standard rules entirely. Some may only have tossups and not use bonuses at all. Some formats include a lightning round during which a team attempts to answer multiple questions as fast as possible under a given time limit, usually sixty seconds.
Match length is determined by either a game clock or the number of questions in a packet. In most formats, a game ends once the moderator has finished reading every question in a packet. Tie-breaking procedures may include reading extra tossups until the tie is broken or a multiple-tossup shootout.
Quiz bowl tests players in a variety of academic subjects, but most prominently literature, science, history, and fine arts. Additionally, some quiz bowl events may feature small amounts of popular culture content like sports, popular music, and other non-academic general knowledge subjects, although their inclusion is generally kept to a minimum.
Most quiz bowl competitions allow players and coaches to protest the accuracy of an answer given or the decision of a moderator.
Two common types of tossups include buzzer-beaters and pyramidal tossups. Buzzer-beaters (also known as speed check or quick-recall questions) are relatively short, rarely more than two sentences long, and contain few clues. This type of question is written specifically to test quick recall skills of players, and does not discriminate the different levels of knowledge that the players possess.
Pyramidal or pyramid-style tossups include multiple clues and are written so that each question starts with more difficult clues and moves toward easier clues. This way the player with the most knowledge of the subject being asked about has the most opportunity to answer first. Pyramidal toss-ups are a common standard for college and high school tournaments.
In most formats, correctly answering a tossup earns a team 10 points. Extra points, usually for a total of 15 or 20 points, may be awarded if a question is answered prior to a certain clue-providing keyword in the question, an action known as "powering". Answering a tossup incorrectly is called "negging", and may incur a 5 point penalty for a team. After a neg occurs the moderator will continue reading the rest of the question for the other team. There are usually no further penalties after one team has already negged.
Bonuses usually have multiple parts that are related by some common thread and may or may not be related to corresponding tossup. A team is usually rewarded with 10 points upon correctly answering each bonus part. Usually, only the team that answered the tossup correctly can answer the bonus questions, though some formats allow the opposing team to answer certain parts of the bonus not correctly answered by the team in control of the bonus, a feature known as a "bounceback". Less-used types of bonus questions include list bonuses, which require players to give their answers from a requested list, and "30-20-10" bonuses, which give a number of discrete clues for a single answer in order of decreasing difficulty, with more points being awarded for giving the correct answer on an earlier clue. The 30-20-10 bonus was officially banned from ACF in 2008 and NAQT in 2009.
Several variations on the game of quiz bowl exist that affect question structure and content, rules of play, and round format. One standardized format is the pyramidal tossup/bonus format, which is used in ACF (or mACF) and NAQT competitions. ACF/mACF tossups are written in pyramidal style and are generally much longer than College Bowl and NAQT questions. It has a rigorous emphasis on academics, with very little popular culture.[clarification needed] Games are usually untimed and last until a total of 20 tossups are read. NAQT is another common variation on the tossup/bonus format that balances academic rigor with a wider variety of subjects, including popular culture and an increased amount of current events and geography content. Unlike many mACF events, most questions used in this format are written and sold by NAQT themselves. NAQT also uses powers their in tossups, which reward players with 15 points instead of 10 for a tossup answered before a certain point. Games played on NAQT rules consist of two nine-minute halves and a total of 24 tossups. NAQT tossups are typically shorter than most other pyramidal tossups because of a strict character limit enforced on the questions. The format used for the now-defunct College Bowl tournament uses comparatively shorter questions. Gameplay is relatively quick as it is played in eight-minute halves, to a usual total of 22–24 tossups read. The Honda Campus All Star Challenge and University Challenge use similar formats.
Matches played at the National Academic Championship and its affiliated tournaments are split into four quarters, with differing styles of gameplay in each phase. Individual formats vary but may include worksheets, lightning rounds, and tossups, with or without accompanying bonuses.
Since questions are generally derived from an unofficial canon of topics, players commonly review question content from older competitions to prepare for upcoming tournaments. In this vein, NAQT also sells lists of topics that are frequently asked about in their questions. Team members will often specialize in a few subjects. Active participation in academic coursework can also serve as means of preparing for quiz bowl. Blind memorization of out-of-context facts is often discouraged. Players benefit from exposure to a broad range of school and cultural subjects, memorization and study skills, and an improved ability to cooperate and work in teams.
Quiz bowl is primarily played at single-day tournaments. Some events have eligibility rules that dictate who may participate, such as allowing only freshman and sophomore players or excluding graduate students from play. Additionally, most tournaments allow multiple teams from a single school to compete.
Some schools hold intramural tournaments where any team formed from students can play. High school-level quiz bowl will occasionally be played over an extended period of time schools within a league or preexisting athletic conference or even in single matches against other schools.
Some regional variants organized for grade school students include Knowledge Bowl, Ohio Academic Competition (OAC), Florida's Commissioner's Academic Challenge (CAC), and various television quiz competitions such as It's Academic. Athletic and activities associations in some US states also organize quiz bowl competitions, including Missouri's MSHSAA, Illinois's IHSA, and Virginia's VHSL.
Additionally, various formats have been developed to test knowledge in specific areas like the Bible, classics, science, and agricultural science. DECA runs quiz bowl events at their competitions that tests knowledge on business and market topics. Many medical schools use quiz bowl-style competitions as part of their "grand rounds" specialty training for students and interns. Gallaudet University sponsors a National Academic Bowl for deaf university students. Tournaments designated as "trash" focus on pop culture and sports trivia questions.
There are several collegiate-level national championship tournaments for which teams usually qualify through regional competitions. These tournaments include:
- NAQT's Intercollegiate Championship Tournament (ICT)
- NAQT's Community College Championship Tournament (CCCT)
- Academic Competition Federation (ACF) Nationals
- Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) (for historically black colleges and universities)
Several national competitions are conducted in the United States every year for high school students. Compared to at the college level, there are usually many more tournaments at which teams can qualify. These include:
- NAQT's High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)
- Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence's National Scholastic Championship (PACE NSC)
- The National Academic Association and Question Unlimited's National Academic Championship (NAC)
The following high school tournaments are for single all-star teams from each US state or other political subdivision:
- National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)
- National Tournament of Academic Excellence (NTAE) (formerly known as the Panasonic Academic Challenge)
Some proponents of reform seek to increase the educational value and fairness of quiz bowl, primarily by using pyramidal questions. Many competitions at grade school levels are criticized for their use of speed-check questions, which encourage participants to rely more on their ability to buzz in quickly than on knowledge of the subjects tested. Some tournaments such as College Bowl are criticized for being insufficiently academic, including superfluous clues in their questions, and for recycling questions from previous years. The use of "hoses", misleading clues that discourage players from buzzing in too early, is also considered a mark of "bad" quiz bowl. The use of mathematical computation problems in tossups is criticized by some for rewarding fast problem solving skills over conceptual knowledge and being non-pyramidal. Pyramidal questions are sometimes criticized for containing obscure information and being unsuitable for television.
Quiz bowl shows have been on television for many years in some areas and usually feature competitors from local high schools. Many of these competitions may have rules and formats that differ slightly from standardized quiz bowl.
College Bowl was broadcast on NBC radio from 1953 to 1955. The program moved to television as General Electric College Bowl and was broadcast from 1959 to 1970, first on CBS and later on NBC. College Bowl would return to CBS radio from 1979 to 82, and HCASC was broadcast on BET from 1990 to 1995. The Texaco Star National Academic Championship ran from 1989 to 1991 on Discovery Channel and was hosted by Chip Beall and Mark L. Walberg. In 1994, it was syndicated as the Star Challenge and hosted by Mark Wahlberg. University Challenge is licensed from CBCI by Granada TV Ltd. and broadcast in the United Kingdom. Reach for the Top, a Canadian competition with a quiz bowl-like format, has been broadcast on the CBC in the past.
Game show contestants
Quiz bowl has received media coverage due to the number of highly successful game show contestants with backgrounds in the activity. Despite this, most game shows have little resemblance to quiz bowl in both question content and gameplay. NAQT maintains a list of current and former quiz bowl players at any level who have appeared on TV game shows. Several of the top dollar winners in the history of Jeopardy! include former players such as Ken Jennings, David Madden, and Brad Rutter.
- National History Bee and Bowl - a history quiz competition in the US
- Reach for the Top – a long lasting Canadian high school tournament, formerly nationally broadcast on the CBC
- Schools' Challenge – a UK high school tournament
- Science Bowl – a US high school and middle school tournament focused on science
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