Houghton Mifflin HarcourtHistory Channel

Overview | Eligibility | Divisions | Tournament Format | Game Format | Final Round Structure | Question Styles | Resources for Training | Sample Questions


At the high school level, The National History Bee is a buzzer-based history quiz competition for individual students. Students compete against other students in a series of rounds where they attempt to be the first to ring in and answer paragraph-length questions about various topics in history. Each correct answer results in one point. If they reach 8 points, they are then finished for the round, but they earn up to 7 bonus points based on how quickly they reached 8 points. At the state and regional tournaments, there are 3 preliminary rounds, which equates to 90 total questions, plus a final round for the top students to determine the champion. Students who finish in the top half of the preliminary round totals qualify for the National Championships, which consists of 6 preliminary rounds of 35 questions, plus a series of 3 playoff stages to determine the National Champion. The high school level of The National History Bee is split into Varsity and Junior Varsity divisions. The Varsity division is open to students in 11th and 12th grade; the Junior Varsity division is open to students in 10th grade and younger, including middle and even elementary school students.


In order to compete in the History Bee, you must be 19 years or younger at the time of your State or Regional Bee. You must also be enrolled in primary or secondary education (or have graduated within the past five months, and not yet have started university studies). Students in dual enrollment with a university who have not yet completed their high school diploma are also eligible. Individual homeschooled students and homeschool associations may also compete, and more information on that can be found here.

There are no geographic limitations to participating in state or regional History Bees- a student from Maine can compete in a Hawaii tournament. However, students may only compete in one tournament per question set. That means a maximum of 3 regional or state tournaments per year, one each on our A, B, and C sets.


At the high school level, The National History Bee features two divisions: Varsity and Junior Varsity.  The division breakdown is as follows:

Varsity: 11th or 12th grade

Junior Varsity: 10th grade and younger

There is no younger age limit – a brilliant and well-behaved 8 year-old is welcome to compete. Note that elementary and middle school students are welcome to compete in the elementary or middle school division AND the Junior Varsity division. The Elementary and Middle School divisions work on a totally different format, and are not contested at the same time as the high school divisions. To determine grade eligibility for homeschooled students, if a student is not considered to formally be in a grade, students born after October 1 1999 will be considered to be eligible for the Junior Varsity Division for the 2015-16 competition year. If a student is formally considered to be in a grade, then that grade is what will be used.

In the National History Bee’s high school-level divisions, students are NOT normally permitted to “play up” (i.e. students in 10th grade and younger playing in the Varsity division). This is never permitted at Nationals, and only permitted at state and regional tournaments through petitioning NHBB, which will not normally be granted except in highly unusual circumstances (for example, at an event where only 1 or 2 JV students take part).

Tournament Format

At all state and regional History Bees, in the Junior Varsity and Varsity divisions, there are three preliminary rounds of 30 questions each.  In each round, you’ll be in a room with 4-9 students. Usually, it’s 6 or 7. The number of students who make the finals depends on the number of students competing, and various other factors. The two divisions are almost always kept entirely separate – there is no crossover, including in the final rounds. Each round takes about 20-30 minutes to complete.

Game Format

Students each have a buzzer and attempt to be the first student to ring in and answer correctly. Students may ring in at any point in the question – they are encouraged to interrupt the moderator to do so. After they ring in, they give their answer. If they are correct, they get a point. If incorrect, they cannot buzz again on the question. Three incorrect answers given will end the question, at which point the moderator reveals the answer. They do not normally lose a point if they are incorrect except if they are the third student to answer incorrectly before the end of the question, in which case, they do lose a point (so it is possible, conceivably to have a negative score). If the question has been read to completion, three incorrect answers will still end the question, but no penalty will be assessed.

Once a student has reached 8 points, that student is done for that round. But, students receive bonus points based on how early they reach 8 points. The following table summarizes the bonus structure:

Reaching 8 pts on question… Results in this many bonus pts… And thus this many total pts…
8 7 15
9-10 6 14
11-12 5 13
13-15 4 12
16-20 3 11
21-25 2 10
26-30 1 9
31-35 (at Nationals only) 0 8

Since at regional or state tournaments there are 30 questions in a round, it is thus impossible to finish the round with a score of eight points exactly. At Nationals, rounds have 35 questions, so a score of 8 is possible for the round.

Students are grouped into different groups for each of the three rounds. After all three rounds, the scores from all rounds are added up, and the top students advance to the finals.

Final Round Structures

There are two basic ways of running the Bee finals at state or regional tournaments; these may also be combined with one stage following one format, and the other stage(s) following the other. The director will announce the format of the finals before they begin.

In the “Classic History Bee Finals” format, in the final round, the top two to ten students in a division all compete at once. Students typically then strive to be among the first to reach three points. After the quota of students qualifying for the next stage is reached, the scores reset to zero, and the remaining students seek to be among the first two or three students to reach four points. Finally, the scores reset to zero again, and the remaining students seek to be the first to reach six points. How many students make it into the finals will be announced at the start of the Bee – it depends on how many students attend. Some finals may only contain one or two stages rather than the full three. The Classic History Bee Finals format is used for the last stage of the National Championships playoffs as well. The top 2 Junior Varsity students race to 15 points; the top 4 Varsity students race to 12 points.

In the “Modified History Bee Finals” format, students compete for a set number of questions, and once the end of those questions is reached, the top students advance to the next stage. Sometimes, if students reach a number of points where they are mathematically assured of qualifying, they may be advanced automatically at that point, though this is not always the case. The Modified History Bee Finals format is used for the first two stages of the National Championships playoffs.

Question Styles

In the History Bowl, there are a number of different question styles. In the Bee, by contrast, all questions are “pyramidal” tossups, where we start with more obscure information and move to more familiar information. Questions cover the history of the arts, sciences, religion, philosophy, languages, historical geography, recent history and the history of sports and entertainment in addition to the usual social, political, and military history. In the final rounds, the questions are, on average, slightly longer and a bit more difficult.

Resources for Training

Here is a study guide for both high school and middle school students, which contains both a list of topics that can be referenced in our tournaments and some strategies for preparation.

Please also see NAQT’s (National Academic Quiz Tournaments) “You gotta know” pages and the ACE Quiz Bowl Camps study guides , as well as the History Channel’s Ultimate History Quiz .

Sample Questions

Please see the link to our Guide for Schools, Students, and Teams which has valuable study tips and other information that can help you in your preparations. This has helpful information for everyone, including veteran players and schools too.

The above Study Guide can help you prepare for the National History Bee and Bowl, especially when used in conjunction with the past NHBB question sets available at http://www.hsapq.com/samples