Organising a Quiz

Why a Quiz?
Everyone enjoys testing their knowledge of trivia as witnessed by the popularity of such TV quizzes as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and “The Weakest Link”. Quizzes can be difficult, just think of programmes like “University Challenge” and “Mastermind”, or less demanding. They can be aimed at adults, children or the entire family. In other words quizzes are all manner of things to all people, and can be an excellent way of raising money for your school, club or just providing entertainment for a family or works event.

In this section I will attempt to give some tips on how to organise such an event. Bear in mind that this is not necessarily the definitive guide to quiz nights but merely my ideas from my personal experiences. Every venue and every audience will be different so versatility and adaptability are key to a successful evening.

The Venue
Any venue can host a quiz night but generally this would be a pub or club. Other premises that might be suitable would include school or church halls, in fact anywhere that people can sit at a table and enjoy the night. You might need to consider the following points:

  • DRINKS – do you want alcoholic drinks served – then the premises will need a licence.
  • EQUIPMENT – in all but the smallest hall a PA system is recommended, there’s nothing worse than the question master losing his voice by the end of the evening!
  • MUSIC – You will need the ability to play music even if you not having a music round. Check that equipment is available for this purpose, again a licence will be required.
  • FOOD – Will you need food to be served, what type and how will it be prepared?
  • SEATING & TABLES – Are there enough seats and tables, and how should they be arranged?
  • SCORE DISPLAY – I’ve always found that it helps to keep the audience updated with the running scores, this can be done easily with a blackboard/flip chart or if you’re feeling sophisticated a projector from a laptop.

Advertising the event
Whether the quiz is a one-off or the start of a regular event getting people through the door is the most important part, all of your hard work will be in vain if nobody turns up!

Posters, flyers, local papers and radio together with good old fashioned word of mouth are all avenues to go down. In the modern world the use of technology and such sites as Twitter and Facebook are sure fire ways of increasing your prospective audience.

Choosing the Quiz Format
For some evenings, a simple paper round or table-top quiz is all that is required. For instance , if the quiz forms part of a longer event such as a dinner then handing out a paper sheet containing questions to be completed before the end is perfectly acceptable. These can be many and varied from a simple picture round to cryptic clues leading to answers. There is a whole section HERE devoted to these types of quizzes together with examples and tips on how to produce them for yourself.

If, however, we assume that what is required is a full-blown quiz night then the first question needs to be how long should it be. The answer to this will probably determine the number of questions that will be asked and the method by which the answers will be marked. Remember that a quiz night is meant to be FUN, therefore even if you have all night do not have too many questions. No matter how good your material is and how well it is delivered, people will get bored if it goes on too long!

I generally favour 6-8 rounds containing between 6-10 questions per round, the rounds being a mix of general knowledge and specialist subjects such as history, geography, pop music etc. It’s also a good idea to include a current affairs or even a local knowledge round especially if it’s a regular event.

Make sure that you have answer sheets and pens/pencils available on the night.

It’s at this stage that you need to decide on the rules for the night, some considerations are

  • Are you going to limit the number of people in each team?
  • When are you going to have breaks [especially important in a pub, as it gives the punters a chance to buy more drink!!]?
  • What entry fee [if any] are you going to charge ? Is this per team or per individual?
  • The principal rule of any quiz night is easy – THE QUIZ MASTER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!!

The Questions
The questions in the quiz are the most important part, after all it’s what everyone’s come to hear, they should be challenging without being impossible, they should be interesting but most importantly they should be CORRECT. Although it is generally accepted that “The Quiz Master is always right”, he really should be, so check and double check your answers.

Here are some pointers that you should consider:-

Firstly, make sure that your questions reflect your quiz teams, a mix of topics should normally suffice. It would be no good asking an audience of OAP s a question about the latest rap star and equally a group of teenagers are unlikely to be experts on black and white films. [However both questions might be appropriate for a mixed audience]

Secondly, do not make your questions too obscure, ideally all the teams should be able to have a good attempt at an answer not just those with a Masters in Nuclear Physics. Sometimes the wording of the question can help in this respect, for example

What did Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks

and D.W. Griffith unite to form in 1919?”

The answer is “The film studio, United Artists”, the clue being in the wording of the question. Sometimes even a difficult question can be worded in such a way to enable teams to work out the answer.

Thirdly, don’t make your questions too difficult but not too easy either, every team should be getting most of the answers correct. In a round of say 10 questions I generally aim that all teams should be able to get five or six questions correct easily, with a couple more that can be reasoned out and perhaps one or two stinkers. That way every one can feel that they can have a chance of winning, if it’s too difficult some may give up half way through the evening. In general the old 80:20 rule should apply, remember it’s supposed to be fun.

Fourthly, have a variety of subjects in different rounds [for example, History, Food & Drink, Pop Music etc.] as well as general knowledge. If you can alter the format such as having a music round [see later] or a multiple choice round this will add to the variety of the night and make it more interesting for the majority of the guests. Try some of the speciality rounds that I mention later.

Finally, try to avoid conflict, especially if the prizes are worth winning, this will bring out people’s competitive side and they will get upset and angry if the answers you give are wrong. Always check your answers no matter what source you have obtained them from, try to use at least two reputable sources, and don’t just trust Wikipedia!! Even check the answers from this site, I try to check them all but an independent verification can do no wrong. [Incidentally if you do find a wrong answer on my site please let me know so that I can change it.]

You can obtain questions and answers from all sorts of places especially in these days of the internet, many of these are free and I have listed some sites in the LINKS section. You can of course just use this site, it’s free but I would appreciate a mention if you use any questions. You can of course write your own questions, I have included within the LINKS section some references that might be useful if you are planning to go down this route.

Marking the Answers
There are really two main options here, either the teams mark each other’s papers by swapping at the end of each round or the quiz master [or a glamorous assistant] completes the task. Each method has its merits with the “self marking” option being quicker and therefore probably the best to use if the prize is of small value. However it tends to be inconsistent unless the quiz master spells out completely what marks are to be given for an answer that is nearly correct. The second option, in my opinion, is the one that should always be used when the prizes are of significant value or else cheating potentially will take place.

While the papers from the previous round are being marked it can give the teams time for a natural break or even a chance to buy some more beer!

At the end of the evening, no matter how the answers have been marked comes the time that every quiz master dreads, the tied result. Bring on the tie break question!!!

Again several different formats may be used for this, some examples might be-

  • A set of ten questions just for the tied teams.

  • A penalty shoot out competition with the first team to miss a question losing.

  • A guess the nearest to the answer type of question.

It’s this latter type that I favour using such questions as “In miles what is the length of the M4 motorway?”, if you can relate this question to a previous quiz question so much the better. For instance you may have asked earlier in the evening “Which country has the longest coastline in the World?” , the tie break question could then be “How long in kilometres is the longest coastline in the World?”.

Entry Fees & Prizes
The amount and value of the prize fund will be dictated by the number attending and the entry fee but also by the purpose of the quiz night. If the idea of the quiz is to raise money for a good cause then the last thing you want to do is give all the entry fees away as prizes, it really is a matter of common sense. Some general tips in this area –

  • Don’t make the entry fee too expensive, many people enter for enjoyment without having a realistic chance of winning. A too high entry fee will discourage these type of people from entering.

  • Don’t make the prizes too good, the higher the value of prizes the more competitive will be the evening, this may encourage arguments and even cheating. If you want to have a large prize use a separate snowball or jackpot set of questions,here the team must get full marks to get the prize. This is especially useful if you are having a regular event, the prize money growing on a weekly basis.

  • Don’t just reward the winners, obviously they should have the best prize but make the evening interesting by having prizes for individual rounds, the best team name, the silliest answer of the evening or even the “Wooden Spoon” for the lowest scoring team.

  • Attempt to make the teams stick to a maximum number of members, too many and the night may become a little one sided. If this causes issues you can apply a points deduction for every team having more than the stipulated number. You will need to make this clear at the start of the evening.

Special Rounds
To make a change from just asking questions all evening, the inclusion of different types of rounds always adds interest and variety to the evening. Some ideas may include the following :-

  • Music or Audio Rounds – If you have the equipment then audio rounds are great fun, normally consisting of short extracts [such as the Intro ] of songs played to the audience. The teams should identify the singer and the song, and if you want to make it really difficult the year that it was released. There are several variants on this theme and I have included a section HERE where some ideas are given together with some software which will allow you to make your own tracks.

  • Table Top Rounds – As mentioned previously these can form part or all of a quiz and come in many formats such as Picture Quizzes, Ditloids, Dingbats, and Puzzle Rounds. I have included a complete section HERE together with tips on how to produce them and examples of each type.

  • Speciality Rounds – To break up the monotony of a question and answer evening the use of such devices as a Connections Round,[ All the answers leading to the final question – what’s the connection?] Who Am I? Round [ A series of clues leading to the identification of a person, the first team to guess wins the points – one guess per team, points decrease with the more clues.]or Novelty Rounds [such as Family Fortunes type questions] can be used.

  • Joker Rounds – The inclusion of one or more joker rounds in the evening where the points earned are doubled makes for some interest. In order for this to be effective then the titles of each round would need to be announced at the beginning of the evening, so that a team considering itself an expert in a certain subject can make this knowledge count. There is nothing stopping you being a little cryptic with the titles of the rounds though, for instance a round of “Current Affairs” may not be about last weeks headlines but which actress is currently dating which actor.

  • Wipeout or Minus Points Round – Really the opposite of the Joker round, where the inclusion of an incorrect answer would mean the loss of some or all of the points for that particular round, no answer means no points gained or lost. Ideally the wipe out round should come towards the end of proceedings where several teams are in with a chance of winning. The questions in this round should be of the type that would encourage guessing and may include multiple choice.

There are probably many other possibilities that you can think of, please let me know if you have found any to be really successful.

Cheating at Quizzes
It’s always been possible to cheat at quizzes in the same way that it’s always been possible to cheat at exams, but recently with the introduction of mobile phones this process has become a lot easier. With internet access from these devices not only speedy but cheap it is very easy to “Google” a question such as “What’s the capital of Azerbaijan?”, with the answer back before you can say “Baku”. A recent survey of pub landlords found that 3 out of 4 would like to ban mobiles on quiz night as too many are using their phones to cheat. [ – November 2009]. Now not even the music round is safe with an App. produced for the iPhone [Shazam!] capable of recognising music tracks after a few bars are played. So what can you do to prevent these cheats ruining your quiz night, here are a few suggestions:-

  • Firstly and most simply, announce at the beginning of the night that no phones are allowed and that any one caught using one will be docked points/disqualified. This simple measure will probably stop most people but may encourage others.

  • Many quiz masters advocate the use of roaming microphones that allow them to walk amongst the audience, checking as they go looking out for possible misdemeanours. If you haven’t got the technology get some assistance from other helpers to monitor the room.

  • Some have suggested mobile phone blockers, these are electronic devices that effectively block mobile phone signals. Apart from the fact that they are illegal to use in the UK, they could prove potentially dangerous as they could block emergency calls. Probably best avoided!

  • By far the best method is to try to be innovative to beat the cheats, come up with some ideas that make cheating difficult if not impossible. One widely advocated solution is the use of the “Bingo Quiz”, in this format each team is provided with a pre-printed Bingo card with say 5 random numbers per line. Numbers are drawn at random by the question master and the team need to get all questions in a line to win that round. Although you may cheat to get the answers , the randomness of the numbers means you may not win.

  • Use a “What the next line” type music question, these are difficult to “Google”.

  • In the music rounds try something different like playing a track backwards {Audacity will let you do this}, the Apple apps don’t recognise this. Interestingly they also don’t recognise cover versions so use these.

In truth you will never stop cheating but with a bit of thought you should be able to drastically reduce it.