National History Bowl Rules Summary

All Varsity and Junior Varsity National History Bowl matches will be played with two teams of up to four players to a team playing at any given time. 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 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 “tossup” questions, all of which are worth ten points. Like all tossup 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. Nationals playoff games may have up to 12 questions in the first quarter. After the moderator is done, players have 3 seconds to ring in. After a player has rung in, players have 3 seconds to start giving their answer. If their answer is incorrect, the other team receives 3 seconds to ring in. This holds true in the second and fourth quarters as well.
  2. Second Quarter: The second quarter consists of 8 pyramidal toss-up questions, also worth ten points each. Each of these questions will then have one related bonus question, worth ten points apiece. The team that gets the tossup 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”). The team answering the bonus will have 5 seconds to confer, then the moderator will prompt the team for an answer. The team will then have 2 seconds to give an answer. The moderator will take the first answer specifically directed at them, and should establish with the teams how they plan to indicate their final answer. Nationals playoff games may have up to 12 questions in the second quarter.
  3. Third Quarter. The third quarter will consist of category rounds. Three categories will be offered. In the preliminary rounds, the team who is trailing will select first, but in the playoff rounds and in all rounds at Nationals, the team in the lead selects first. If both teams were tied coming into the round, then the team most recently trailing(or leading, as the case may be) selects first. The category rounds feature 8 questions per category. All questions are worth ten points. If a team sweeps the category, they get a 20 point bonus for a total of 100 points. Once the first team finishes their round, any questions missed by the first team are rebounded to the other team and are timed the same way as the 2nd quarter bonus questions. Once the first team finishes their category questions, the process is repeated with the second team choosing from the remaining categories.
  4. Fourth Quarter. The fourth quarter consists of 8 pyramidal tossup questions, which are typically slightly 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. Nationals playoff games may have up to 12 questions in the fourth quarter.
  5. The following rules apply at all times:
  • Any member of either team can ring in at any point during a tossup and interrupt the moderator with their answer. Team members cannot talk during the questions, except when conferring on the second quarter bonus questions and the 3rd quarter questions.
  • Students do not have to wait to be recognized by the moderator to give their answer, though it is strongly 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. The moderator will continue reading the tossup from where they left off.
  • 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, and the focus of the category 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: 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.

Playoffs: Advancement to the playoff rounds is typically based first on record and then on total points if there are an even number of teams in the field for a division; otherwise average points in intradivision games is the sole criteria used (since otherwise some teams will have played only four or fewer games). Some exceptions may be made to these general guidelines at the discretion of the tournament director and/or NHBB executive staff. 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 (this is typically done via a comparison of the tied teams’ strength of schedules).

Past Questions: Sample questions from prior years are available through the links here.