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 eighth grades in participating schools from the United States.[1]

The entities represented at the national level come from all fifty 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, Trebek announced that 2013 would be his last year hosting the bee. Newscaster Soledad O'Brien took his place the following year.

The reigning titleholder is Karan Menon of John Adams Middle School in Edison, New Jersey.[2]


School competitions[edit]

The competition begins at the elementary school level (4th grade - 8th grade) and usually commences in November, December, or January. This competition requires at least 6 people to enter. Private, public, and homeschooled students are allowed to enter. Typically, between five to six million students are entered each year (any number of competitors may enter this competition). The two major stages in this competition are called the preliminary and the final stages. Often, the preliminary competition is further split into preliminary rounds and a semi-final. In the event of a tie, a tiebreaker round is held at the end of the preliminary rounds.

In the preliminary rounds, competitors are divided into groups of twenty and each contestant is asked one question from each of the eight themed rounds. Past categories have included:

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

Contestants are awarded 1 point per question. At the end of seven rounds, players with the top ten scores advance to the finals. In addition to the game, a player may ask for a repeat of a spelling during these rounds. However, they are restricted to only asking twice in duration of the entire geographic 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 judges to spell or repeat words 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 and is eliminated after two misses. 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 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. Earlier in the round, questions may require oral answers 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. Question examples in the past have included pictures of state quarters with the name rubbed off and maps of the US with national forests shown and numbered. Contestants, at the time, were given the name of the national forest and (he or she) must match states with trees. At the national level, competitions may include items such as flags, musical instruments, hats, and even live animals. After a certain round, all questions must require oral answers only.

If there is a tie for the championship round or third place, there will be an elimination round. For example, if four players are left and three make their second mistake, the fourth advances to the championship round and the other three enter the tiebreaker. The moderator will then ask each of the three players, at the same time, to write their answers to the same question. In this special round, questions can be repeated by players but they cannot ask how to spell the given word. As a result, if one of three responses are correct, he or she will rise to the championship round and the other two will move to the tiebreaker round until a third-place winner 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 questions, which must be completed in 60 minutes. The top 100 scorers in each state or territory advance to the state level competition.[3]

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 that there are eight preliminary rounds instead of seven and each player is limited to two repeats or spelling for all eight preliminary 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 that there are nine preliminary rounds 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 receives a $10,000 college scholarship, the second-place finisher receives a $25,000 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, two are from New Jersey, and various other states have been home to one champion each. Karan Menon of New Jersey , the 2015 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. Shriya Yarlagadda of Michigan, the second-place finisher received $25,000. and Sojas Wagle of Arkansas, the third-place finisher received $10,000. Tejas Badgujar of Pennsylvania finished 4th. 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.[4]

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. In addition, the 2nd-place finisher that year, George Thampy, ended up winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee that year.
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 First Minnesota champion
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
2015 Karan Menon  New Jersey Eighth If built, the proposed Grand Inga Dam would be the world's largest hydroelectric dam. Near the Inga Falls, it is on which African river? Congo River First time contender in the National Level Bee. Karan challenged a question in the finals and came 2nd in the New Jersey State Bee in 2014. Second person from New Jersey to win the National Geographic Bee.

2015 State Champions[edit]

State Name School City/Town Grade
 Alabama Kapil Nathan Mount Laurel Elementary School Birmingham 5th
 Alaska Ben Ng Floyd Dryden Middle School Juneau 7th
 Arizona Cameron Danesh On Track Academy Scottsdale 8th
 Arkansas Sojas Wagle South West Junior High School Springdale 8th
Puerto Rico United States Virgin Islands Atlantic Territories Christopher Sharpless Antilles School St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands 8th
 California Madhaven Khrishnan Sam H. Lawson Middle School Cupertino 6th
 Colorado William Jacob (Jake) Hofgard Louisville Middle School Louisville 7th
 Connecticut Alexander Koutsoukos Middlebrook Middle School Wilton 7th
 Delaware Rohan Kanchana Newark Charter School Newark 6th
United States Department of Defense Seal.svg Department of Defense Ethan Cooper Menwith Hill Elementary/High School United Kingdom 8th
 District of Columbia Jacob Wall British School of Washington District of Columbia 6th
 Florida Rishi Nair Lincoln Magnet School Plant City 5th
 Georgia Vibhav Kanyadan Walker School Marietta 7th
 Hawaii Mika Ishii Kaimuki Middle School Honolulu 7th
 Idaho Nicholas Monahan Payette Lakes Middle School McCall 6th
 Illinois Alexandru Grindeanu Gower Middle School Burr Ridge 8th
 Indiana Thomas Gatewood Western Middle School Russiaville 8th
 Iowa Patrick Taylor Northwest Junior High School Iowa City 7th
 Kansas Chinmay Patil California Trail Middle School Olathe 7th
 Kentucky Pranav Kanmadikar Meyzeek Middle School Louisville 6th
 Louisiana Ajaya Tummala Caddo Middle Magnet School Shreveport 8th
 Maine Matthew Chase Wells Junior High School Wells 8th
 Maryland Abhinav Karthikeyan Clearspring Elementary School Damascus 5th
 Massachusetts Inwook (Lucy) Chae Charles E. Brown Middle School Newton Center 7th
 Michigan Shriya Yarlagadda Grand Blanc East Middle School Grand Blanc 6th
 Minnesota Shreyas Varathan Shakopee Area Catholic School Shakopee 8th
 Mississippi Ian Espy St. Andrews Episcopal School Ridgeland 8th
 Missouri Nikhil Krishnan Rockwood South Middle School Fenton 7th
 Montana Grace Rembert Sacajawea Middle School Bozeman 7th
 Nebraska Brendan Pennington Prairie Lane Elementary School Omaha 6th
 Nevada Brian Montes Adobe Middle School Elko 8th
 New Hampshire Isaac Stearns Kearsarge Regional Middle School North Sutton 7th
 New Jersey Karan Menon John Adams Middle School Edison 8th
 New Mexico Lakshay Sood Manzano Day School Albuquerque 4th
 New York Arnav Patra Heim Middle School Williamsville 7th
 North Carolina Ian Garnto West Alexander Middle School Taylorsville 8th
  North Dakota Sean Ness Valley Middle School Grand Forks 6th
 Ohio Suyash Dixit Shananan Middle School Lewis Center 8th
 Oklahoma Grant Talkington Brink Junior High School Oklahoma City 7th
 Oregon Ashwin Sivakumar Oregon Episcopal School Portland 5th
American Samoa Guam Northern Mariana Islands Pacific Territories Ethan Thomas Storie Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School Singjana 8th
 Pennsylvania Tejas Badgujar Hampton Middle School Allison Park 8th
 Rhode Island Eli Fulton Rhode Island of Home Educators (Home School) North Kingstown 7th
 South Carolina Nicholas Gringat St Anne's School Rockhill 8th
 South Dakota Damian Herrera Dakota Valley Middle School North Sioux Valley 8th
 Tennessee John Webster Evangelical Christian School Macon Cordova 7th
 Texas Josef Afuso Bishop Garriga Middle School Corpus Christi 8th
 Utah Gauri Garg Bear River Charter School North Logan 8th
 Vermont David Liebowitz Weybridge Elementary School Weybridge 6th
 Virginia Alexander Perdue Andrew Lewis Middle School Salem 8th
 Washington Nick Harrington Lakeside School Seattle 8th
 West Virginia Hunter Midcap St. Michael Parrish School Wheeling 6th
 Wisconsin Joshua Frank Fall River School Fall River 7th
 Wyoming Annika Coberly Upton Middle School Upton 8th

Recent competitions[edit]


External links[edit]