Developing As A Team

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Even at the highest levels of play, studying strategies vary widely. Some top players claim to never perform targeted studying and to gain all their knowledge from engaging with class material and extracurricular reading and video-watching. Others have thousands of flash cards and review them religiously. See our article on improving as a player to find effective strategies for an individual player.

Quiz bowl is not an individual game, though, but a team game. A team that coordinates its preparation will overtake teams that blunder through the canon in random directions. A skilled team will do its utmost so that every category is covered by at least one player, or, in quiz bowl lingo, making sure that there are no “holes” in the team’s “coverage” of a category. Topics to divide include:

  • History (~4 questions)
  • Literature (~4 questions)
  • Science (~4 questions)
  • Fine Arts (~3 questions)
  • Social Science (~0.5 question)
  • Philosophy (~0.5 question)
  • Religion (~1 questions)
  • Mythology (~1 questions)
  • Geography (~0.5 questions)
  • Current Events (~0.5 questions)
  • Pop Culture (~1 questions)

These can be further subdivided. If the history player takes little interest in British history while the science player is extremely fascinated by it, areas of focus can be re-adjusted. A skilled team balances the workload evenly so that no one player is overburdened. This can be calculated by summing the total number of questions per packet of the categories of each player.

However, areas of interest often overlap, particularly among teams whose members all know each other independent of quiz bowl. Having more than one player know a category well means that even if it falls outside of one player’s sphere of knowledge, the other player in that category will be able to know it and pick it up. Sometimes, it can be better to have multiple players with knowledge in one category than have equal coverage of every category, since categories like history, science, and literature come up much more than religion, philosophy, and social science. Each team will find its own balance, and each team will set up its own study regimen; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In quiz bowl lingo, a person who has detailed knowledge of one specific category is called a “specialist,” while a player who has broad knowledge in most categories is known as a “generalist.” Most good teams have a balance between specialists and generalists, with the specialists covering their own categories and the generalist covering for them in the categories they are weaker in.

Once you’ve set up your team, see if there are any novice tournaments near you. These tournaments, such as the one(s) offered by the AQBL, will usually restrict eligibility to less experienced players, and will be played on easier sets. These can give you a better idea of your team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as giving you a feel for quiz bowl.

Once you’ve gotten some practice and tournaments under your belt, you may want to set certain targets for the team. These will vary based on skill level, team composition, regional circuit, etc., but some easy ways to track progress include:

  • Points per bonus. PPB is often held as the best way to compare teams’ performances across tournaments and brackets, as it is not opponent-dependent, but solely team-dependent. Moreover, because it is a measure of team, rather than overall, skill, it allows everyone to see their contributions to the team reflected in statistics. Tournaments may vary in difficulty, so keep that in mind when you’re setting your targets. Some AQBL tournaments do not use PPB, so use another metric if that is the case.
  • Record. This will obviously depend on the field, but, if the tournament to which you’re going has multiple playoff brackets (e.g. playoff, consolation 1, consolation 2, etc.), you may want to try to reach a certain bracket before the tournament begins.
  • Points or powers per game. PPG and P/G are usually recorded at both the individual and team level, so you can use it to gauge both individual and team performance. These are, of course, highly dependent on field and set, so you should try and make sure that you calibrate your targets well.
  • Ask the Tournament Director! They’ll be happy to give you pointers.

These targets, should, however, be suggestions. When starting a quiz bowl team, there’s always a learning curve. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your target at the first time of asking; quiz bowl, like any other activity, requires practice and patience. With time, you’ll begin to notice how much you’ve improved.

Quiz bowl, like most activities, has its own tips and tricks. As you get more experienced, you’ll begin to pick up on the little quirks of quiz bowl as an activity, which will help you become a better team. For example, many teams struggle with buzzer reflexes, as they buzz more slowly than the opposing team even when the knowledge bases are equally matched. One way of solving this is to run what’s known as “buzzer practice.” Set up your buzzers, if you have them and can meet in person; if this is not the case, meet online or through Have your coach or someone else read the last lines of questions, and practice buzzing in as quickly as possible. This will help you sharpen your buzzer reflexes and win buzzer races against opposing teams.

Always remember that quiz bowl is an activity, and like any activity, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle at first; everyone does! Even the best players started out confused about how the buzzer system worked and were kicking themselves for missing easy bonus parts. Just give it time, and practice, practice, practice. Through osmosis and study, you will get better. If you follow the tips laid out here, and are motivated to improve, success will come.