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Quiz bowl is an academic competition between two teams of four players. A moderator reads questions and teams answer them. There are two types of questions: a tossup question and a bonus question.

When a moderator reads a tossup question, any player may buzz in at any point during the question to answer. If the player answers correctly, that player's team is awarded a bonus question. If the player answers incorrectly, nobody else from that team may buzz in for the question, and the moderator continues to read for the other team. Players who buzz in may not confer with teammates before giving their answer.

If a player answers a question correctly, the team gets a chance to answer a bonus question. The bonus question consists of three parts. After each part, the team will have a short period of time to confer before giving the answer.

Once the bonus question has been completed, the moderator will read the next tossup to both teams.

This video from PACE is a good primer on the format of a quiz bowl match.


Quiz bowl questions are designed to reward students and teams with deeper knowledge of the material.

Tossups are pyramidal. That means that the tossup questions begin with harder, more obscure clues. As the question continues, the clues become easier and more familiar, culminating in a giveaway clue at the end of the question. Players may--and indeed, should--buzz in when they know the answer. The more a player knows about the subject, the more likely that player will know the harder clues. In this way, players with deeper knowledge will have an advantage because they can buzz in earlier and get the question correct.

A bonus consists of three parts. One of these parts are easy (most teams should be able to answer it), one medium (about half the teams should be able to answer it), and one hard (the best teams may be the only ones who can answer it). The bonus parts are not always in increasing difficulty, and may appear in any order. (So the first bonus part is not always the easiest part. There may be an easier part later on.) This bonus structure rewards the better teams with deeper knowledge, who will have an advantage over teams with less knowledge.

Because both tossups and bonuses reward players and teams with more knowledge, students who want to get better at quiz bowl will study to learn more and be able to score more points.


Questions in quiz bowl are drawn from a variety of disciplines. The "big three" categories that make up the bulk of quiz bowl questions are literature, history and science, but there are a significant number of questions drawn from fine arts, mythology, religion, geography, social sciences. Some formats may also include several current events and pop culture questions in their packets.

Literature questions may ask about authors, works, or even characters. In lower-level tournaments (middle school and high school novice), the questions primarily cover English language works, but as tournaments increase in difficulty, the amount of European and non-Western literature that is asked about also increases. 

History questions may ask about historical figures, events, or movements. Lower-difficulty tournaments (middle school and high school novice) will focus more on US and European history, but as tournaments increase in difficulty, the amount of non-Western history also increases.

Science questions primarily are drawn from physics, chemistry and biology. Math and computer science also some significant representation, with the remainder of the questions drawn from earth science, geology, physical science, astronomy, and other scientific disciplines. Some formats may also include math computation questions.

Fine arts questions may ask about artists, works, art movements, styles, or countries of origin. Auditory arts will primarily consist of classical music, but may also include opera, ballet, jazz, or other music forms. Visual arts will primarily consist of paintings, but may also include sculpture, architecture, photography, and even movies.

Myth questions may ask about mythological figures, events, or objects. At lower difficulty levels, mythology is primarily Greco-Roman mythology, with some Norse or Egyptian myth. As the difficulty increases, players also must be know will include Aztec, Mayan, Celtic, Shinto, and other myth systems.

Religion questions may ask about religious figures, historical leaders. texts, holidays, practices or beliefs. They may also ask about sects or minor religions. At lower difficulty levels, these may be primarily about Christianity or Judaism, with basic questions about other religions. As the difficulty of tournaments increase, players would be expected to have deeper knowledge of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other major religions.

Social science/Thought questions may ask about individual thinkers, movements, theories, or works. It includes psychology, economics, anthropology and sociology, among other fields. (In more difficult tournaments, like hard high school tournaments and college tournaments, there will be a significant number of philosophy questions, as well.)

The exact distribution and sub-distribution of questions will depend on the tournament that is played. Different tournament editors have different philosophies about what kinds of questions to include.

What is Quiz Bowl?: FAQ
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