The National History Bowl is a buzzer-based history quiz competition for teams of up to 6 students. Four students can play at one time on a team (the other one or two students, if you have them, can substitute in between the quarters or games). There is no minimum number of students on a team; you can have a team of three, two, or even one student. Teams consisting of just one or two students play for a discounted entry fee.
In order to compete in the History Bowl, you must be 19 years or younger at the time of your event. 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.
Students who form a team must all be currently enrolled at the same school on the date of the event (with the exception of younger students and homeschooled students as outlined below). There is no limit on the number of teams a school can bring to an event, unless the event itself is limited.
Students younger than high school age are allowed to compete in the Middle School division or with a non-magnet public high school team in their school district. Elementary school students are allowed to compete, but should be cognizant of the difficulty of the questions. Students who are enrolled at a private school which has students both in grades 8 and younger and grades 9 and above may draw from their pool of younger students for their high school level teams.
Homeschoolers can compete as part of already existing associations with less than 5000 students in secondary education, with no geographic limitations. Homeschoolers (whether in an association or not) may compete with other homeschoolers from the same county (no matter what the population), or with homeschoolers from neighboring counties, as long as the combined population of the counties does not exceed 500,000. For jurisdictions that do not have counties, contact NHBB for an ad hoc ruling on this question before registering. Students who do not belong to a particular association can compete with other homeschool students (who do belong to associations) under the terms above, but cannot join existing associations for the purpose of competing.
At the high school level, The National History Bowl features two divisions: Varsity and Junior Varsity. Certain tournaments may also feature a Middle School division. The division breakdown is as follows:
Varsity: 11th or 12th grade
Junior Varsity: 9th or 10th grade (open to middle schoolers as well)
Middle School: 8th grade or below.
There is no younger age limit – a brilliant and well-behaved 8 year-old is welcome to compete, for instance. 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 contrast with the National History Bee at the high school level tournaments, students in lower divisions may compete in the Varsity division of the History Bowl, but not vice versa. This means a Middle School student may compete in the Middle School, Junior Varsity, or Varsity division. A Junior Varsity student may compete in the Junior Varsity or Varsity division, and a Varsity student may compete only in the Varsity division. A team that features students from different divisions will compete in the highest division that students on the team qualifies for. This means a team with 3 Junior Varsity students and one Varsity students would compete in the Varsity division.
At all History Bowls held on weekends, holidays, or league play, there are five preliminary rounds with four quarters each. (If any tournaments are held after school on weekdays, these usually have 3 preliminary rounds). In each round, two teams play each other. Depending on how many teams are in the competition, either the top 2-32 highest ranking teams from the preliminary rounds in each division, (usually based first on Win-Loss record, then by total points, unless there are an odd number of teams, in which case, average points in intradivision games is used) then compete in the final rounds. The three divisions are kept as separate as possible, but unless there are at least 4 Junior Varsity and middle school teams, then some crossover matches may be necessary. Each round takes about 30-40 minutes to complete; playoff rounds usually go somewhat quicker than the prelims.
The finals are single elimination in format; if we take four teams, then the first seed (ranked first by record, then by total points) plays the fourth seed in the quarterfinals, the second seed plays the third. The number of teams who makes the playoffs depends on how many teams register for each event.
In general, teams with at least a .500 winning percentage in their preliminary matches (3-2 with no bye, 2-2 with a bye), or teams that win a playoff match will qualify for our National Championships. At the National Championships, teams play in seeded groups of 6 teams; the top 2 teams (typically, in rare cases, the top 3) make the Upper Bracket rounds. The other teams will feed into the middle or lower brackets to play in a consolation group. The top Upper Bracket teams in each group then qualify for playoffs.
The History Bowl is a team history quiz competition played over four quarters in each match. Note that middle school games have slightly fewer questions. For 2020-21 all events will take place online. Competition will take place using Zoom and an online buzzer system. Students each have a buzzer and on tossup questions, 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 (which locks out any other student from answering), they give their answer. If they are correct, in the first or second quarter, they get ten points for their team. If incorrect, neither they nor their team members can buzz again on the question. In the second quarter, teams answering the tossup question correctly get a bonus on which they can confer, which is also worth ten points and does not use the buzzer. There are no negative points for any incorrect answers at any point in the Bowl. In the third quarter, students select a category for their team and then hear 8 questions on that category. Each is worth 10 points, with 20 points for a sweep. Questions missed in the third quarter go over to the other team once the first team is done and can be stolen. In the fourth quarter, questions are worth 30, 20, or 10 points based on how quickly they ring in.
Note that at Nationals, early preliminary rounds have 8 questions in each of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters. Later preliminary rounds have 10 questions in each quarter, and playoff rounds have 12 questions in each quarter.
The team with the most points at the end of the game wins, of course. See our past questions for how a game progresses, and the styles of questions which we use.
Questions will reference the history of the arts, sciences, religion, philosophy, language, historical geography, recent history, and even a bit of the history of sports and entertainment. Of course, many questions will also reference political, diplomatic, social, and military history too. Questions can reference events in the past from all over the world, and from all eras in the past – from ancient Egypt until the present day, so be sure to review some basic information of eras and locations whose histories you might not have covered in your history classes.
You can find a study guide here. This 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.
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 through the links on this page here.