Houghton Mifflin HarcourtHistory Channel

National History Bowl Rules Sheet

All matches in the Varsity and Junior Varsity National History Bowl will be played using a lock-out buzzer system, with up to four players to a team. Teams may carry substitutes, who can switch in between any one of the four quarters of the match. There is no limit to the number of  substitutions that can be made.

All Varsity and Junior Varsity History Bowl matches will feature two teams of up to four students playing at any given time. They also feature a “4-Quarter” format – although this is unlike any other 4-Quarter format currently being used in any other academic quiz competition. The 4 Quarters are described below.

  1. First Quarter. The first quarter consists of 10 relatively brief “toss-up” questions, all of which are worth ten points. Like all toss-up questions, these will be written in a “pyramidal” format. “Pyramidal” refers to the questions featuring more than one piece of information, with the more obscure information coming at the beginning, and more familiar information coming towards the end. This style of question is designed to reward teams with deeper knowledge, and encourage a more comprehensive understanding of the events in history being referenced in the question. If a team member answers incorrectly, no one else on that team may attempt to answer that question; however, there are no penalty points for an incorrect response in the first quarter, nor at any point in any National History Bowl game. In morning games at Nationals, the first quarter has 8 questions. In evening and Sunday games at Nationals it has 12.
  2. Second Quarter. The second quarter consists of 8 pyramidal toss-up questions, also worth ten points a piece. Each of these questions will then have one related bonus question, worth ten points a piece. The team that gets the toss-up correct gets a try at the bonus. If they answer incorrectly, the other team does not have a chance to answer the bonus (i.e. no “bouncebacks”). Note that in the aftrnoon games at the National Championships, the second quarter will have 10 toss-ups and 10 bonuses, not 8 of each, and in evening and Sunday games, the second quarter will have 12 tossups and bonuses.
  3. Third Quarter. The third quarter will consists of two timed 60 Second Rounds. Three categories will be offered. The team who is trailing will select first. If both teams were tied coming into the round, then the team most recently trailing selects first. The 60 Second Rounds feature 8 questions per category and are specifically designed to be easily answerable by a team that is not dallying within the allotted time- even with a relatively slow reader. All questions are worth ten points. If a team sweeps the category, they get a 20 point bonus for a total of 100 points. Questions that are read but passed or answered incorrectly will be turned over to the other team, but only after the first team has finished their category (or time elapses). Questions that are unread are not read to the other team on the bounceback. If time elapses during a question, only the read portion is reread to the other team on the bounceback.
  4. Fourth Quarter. The fourth quarter consists of 8 pyramidal toss-up questions, which are somewhat longer than those used in the first and second quarters. If a team answers correctly early on in the question, they will receive 30 points for a correct response. If a team answers correctly in the middle of the questions, that team will receive 20 points. If a team answers correctly towards or at the end of the question, that team will receive 10 points. At the  National Championships, there will be 10, not 8, such questions in the fourth quarter of the afternoon matches and 12 questions in the evening and Sunday matches.
  5. The following rules apply at all times for the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Quarters:
  • Any member of either team can ring in at any point and interrupt the moderator with their answer.   Team members cannot talk during the questions, except on the second quarter bonus questions.
  • Students do not have to wait to be recognized by the moderator to give their answer, though it is advisable to do so.
  • If the student is incorrect, then the students on the other team have a chance to answer. No student on the team that answered incorrectly may ring in again for that question.
  • There are no penalties (i.e. no negative 5 points) for a wrong answer.
  • “Non-verbal” conferring, (e.g. gesticulating to team members to indicate a player knows the answer), is allowed.
  • There are no theme rounds in the National History Bowl, although the focus of the 60 second rounds changes from one round to the next.
  • Each round will follow a particular distribution of eras and places from history, which is described in detail on the website.

Additional Notes

Ties are broken during all games; tie-breaks consist of a lone toss-up question, which does not count towards the final score of the game if answered correctly. If the tie-break question goes dead, then additional question(s) will be used until a team answers a question correctly. Advancement to the playoff rounds is based first on record and then on total points if there are an even number of teams in the field; otherwise average points in intradivision games is the sole criteria used (since otherwise some teams will have played only four games).
If there is an exact tie in terms of the number of points to determine who advances to the playoff rounds or which playoff seeds teams will be, see the Official Rules for further ways to break ties.

NHBB staff reviews each question prior to its use as well, to ensure questions are accurate and appropriate.

Sample questions from prior years are available under the “Past Questions” link.