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

Overview

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 7 points, they are then finished for the round, but they earn up to 8 bonus points based on how quickly they reached 7 points. In our Bee events, 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 60% 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.

Eligibility

In order to compete in a History Bee event, you must be 19 years or younger at the time the event takes place. 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.

Divisions

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, 2004 will be considered to be eligible for the Junior Varsity Division for the 2020-21 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 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

In all History Bee events, 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

During the 2020-21 season, events will be conducted virtually, and will be competing using Zoom and an online buzzer system. 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 7 points, that student is done for that round. But, students receive bonus points based on how early they reach 7 points. The following table summarizes the bonus structure:

Reaching 7 pts on question… Results in this many bonus pts… And thus this many total pts…
7 8 15
8-9 7 14
10-12 6 13
13-15 5 12
16-18 4 11
19-22 3 10
23-26 2 9
27-30 1 8
31-35 (at Nationals only) 0 7

Since there are 30 questions in a round in our regular events, it is thus impossible to finish the round with a score of seven points exactly. At Nationals, rounds have 35 questions, so a score of 7 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

In finals, the top two to ten students in a division all compete at once on a certain amount of questions. Students typically then strive to be among the first to reach a certain amount of points. Once three students reach that total, the finals end, and awards are given to those top three students. If the questions run out before three students reach their total, the three highest scores will determine awards.

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 they 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 .

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 https://www.historybowl.com/resources/study-guides-resources/.