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High School Quiz Bowl: How Trivia Can Help You Get Into College

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For many students, extracurriculars are a defining part of their high school experience, and one that is highlighted heavily on their college applications. For students who want to pursue a somewhat competitive activity but who are more interested in academics than athletics, there are several extracurriculars to choose from. Students interested primarily in the STEM fields might consider Math or Science Olympiad, or science and engineering fairs. Students more interested in rhetoric and persuasion might choose Mock Trial or the Debate Team. And students who find that their knowledge is more general in nature may consider Quiz Bowl.


In this post, we will outline what exactly high school Quiz Bowl is, the format of competitions, and how to get involved if you’re interested. We’ll also provide some of the top resources for Quiz Bowl prep. If you’re interested in learning more about high school Quiz Bowl, keep reading for our comprehensive overview.


What Is Quiz Bowl?

Quiz Bowl is a game or competition in which two teams compete head-to-head to answer questions from all general areas of knowledge including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, sports, popular culture, and more. You can think of it as similar to a team version of high school Jeopardy.


Quiz Bowl is considered a competitive, academic, and interscholastic activity. Students who join their school’s Quiz Bowl team will be expected to attend periodic practices and represent their team at area competitions. The groupings for these tournaments may be based on the school’s athletic conference, school district, county, or state, or they may be open to all competitors.


One defining feature of any Quiz Bowl is the buzzer system used by students to “buzz in” when they believe they can answer a question. Players may interrupt the reading of a question through the use of their buzzer when they believe they know the correct answer. The buzzer system gives Quiz Bowl an almost game-show like quality, which makes it more fun and engaging for students and audience alike.


Who is Eligible to Compete in Quiz Bowl?

Quiz Bowls vary greatly in their scope. There can be intramural events designed for students at a single school, or interscholastic meets at which schools compete against one another. While there is no single governing body that determines who can enter each competition, tournaments generally determine which schools are eligible and usually allow any high school that has not already been exposed to the bowl questions. 


Despite the lack of a single governing body, there are various organizations that exist to offer consistent tournament rules and to provide information regarding the competition. National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT) LLC is one such company that sells new questions to local tournaments, runs national championships, and sells practice guides. It has what is generally regarded as the most established set of tournament rules.


According to NAQT rules, high school Quiz Bowl tournaments are open to high school-age students, even if they aren’t enrolled at institutions traditionally described as “high schools.” Schools that include at least one grade between kindergarten and 12th grade are eligible to compete at high school tournaments, and schools with grades beyond 12th grade are not excluded, although students enrolled in those grades are. Homeschooled students who form their own team may register with NAQT as a collective, which will be considered a school for all intents and purposes under the rules. 


NAQT also owns and manages several tournaments throughout the year, including the Small School National Championship Tournament and the High School National Championship Tournament, both of which are open to teams who qualify through success at smaller regional competitions. 


What is the Format of a Quiz Bowl Competition?

Each Quiz Bowl competition consists of two teams of one to four players each. The teams compete against one another to earn points by answering general knowledge questions based on a broad variety of content areas. A moderator reads to both teams from a packet of questions, and any individual player can ring in using the buzzer system to indicate that he or she knows the answer to a question.


Some questions will be “toss up” questions, open to any team member on either team who happens to know the answer, while other questions will be “bonus questions,” which allow an individual team more chances at points after answering a toss up question correctly.  A scorekeeper maintains a running score for each team, which goes up each time a member of that team answers a question correctly.


The NAQT specifies that questions are derived from the following subject areas:

  • Literature (novels, short stories, drama, poetry),
  • Science (biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, computer science, earth science, laboratory science),
  • History (American, British, European, world),
  • Fine arts (painting, music, opera, jazz, ballet, photography, sculpture, architecture, film),
  • Religion, mythology, and philosophy
  • Social sciences (psychology, economics, anthropology/sociology, linguistics),
  • Geography (cities, states/provinces/regions, natural landmarks),
  • Current events


They also note specifically that trivia-type questions are not common. These kinds of questions typically include pieces of highly specific information that are fun but generally not useful, such as how many ridges are on the side of a dime.


Instead, you can expect questions based on general knowledge expected at certain grade levels. 


In some rounds of play, questions will include multiple parts, and pencil and paper will be allowed to organize each part of the answer. Examples of introductory questions from NAQT include:


The 1919 version of this event was “fixed” by Meyer Wolfsheim, according to the title character of The Great Gatsby. The winner of this event, which was first held in 1903, receives the Commissioner’s Trophy. For 10 points—the “Fall Classic” is the nickname of what baseball championship?

Answer: the World Series


The Clausius-Clapeyron equation relates the logarithm of this quantity to the enthalpy of vaporization. Boyle’s law says it is inversely related to volume for an ideal gas at fixed temperature. For 10 points—name this force per unit area that can be measured in pascals or atmospheres.

Answer: Pressure


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How to Get Involved in Quiz Bowl

If your school already has a high school Quiz Bowl team, getting involved may be as simple as joining an existing team. Speak with the captain or faculty adviser to find out if you are allowed to join mid-year. Sometimes, the team will only be open to new members at the beginning of each school year.


Also keep in mind that being a member of the team does not necessarily mean you will get to compete right away. Because competition teams are generally much smaller than the school’s squad, only a few students can be selected to compete. You will have to work your way up to a place on a competition team through hard work and practice if you want to compete at large events.


If your school does not have a Quiz Bowl team, it might be possible to start your own. Check with your school’s administrators about the exact process for starting a new school affiliated club. Unlike some other clubs you might start, a Quiz Bowl team needs to be formally affiliated with your school in order to be eligible for competition. Starting a Quiz Bowl team at your community center or local library will not be possible. Check out our post, How to Start a Club in High School to learn more. 


Resources for Quiz Bowl Practice

Because Quiz Bowl is a niche club, the knowledge it requires is fairly unique. Preparing for a Quiz Bowl requires brushing up on general knowledge, practicing questions from past quiz bowls, and perfecting the use of the buzzer system.


There are many online resources for finding practice materials and past questions to use as you prepare for a competition:

  • The Quizbowl Resource Center calls itself “the most complete resource for [Quiz Bowl] information, where you can find upcoming tournaments, tournament statistics, archived questions, and forum discussions.” It features thousands of archived packets of past questions, a lively forum for interacting with other quiz bowl participants, a database of tournaments, and an up-to-date blog featuring tournament recaps.
  • National Academic Quiz Tournaments is a company run by former players and coaches that provides tournament questions, practice questions, rules, and guidance to all manner of Quiz Bowl tournaments, from casual intramural competitions to intense state and national championships. For schools interested in serious competition, NAQT runs annual national championships at the middle school, high school, community college, and collegiate levels.
  • High School Quiz Bowl Packet Archives is a collection of thousands of past quiz bowl questions dating from 1988 to 2017. It includes a separate set of leveled questions for novices, along with many sets of more advanced questions. It also includes a search feature that allows you to filter question by age level and difficulty.


If you’re interested in getting involved in academic competitions and you want to pursue something requiring a truly unique and broad set of knowledge, you should consider high school Quiz Bowl. You will not only stretch your mind and build useful quick-thinking skills, but also establish a meaningful connection with peers by working and competing together as a team.


For more guidance about extracurriculars, college applications, and how to choose activities that best suit you, download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


For more information about extracurricular activities in high school, check out these posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.