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  • Writer's pictureColinM

What to Expect at a Tournament

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

At some point, you're going to compete in a tournament against teams from other schools. Playing quiz bowl at a tournament is different from playing in practice.

Dealing with the fatigue of a tournament

One of the hardest things about a quiz bowl tournament is that it is long and demanding. A good tournament should be more than a single- or double-elimination tournament. It should guarantee several rounds of play to all teams, and not eliminate a team after one or two losses. Being "mentally on" for several rounds--a few hours--can be exhausting for players, especially new players or young players.

Before the tournament

Preparing to play in a tournament is a lot like preparing to take a big test. Getting plenty of sleep the night before a tournament, and eating a good breakfast the morning of the tournament, are both important to being refreshed and alert. (I've played tournaments short on sleep, and it was no fun to watch my performance get worse and worse as sleep deprivation hit me.)

If you're traveling to the tournament as a team, you can take advantage of that time to get some study time in on the trip. Have somebody read questions for the rest of the team in the car or bus to answer. This is a good way to wake up if you got an early start on the day, and gets your mind in gear, prepping it for the quick recall later in the day. It's also possible that some of the questions you read on the way might come up during the tournament!

During the tournament

Even if coming to the tournament rested and refreshed, players will get fatigued during the tournament. Some players may experience a post-lunch crash after eating. Others, a pre-lunch crash as they get hungry. It's helpful to have snacks to stave off these crashes. It's tempting to have high-carb or high sugar snacks, but they just postpone a crash. (Sugared or caffeinated drinks might have the same effect.) I have found dried fruit and nuts to work well to keep me focused during a tournament, but others may have different go-to snacks. If students find themselves getting tired in a tournament, some physical exercise between rounds can also be helpful to stimulate their body and brain and refresh them before the next round.


Unlike some other competitions, at most quiz bowl tournaments, players are allowed to take

Daniel's quiz bowl notes for the EFT.
Daniel's notes during EFT.

notes. I encourage players to do this during matches, as long as it's not distracting them from listening to questions. Like note-taking during practice, jot down things that sound interesting, or that you should have known, or clues or topics that you want to look up later.

It's also helpful for players to keep score during the tournament. (Coaches may also want to keep score to double-check the official score, but it's useful for one of the players to be doing this so that they always have the score available to them without having to call a timeout to get a score check.) Obviously, not every player needs to do this, but assigning this role to one player can be helpful.

I asked a couple of experienced players for a copy of the notes they took during practice. You can see that in both cases, the player was keeping score and writing down the answers to tossup questions. Writing down the bonus answerlines and keeping track of who buzzed in may be overkill, but it doing this lets players record things to look up later. (For teams with coaches present, recording answerlines and who buzzed in is something that coaches may also want to do, but can also be done easily on a scoresheet.)

Colin's notes during NASAT quiz bowl tournament.
Colin's notes during NASAT. Keeping track of bonus answers might be overkill for most people, but this gives him a more full review of the match. He went back later to make notes (in blue ink) of tossups where he thinks he should have done better, and things to study.


Remember that quiz bowl should be fun. Both teams are there to have fun and compete. Congratulate each other on good buzzes, or getting 30 on a bonus. (Don't talk too much between questions, though, because this just slows down the tournament.) When the match is over, put aside whatever happened during the match and congratulate the other team, win or lose.

Sometimes, you might find yourself on one side or the other of a blowout. If you're up 500-10 in a match, try not to rub it in by making comments about how easy the questions are, or getting upset by missing a question. There's no need to stop playing your best, but do it without making the other team feel inadequate. If you're the team that is down 10-500, don't give up, even if the game is out of reach. There will be other games or other tournaments to play later, and you can still play "against the packet," even if you are losing to the other team. Try to get that next tossup. Beating a great team to a tossup even once or twice is itself a victory for a new team. Even in defeat, you can use this as a learning experience. If you're taking notes, make a note of where the other team is buzzing in--these may be giveaway clues for that answer that you can learn later on.

Keep the tournament moving

It's really easy for tournaments to run late. When one room runs long, the two teams playing in that room can't start their next game until that match ends, delaying the two rooms the teams are going to play in. Those matches start late, and finish later, delaying the next matches of four teams. If there is one room that is consistently slow, the delays will have a ripple effect and slow down the whole tournament.

Because of this, it's important to move quickly from one question to the next, and from one match to the next. Don't prolong the match by talking about the question that was just read; let the moderator move right into the next question. When the match ends, move straight to the next room. During lunch, and for any other breaks, return to the match rooms as promptly as possible.

After the tournament

If you can, stick around for the awards and prizes. This is a good way to support the other teams and players, and give them the recognition they earned in the tournament. When you get home (and maybe after you get some rest), don't forget to look over the notes you made during the tournament. For tournaments written or edited by groups of students, it is useful for them to get feedback on their questions. For many of these tournaments, there are threads on the quiz bowl forum where you can talk about the tournament and offer your feedback. You can also e-mail the editors to provide feedback. (If you don't know how to reach the editors or how to find the discussion forums, ask the Tournament Director or feel free to contact us. We can probably help you with this.)

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