History Bee and Bowl Strategies
What Else to Study(besides our questions)
In terms of preparing for tournaments, most standard high school history textbooks and courses are very helpful, though you will also want to branch out a little bit. Reading The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Economist, or any world news section of the newspaper can be very helpful for “recent history” questions, while a basic knowledge of world and US geography (especially world capitals!) is not only helpful for USGC and NGB, but for many National History Bee and Bowl questions too. Often, students may be guided to an answer based on geographic or linguistic clues within the questions (e.g. a reference to “Brussels” in a question about the history of Belgium or Italian-sounding names helping to clue students in to thinking about the history of Italy).
Also, don’t overlook a basic knowledge of the history of sports and entertainment. While that probably shouldn’t be the major focus of your preparation efforts, questions on classic movies, TV shows, songs, and famous moments in sports all do come up as well, and may be slightly beyond the scope of a standard history textbook.
We also strongly urge you and your school to acquire a basic familiarity with the history of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America. Realistically, there’s not a tremendous amount of questions we can ask about here (since these topics are often neglected in schools). However, basic questions on the history of these regions come up at all tournaments and questions on more obscure topics from the history of these regions come up routinely at the National Championships. Your best guide here is likely to be past National History Bee and Bowl question packets. You might want to make notes from those packets, as much of that information is repeatedly referenced from one tournament to the next. It’s not overly difficult to master, but a little studying and preparation can go a long way here in particular. Don’t get bogged down with things that are far too obscure in general. Instead, stick with topics that have come up before in past questions – they are your best guide to what will likely be asked about in the future.
How to Prepare
IAC competitions differ from certain academic competitions in that it is often possible to do very little preparation specifically for IAC events, and still achieve a decent degree of success in them. If students have typically done well in their history or geography classes, or have a natural interest in the subjects and have read a decent amount on their own in these fields, that can often lead to a fair amount of success, especially in areas of the country that do not have many active all-subject quiz bowl teams.
However, in order both to have as much fun with our events as possible, learn as much through the experience as possible, and succeed to the greatest degree (especially at Nationals), a certain amount of preparation is needed. There’s no “right” or “wrong” amount of time to put in preparing; nor is there a universally accepted way as to how to go about doing this. That said, we strongly urge you and your team to consider the following approaches to preparing for tournaments:
1) Play high quality all-subject quiz bowl tournaments, not just National History Bee and Bowl (NHBB) events!
The National History Bee and Bowl (and IAC more broadly speaking) grew out of the national community of all-subject quiz bowl tournaments. At most, there are 5 or 6 chances to compete in IAC sponsored tournaments in a given year, but depending on your area, there could be as many as 20 other all-subject tournaments. Almost without exception, the best students and teams at our National Championships also compete in these tournaments. Because the National History Bee and Bowl take a very broad view of history, perhaps over 50% of the questions at a standard quiz bowl tournament contain information that could also come up in an NHBB event. The more you play quiz bowl in addition to NHBB, the more you will learn and improve, and you’ll have more incentives to study and prepare on your own, since you’ll be able to put that knowledge to more frequent use!
However, do note that not all tournaments are created equal. While almost any tournament can give you a chance to test your knowledge, we advise you in particular to play tournaments written on “pyramidal” questions of the sort that NHBB uses. These questions are fairer and more informative than other styles, as they reward students with deeper knowledge. They also promote critical thinking by encouraging students to think through the topics being referenced in the questions in an attempt to find the correct answer. Generally speaking, quiz bowl players and coaches are very willing to offer advice about both IAC sponsored events and quiz bowl in general.
2) Be familiar with the style of our questions and game format, and don’t make avoidable mistakes!
This sounds easy (and it is), but it’s often overlooked by new teams and students. Be sure you know the basic rules of how our competitions work, and practice running games in the standard format. Two errors we often see among new teams are (1) when one team gets a buzzer question wrong, and then a player on the other team rings in before the end of the question and answers incorrectly. Remember that questions get easier as they go along, and since the first team to answer incorrectly can’t ring in again, the second team should wait until the question is done. Then, perhaps allow 1 second to allow a student who is certain to ring in; then, if no one has rung in after a second or so, someone can ring in and take an educated guess. Another mistake (2) we often see is mismanaging the clock in a 60 second round. If you don’t know the answer here, guess quickly or pass! Don’t spend too much time on one question, just go on to the next.
The basics of competition are not complicated, but some familiarity with the game format and rules can be very helpful towards ensuring success, especially among new students and teams.
3) Practice systematically with your teammates (and on your own as well).
The majority of National History Bowl teams do practice at least a little bit with their teammates prior to tournaments, but not all practices are created equal. Does practice consist exclusively of reading old question packets, or is some effort made to ensuring that common topics are known by team members (perhaps through flashcard drills)? Do you “cross-train” by playing in all-subject quiz bowl tournaments (or even watching Jeopardy!)? That can be helpful too.
Above all, though, while practice should be fun, it should be conducted efficiently. A well-run 45 minute practice session accomplishes more than 2 hours spent getting distracted. Also, you will want to break experienced players and new players up, so as not to discourage new players from being overwhelmed. And we can’t emphasize enough the value of writing topics down in a study notebook! If you just read old questions or play old questions, that’s good. But if you figure out what topics are going unanswered and write them down, that’s great. We particularly recommend doing this for questions in a field (say, Roman history, or Chinese history) that you might be focusing on. Also, don’t feel as if you need to write down everything in a question, but instead, focus on the point in the question right before the point where you recognized the answer. That’s probably the next thing you should learn about that topic (since information towards the end of questions is referenced overall more frequently).
4) Divide and conquer
In the National History Bee, US History Bee, National Political Science Bee, National Science Bee, and USGC/NGB, you’re on your own, so this strategy won’t help you there. However, in the National History Bowl, it’s often helpful to split up various topics, or periods in history with your teammates. Do you have someone who knows a bit about Asian history? You should, but it’s better to have just 1 person studying Asian history, than 3 people studying Asian history and no one studying Latin American and African history. Have a look at the Official Question Distribution file below and then make sure all bases are covered. Also, don’t feel as if you need to split up areas equally among 4 teammates. If one student in particular is a strong player, or if one or two students show a capacity to take on increased studying commitments, then they should perhaps take more topics, letting the remaining students on the team be specialists. Even a team with 1 incredible player can benefit from having teammates who study particular topics in great depth and can score points whenever they come up.
5) Focus on knowledge retention
Finally, remember that IAC competitions have a very broad focus. This makes studying for them different from studying for a typical history test (where you are at some level going to forget things after the test is done, in order to prepare for the next one). Even if you are studying for a final exam or an AP exam, the emphasis is on studying for that one test. But since IAC competitions (and all-subject quiz bowl tournaments) reward knowledge of all aspects of history and geography at each tournament, and since tournaments are held on a recurring basis each year, you need to focus on long-term memory and knowledge retention. This is a different skill than cramming for a test and takes time and repetition to master. However, in the long run, it’s a far more rewarding way of approaching education, as that knowledge is far more likely to stay with you into college and beyond, being useful in many instances in life.
You and your team can master this skill by keeping notes in a notebook, and frequently reviewing information until you “have it down cold.” Additionally, while the vast array of possible question topics may seem daunting at first, there’s a high degree of repetition from one National History Bee and Bowl question set to another (and to a lesser extent, from one set of quiz bowl questions to another). If you play and practice frequently, you’ll become a great player quicker than you ever thought possible. And you’ll find that history and geography courses become much easier too.
6) If possible, start in middle school or elementary school!
Many of the top high school players started playing when they were in middle school – or even elementary school! IAC organizes the National History Bee and Bowl for younger students too. Please see www.nationalhistorybee.com for further details (this website has information on both the Bee and Bowl for younger students – not just the Bee). Note that the initial registration for middle schools and elementary schools to sign up for their divisions of the National History Bee is free of charge! The National History Bee and Bowl are structured somewhat differently for the younger age divisions, but at the regional and national level, the game works basically the same as it does at the Varsity and JV levels. Thus, students who start competing earlier have a leg up by the time they reach 9th grade.
If you are a coach (or a motivated player), see if you can help start a middle school program at your feeder middle school(s). This will go a long way toward ensuring that motivated, experienced, and top-notch 9th grade players join your school or homeschool association’s team each year. Note that public middle school students can play on the team of the non-magnet high school their school predominantly feeds into. Private and public schools (as well as homeschool associations) that have both middle and high schoolers can have middle school students play together on their JV teams with 9th & 10th graders.
Logistics and Fundraising
No guide for preparation for our competitions would be complete without a discussion of the logistics and fundraising that often go into making it possible to attend tournaments. Ideally, your school or homeschool association will be supportive of the participation of you and your team in our competitions. In the absolute best scenario, this would entail paying for participation fees to attend both National History Bee and Bowl and all-subject quiz bowl tournaments throughout the year, National Championships, and a stipend for a coach. That, however, is relatively rare among schools, and especially among new teams. In many instances, a team will need to demonstrate a certain level of commitment and/or success, before the school administration decides to help with funding. And even here, it’s no guarantee.
To get around these hurdles, consider the following steps. First, we do not require any sort of official participation from your school. While teams must be comprised of members entirely from one school, it does not have to be considered a school activity. Teams without school support can call themselves something else (or have their school name omitted from results posted online) if it helps make participation easier.
Secondly, consider appealing to a local historical society, museum, or local businesses for funding support. If you have a track record of success, or can explain to them that you are taking your preparations seriously, you may find fundraising to be easier than you think. Next, consider holding a fundraiser, which could be anything from a bake sale to a town-wide quiz tournament (where each team of 4 adults needs to pay $50-$100 per team, say). This could be an effective way to earn funding. If you are interested in conducting a quiz tournament of this sort, consider using past questions that are posted on the IAC website (this is permitted), or if you want to access “pub quiz” style questions that do not use a buzzer system, email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to acquire questions for this purpose free of charge.
Finally, in terms of logistical planning, consider forming an official club or team and designating one person to be responsible for administrative matters, such as registering for and paying for tournaments. Ideally, this would be a coach, but on many teams, students take the initiative and handle these tasks (which is fine with us). Sometimes parents take the lead here too, which is also fine (just remember to thank them next Mother’s Day or Father’s Day!) Again, there’s no right or wrong way to go about these logistical matters. The primary point is to make sure that someone is on top of them, and that they do not get overlooked amid your preparations that focus on studying and practicing. It doesn’t do you any good to have prepared for a tournament, only to not be able to attend due to financing or logistical difficulties.
There are many, many fundraising ideas we have put together and placed on one page for you here.