Practice Questions

One of the easiest ways to start improving at quiz bowl is to read through packets of questions. This allows new players to accustom themselves with the format of the game and get a feel of which topics come up more often than others. Dozens of question sets are produced each year, and it may be difficult for new players to judge which sets are easier than others. As a result, a compilation of typical questions from various subject areas and a table of recommended question sets is presented below. Please not that the below examples only include tossup questions due to formatting reasons, and that the difficulty gradient may not be uniform across subject areas.

Note that some question sets bold the first few lines of each question up to a “powermark”; players who correctly answer a question in the bolded section “power” the question and receive fifteen points. In the examples below, powermarks have been removed to preserve aesthetic uniformity.

Literature questions include novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. Although Western literature comprises the majority of questions, it is not uncommon to see a wide array of world literature at higher levels of play.

Easy literature

(Round 10 – Fall Novice Tournament 2009)

One character in this play becomes depressed after learning that Rosaline has taken a vow of celibacy, while another says “ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man” after he is mortally wounded by Tybalt. In this play, a message about a faked death is delayed by a quarantine and Friar Lawrence marries two characters, one of whom compares the other to a rose while below her balcony. For 10 points, name this Shakespearean play about star-crossed lovers.

ANSWER: Romeo and Juliet


Regular literature

(Round 1 – Maggie Walker 2009)

One short story by this man sees Aylmer accidentally kill his wife while attempting to remove the titular “birthmark,” and one of his novels concerns the half-sisters Zenobia and Priscilla, who is loved by Miles Coverdale. This author also wrote a short story in which the title character finds his wife Faith at a witches’ sabbath, while in a novel by this author of The Blithedale Romance, Chillingworth torments Arthur Dimmesdale, the father of Pearl, who is the daughter of Hester Prynne. For 10 points, name this author of “Young Goodman Brown” and The Scarlet Letter.

ANSWER: Nathaniel Hawthorne


Hard literature

(Round 5 – Harvard Fall Tournament 2010)

One of this author’s plays begins when a farmer rides a dung beetle into heaven, and another play by this author has a protagonist who is a sausage seller. One work by this author contains a workshop called the “Thinkery,” while another work of this author follows Dionysus on a journey to the underworld and has a chorus that repeats “Brekekekex-koax-koax.” In yet another work of this author, the title woman plots to end the Peloponnesian War by getting the women of Athens to withhold sex. For 10 points, identify this author of The Clouds, The Frogs, and Lysistrata, the foremost ancient Athenian comic playwright.

ANSWER: Aristophanes

History questions are evenly divided between American, European, and world history, with a good amount of ancient and medieval history included.

Easy history

(Round 7 – Fall Novice Tournament 2010)

The end of this man’s rule included the Night of the Murdered Poets, and he invented the fictitious Doctor’s Plot. His policies caused the holodomor famine in the Ukraine, and this liquidator of the kulaks was denounced in a “Secret Speech” by Khruschev. This developer of Five-Year Plans and “socialism in one country” drove out Leon Trotsky. For 10 points, name this Soviet leader who instigated the Great Purge and fought Hitler in World War II after succeeding Lenin.

ANSWER: Joseph Stalin [or Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilli; or Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili]


Regular history

(Round 7 – Rockford Auburn’s Varsity Event 2012)

This man defeated Howard McMurray in one election, allowing him to serve alongside Alexander Wiley. He criticized executing a group of soldiers involved in the Malmedy massacre, and lost support after treating Ralph Zwicker poorly. This man\’s actions with Owen Lattimore involved the creation of the Tydings Committee. This colleague of Roy Cohn was asked by Joseph Welch if he had any decency. For 10 points, name this senator from Wisconsin who led a series of hearings based on his claims that Communists were in the government.

ANSWER: Joseph McCarthy


Hard history

(Round 11 – National All-Star Academic Tournament 2012)

In one battle from this campaign, invading forces set up catapults on an eastern summit to besiege the legendary Rock of Aornus. The return from this campaign involved a costly march through the Gedrosian Desert. This campaign, which resulted in the development of the Gandhara style of art, ended after the invading army mutinied and refused to cross the Beas River. In the most famous battle from this campaign, the winning side used pikes to drive war elephants amok among their own forces, leading to the defeat of King Porus. The climax of this campaign came at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. For 10 points, name this offensive into an Asian subcontinent by a Macedonian king.

ANSWER: Alexander the Great’s invasion of India [or Alexander the Great’s invasion of Pakistan; or equivalent answers; do not accept “Alexander the Great’s conquest of India”]

Though the majority of science questions stem from the “big three” sciences—biology, chemistry, and physics—minor sciences such as astronomy, geology, or meteorology have their place in the distribution.

Easy sciences

(Round 4 – Ladue Invitational Spring Tournament 2012)

The electron dipole moment of this particle is at most three times ten to the negative 26th, and would violate CPT-symmetry if it is non-zero. This particle has a half-life of 881 seconds, and can break up into a proton, an electron and an electron antineutrino via beta decay. This particle is composed of one (*) up and two down quarks, and nuclear fission is initiated by the bombardment of this particle. The number of this particle dictates what isotope an atom is, and they have mass roughly equal to that of a proton. James Chadwick discovered, for ten points, what particle found in the nucleus, which, as its name suggests, has a net charge of zero?
ANSWER: neutrons


Regular sciences

(Round 2 – Michigan State University/University of Delaware Housewrite 2012)

Many of these organisms contain organs of Bojanus, and some types of them produce a free swimming larva called a veliger. Most members of this phylum possess a chitinous ribbon used for food intake, which is supported by the odontophore. Many of their organs are contained in the(*) visceral mass, including the aforementioned radula. Some members of this phylum secrete calciferous shells from the mantle, and it includes the class Cephalopoda. For 10 points, name this phylum of animals that includes bivalves such as clams, as well as squid and octopi.
ANSWER: Mollusca [accept Mollusks]


Hard sciences

(Round 8 – National Scholastic Championship 2011)

A dwarf elliptical galaxy in this constellation is the second-nearest to the Milky Way. An H II region in this constellation consists of both an open cluster, an emission nebula, a reflection nebula, and a dark nebula; that region is the Trifid Nebula, which along with NGC 6559 and the (*) Lagoon Nebula makes this constellation’s namesake “triplet.” One feature in this constellation is a radio source at the center of the galaxy, possibly a supermassive black hole; that feature is near its border with Scorpius. For 10 points, name this constellation representing an archer.

ANSWER: Sagittarius

Mathematics is usually a small part of the science distribution, and covers all aspects from calculus to geometry to set theory. Computational mathematics is not seen at higher levels of play.

Easy mathematics

(Round 1 – Fall Novice Tournament 2010)

An approximation of this value performed by dropping a needle on a floor with parallel strips is named for Buffon. The square root of two times this number appears in the normal distribution function, and squaring the circle is impossible because this number is transcendental. It is the period of the tangent function, as well as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. For 10 points, name this number which is approximately equal to 22/7 or 3.14.



Regular mathematics

(Round 2 – Ladue Invitational Spring Tournament 2012)

Bertrand’s Postulate claims that there is always a prime between a positive integer and this number times that integer. The Euler characteristic of planar graphs and polyhedra is this number, meaning the number of faces plus vertices minus (*) edges is this number. An n-dimensional cube has this number to the power of n vertices, and Mersenne primes are one less than a power of it. This is the largest number equal to its own factorial, and the square root of this integer is the hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle with side length one. For ten points, what is this only even prime number?


Hard mathematics

(Round 4 – National Scholastic Championship 2012)

Erdos’ squarefree conjecture asks whether the central one of these numbers is always squarefree, and they are the subject of Vandermonde’s convolution formula. The Catalan numbers can be defined using these numbers of indices 2n and n times one over n plus one. The hockey stick identity can be used to add them, and summing over their lower index from 0 to n gives two to the nth power. The entries of (*) Pascal’s triangle are these, which arise when multiplying a two-term polynomial with itself. These numbers are symbolized by a column matrix with two entries, and they are equal to n factorial divided by r factorial times n minus r factorial. For 10 points, name these objects, which give the number of ways to select r objects from a group of n.

ANSWER: binomial coefficients [or n choose r or combinations or entries in Pascal’s Triangle or equivalents before mention; do NOT accept “permutations”]

Fine arts encompasses paintings, sculptures, architecture, operas, classical music, operas, and so on.

Easy fine arts

(Round 10 – Fall Novice Tournament 2010)

The sky in this work is said to be inspired by the eruption of Krakatoa. This painting was adapted into a lithograph in 1895 and was part of the artist’s The Frieze of Life. Two people can be seen walking in the background on a bridge, and the subject of this painting is standing in the center of the bridge, clutching its round head, and performing the title action. For 10 points, identify this painting by Edvard Munch featuring the title existentialist shriek.

ANSWER: The Scream or Skrik


Regular fine arts

(Round 7 – Michigan State University/University of Delaware Housewrite 2012)

This composer’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin includes a lengthy chaconne, and he wrote fifteen two-part inventions for keyboards. He wrote a series of notes representing his name in Contrapunctus XIV of one work, and used(*) strings to create a “halo” effect around Jesus’s words in his St. Matthew Passion. This composer dedicated six concertos to the margrave Christian Ludwig, and he wrote two books of preludes and fugues in every key. For 10 points, name this German Baroque composer who wrote the The Art of the Fugue, Brandenburg Concertos, and The Well-Tempered Clavier.
ANSWER: Johann Sebastian Bach [prompt on “Bach”]


Hard fine arts

(Round 1 – National Scholastic Championship 2011)

A variation in this composition called Brillante, alla polacca is played by the violins. This work includes parts for the snare drum, woodblock, and the slapstick. One of its variations begins with timpani, which play a ritornello between the appearances of other instruments. The piccolo opens a prominent fugue in this piece, and the percussion both finish the opening statement of the theme and present the last variation. This piece was based on a rondo theme from (*) Abdelazar, by Henry Purcell. Sotto voce sections of this composition allow for narration by Eric Crozier explaining which instruments the listener is hearing. For 10 points, name this piece intended to teach children about the different instruments of an ensemble, written by Benjamin Britten.

ANSWER: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell

Questions on religions focus on rituals, holidays, scriptures, and traditions rather than associated stories, which are considered mythology.

Easy religion

(Round 13 – Fall Novice Tournament 2010)

Branches of this religion, referred to as “mansions”, include Bobo Shanti and Niyabinghi, and this non-Jewish religion forbids eating shellfish in the I-tal dietary code. “Groundations” are holy days in this religion which also involves “reasoning” ceremonies. Haile Selassie is an incarnation of Jah, or God, in this religion which believes Mount Zion to be in Ethiopia.  For 10 points, name this Jamaican religion whose members smoke ritual “ganja” and wear their hair in dreadlocks.

ANSWER: Rastafarianism


Regular religion

(Round 6 – Maggie Walker 2011)

One section of this book describes a wall made of jasper and decorated with precious stones. The narrator addresses the seven churches of Asia in the second and third chapters of this work, and a voice can be heard saying “I am the alpha and the omega.” In this book’s eighth and the ninth books, the trumpeting of an angel destroys a third of the world.  Jesus is described as the “Word of God” in this book, and it involves the opening of the seven seals and the Whore of Babylon. For 10 points, name this book of the Bible about the apocalypse, written by John of Patmos.

ANSWER: Book of Revelation [do not accept “Book of Revelations”]


Hard religion

(Round 19 – National Scholastic Championship 2011)

One prayer that follows this action has a long sequence of lines beginning “ha-rakhaman,” while a general blessing before it ends “she-ha-kol neeyeh bid’varoh.” On a wedding day, the bride and groom do not do this from sunrise until the ceremony is complete, and generally a (*) hekhsher indicates objects to which this action can be done. Blessings recited after it are called birkat ha-mazon, while the motzi [“MOH-tsee”] is said before doing it in one circumstance. The laws of kashrut govern this action; those may be better known as the “kosher laws.” For 10 points, name this action, which is not done on Yom Kippur but may be applied to hamantashen or potato latkes.

ANSWER: eating [accept equivalents, including anything mentioning food or meals; do not accept anything specific to “drinking”; accept birkat ha-mazon until “bid’varoh”]

Most mythology questions stem from Greco-Roman culture, although Norse, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, East Asian, Native American, African, and other myth systems show up from time to time at higher levels of play.

Easy mythology

(Round 1 – SCOP Novice Tournament 2011)

In late mythology, this figure became associated with Hathor. With Nephthys, she was one of the four children of Geb and Nut, the earth and sky, and she was the foster mother of Anubis in later myth. After Set cut this goddess’s (*) husband into pieces, this mother of Horus brought her husband back to life, making him the ruler of the underworld. For 10 points, name this Egyptian goddess, the wife and sister of Osiris.
Answer: Isis (accept Aset, Eset, or Ese)


Regular mythology

(Round 6 – Michigan State University/University of Delaware Housewrite 2012)

This deity held a golden band when going to Mount Ida, executing a plan to make love in a golden cloud. This goddess transformed queen Lamia of Libya into a monster out of envy, and decreed that Leto was not to give birth on(*) Terra Firma. This goddess struck Tiresias blind for siding with Zeus in a debate, and Echo engaged in distracting conversation with her. Some myths say that this goddess gave birth to Hephaestus alone instead of with her often-cheating husband. For 10 points, name this Greco-Roman Goddess of women and children and wife of Zeus.
ANSWER: Hera [or Juno]


Hard mythology

(Round 11 – Bulldog High School Academic Tournament 2012)

In Cornish folklore these creatures include Cormoran and Gogmagog, who died in early Britain. Two of these creatures floated in a hollow tree trunk to survive a flood of blood in Norse myth. Artemis killed twin beings of this type who attempted to climb a stack of mountains to Olympus. Angrboda was a female one who bore Fenrir. The cow-fed Ymir is a primal one of these creatures, and Jotunheim is home to the “frost” type which antagonizes the Norse gods. For 10 points, name these beings which, in a folktale, live above the magic beanstalk planted by Jack.

ANSWER: giants [or frost giants; prompt “jotunn” or “jotnar”; do not accept “humans” or the like at any point]

Philosophy questions focus equally on classical Greco-Roman thought and more modern, Enlightenment-era thought.

Easy philosophy

(Round 2 – Fall Novice Tournament 2009)

This man discussed the distinction between Dionysian and Apollonian character in one work, and one chapter entitled “Why I Write Such Good Books” appears in his intellectual autobiography Ecce Homo. This author of The Birth of Tragedy is also known for a statement in The Gay Science. For 10 points, name this German philosopher, who discussed the will to power in Beyond Good and Evil, posited the idea of the ubermensch, and declared that “God is dead.”

ANSWER: Friedrich Nietzsche


Regular philosophy

(Round 4 – Michigan State University/University of Delaware Housewrite 2012)

This thinker identifies the agreeable, beautiful, sublime, and good as the “reflective judgments” in one work. He attempted to resolve the antinomy between freedom and natural law by postulating an unknowable noumenon separate from the phenomenon. This thinker discussed the possibility of(*) synthetic a priori truths, and the assertion that one should only follow principles that could become universal law is his “categorical imperative.” For 10 points, name this German philosopher who wrote Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Pure Reason.
ANSWER: Immanuel Kant


Hard philosophy

(Round 9 – Prison Bowl 2012)

This movement was influenced by the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, and the Ripleys attempted to establish a community based on its beliefs as a joint-stock company. Its members discussed their ideas in The Dial, a newspaper edited by Margaret Fuller. It was influenced by the Vedas, and prominent members of this movement included Elizabeth Peabody, William Channing, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Its founder compared himself to a transparent floating eyeball to describe an experience of nature. For 10 points, name this American philosophical movement founded to counter English Romanticism by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

ANSWER: transcendentalism [accept word forms]

Geography questions are divided evenly between North American and world geography, with equal emphasis on political and physical features.

Easy geography

(Round 5 – Minnesota Novice 2012)

This country’s Waikato region is home to the Waitomo Glowworm caves while the West Coast region is home to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. This country is located on the boundary of two tectonic plates, leading to volcanic activity in the Taupo Volcanic Zone and frequent earthquakes, such as the one that struck Christchurch in February 2011. Most people in this country live on the North and South Islands. A May 2011 tornado cut a three mile wide path through this country’s city of Auckland. For 10 points, name this country with capital at Wellington.
ANSWER: New Zealand


Regular geography

(Round 15 – Ladue Invitational Spring Tournament 2012)

The islands of Saba and Bonaire are a part of this country, and its highest point, Vaalserberg, lies in the Ardennes in the south. The mouths of the Meuse and the Scheldt lie in this country, and its cities include Tilburg and Utrecht. This country’s area has steadily increased over the years due to use of polders in land reclamation. This country is home to the world’s largest port, (*) Rotterdam, which lies on the mouth of the Rhine. This country lies mostly below sea level and is home to the Europol and the International Court of Justice, both of which are located in The Hague. This country borders the North Sea to the north and Germany to the east, and along with Belgium and Luxembourg, this country forms the Low Countries. For ten points, identify this country with capital at Amsterdam.
ANSWER: the Netherlands (or Holland)


Hard geography

(Round 3 – Geography Monstrosity 2009)

The Adal, Aussa, and Harar sultanates existed in this region prior to European colonization, and cities here include Assab and Kismaayo. Ras Xaafun is the easternmost point of this region, and its lowest point is Lake Abbe, located on the border of two of its nations. The Dahlak Archipelago and the island of Socotra lie off this, and it is bordered by the Massawa Channel and Gulf of Tadjoura. The Bale and Semien Mountains make up the backbone of this region, and its sub-regions include Afar, Ogaden and Puntland. Lying between the ► Gulf of Aden, the larger Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, for 10 points, name this eastern region of a certain continent, on which lies the nations of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. ANSWER: Horn of Africa

Current events questions generally span the last decade and are evenly split between American and world news.

Easy current events

(Round 6 – Ladue Invitational Spring Tournament 2012)

This organization’s founder began it after being charged by the administrative board of his school for breaching Internet security, and Dustin Moskovitz took on coding responsibilities after being made senior vice president of programming for this organization. Eduardo (*) Saverin was the first CFO and business manager of this organization before being replaced by Sean Parker, and it was initially built to be exclusively for Harvard students. In 2005, “the” was dropped from its domain name and it now has over 750 million active users. For ten points, name this  website that uses the timeline feature to display users’ profiles, a social networking website created by Mark Zuckerberg.


Regular current events

(Round 13 – Ladue Invitational Spring Tournament 2012)

Upon taking office, this man declared Aslan Maskhadov’s Chechen government illegitimate, and he later gave medals to the soldiers who “accidentally” killed Maskhadov. This man was recently booed at a boxing match and said that a diplomat gave a “good signal” to his opponents. The owner of the New Jersey Nets recently announced he would run in an election against this man, who, after (*) Boris Yelstin resigned, became acting president of his country. In 2008, he declined to run for a third term as president, but in December 2011, he announced he would once again run. For ten points, name this Russian politician who is the current prime minister of Russia.
ANSWER: Vladamir Putin


Hard current events

(Round 4 – National Scholastic Championship 2011)

In January 2011, this man denied an affair with Aquilina Pamberi. In December 2010, an inquiry into whether he had committed treason was launched because of conversations that were leaked by WikiLeaks. In 2009, this man’s wife died in what may have been an assassination attempt when a truck struck his car. One of this man’s current deputies is Arthur (*) Mutambara, who leads a breakaway faction of his party. In 2008, this man briefly hid at the Dutch embassy in his country after he pulled the Movement for Democratic Change out of a presidential runoff that he described as a “violent sham.” For 10 points, name this leading opponent of Robert Mugabe who currently serves as the prime minister of Zimbabwe.

ANSWER: Morgan Richard Tsvangirai (SHANG-gih-“rye”)

The sets listed below are of exceptional quality throughout, and are highly recommended as practice material for aspiring players of all levels.

Question Set Difficulty Powermarked?
Fall Novice 2010 No
SCOP Novice 2010 Yes
Minnesota Novice 2011 ★★ No
Ladue Invitational 2012 ★★ Yes
Maggie Walker 2011 ★★★ No
Michigan State & University of Delaware 2012 ★★★ Yes
Ben Cooper 2010 ★★★★ No
Prison Bowl 2012 ★★★★ No
OLEFIN 2011 ★★★★★ No
Yale BHSAT 2012 ★★★★★ No
PACE NSC 2012 ★★★★★★ Yes
NASAT 2012 (direct download) ★★★★★★★ No

You may find a better classification of difficulty of sets on Ted Gan’s packet categorization page.

At the high school level, the production of question sets is highly decentralized. The largest providers of question sets are:

  • Housewrites are question sets produced by one or more schools that are marketed at a generally cheaper price. Although the quality and difficulty of housewrites vary dramatically, a handful of housewrites have grown in popularity and are thought to match the quality of professionally-produced question sets.

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