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Winning the National History Bowl

For all of the history buffs and trivia lovers, the National History Bowl is the perfect competition to fuel your love and passion for learning and test your knowledge of the past, and learn about all the people, places, and events that have shaped our world.

What is the National History Bowl?

The National History Bowl is an academic competition for students in the United States for all who demonstrate an extensive knowledge and deep passion for historical facts and events. It was founded with the aim of challenging students to engage with a wide range of historical topics and to demonstrate their ability to connect ideas and events across time.

The competition was established in 2010 and has since grown in popularity, drawing participants from all over the country. It is a platform for young scholars to showcase their intellectual abilities and engage in rigorous, but fun academic competition. With a focus on both breadth and depth of knowledge, the National History Bowl encourages students to develop a deep appreciation for every aspect of our human history.

The National History Bowl was to celebrate and promote the study of history among young people. By providing a challenging and stimulating environment for students to engage with historical topics, the competition fosters a love of learning and encourages students to continue pursuing their love for history. The National History Bowl continues to inspire and educate students across the United States, as a prestigious competition to win.

Is the National History Bowl Prestigious? Why Should You Participate?

The National History Bowl is a highly prestigious competition, recognized by educators and academic institutions across the country as a hallmark of excellence in historical scholarship. The competition has been featured in national media outlets and is highly respected within academia for its rigor, difficulty, and encouragement of learning. Students who participate in the competition often form lasting friendships and professional connections that can carry them through their academic and professional careers. Additionally, the competition provides a platform for students to gain recognition and exposure for their academic achievements, which can open doors to new opportunities and experiences down the line.

Beyond these benefits, participating in the National History Bowl is a unique and rewarding experience for students of all backgrounds and interests. The competition offers the opportunity to develop and showcase critical skills in critical thinking, research and studying ability, work ethic, and self-confidence. By engaging with challenging historical topics and competing against other students who share their passion for history, participants are pushed to think outside the box and approach problems from new and innovative angles.

Perhaps most importantly, the National History Bowl is a chance to explore and celebrate the rich and fascinating world of human history. By engaging with the stories, events, and ideas that have shaped our world, participants gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the human experience. Whether you are already a passionate history buff or just beginning to explore the subject, the National History Bowl is an opportunity to dive headfirst into the exciting world of historical inquiry and discovery.

Who is Eligible to Participate in the National History Bowl?

The National History Bowl is open to all middle and high school students in the United States, including those who are homeschooled or attend private schools. Participants can compete as part of a team, up to 6 people, or as individuals, and there are separate divisions for middle school and high school students.

Structure of the National History Bowl

The National History Bowl is a buzzer-style head-to-head competition, with two teams going against each other in a match that is split into quarters. Each quarter has its own unique rules as follows.

  • In the first or second quarter, they get ten points for their team if they answer a question correctly. If they get the question incorrect, neither team can answer the question and the competition moves on. In the second quarter, teams can answer a tossup question for ten points, and this question does not require the buzzer. The questions are written in a “pyramidal” format. “Pyramidal” means that the more obscure information is first introduced, and more familiar information comes towards the end.

  • Teams do not lose points for selecting the wrong answer.

  • In the third quarter, each team selects a category from the list of options and must answer 8 questions. Each question is worth 10 points, but the team gains an additional 20 points for getting all 8 correct. Questions that a team gets incorrect transfers to the other team to be stolen for points.

  • In the fourth quarter, time is key, and questions are worth 30, 20, or 10 points, depending on how fast the team answers.

The National History Bowl features two divisions: Varsity and Junior Varsity, and sometimes may also have a middle school division.

  • Varsity: 11th or 12th grade

  • Junior Varsity: 9th or 10th grade (open to middle schoolers as well)

  • Middle School: 8th grade or below.

At each tournament, there are five preliminary rounds in each division, and each team faces the other in a round robin style. Then, each team now has a record, and can be divided into seeds for the final round. Here, the top seed plays the bottom seed, and the second seed plays the second to bottom seed, etc. The finals are single elimination rounds, and the number of teams in the playoffs is determined by the number of teams participating in that tournament.

To qualify for the National Championships, your team must have at least a .500 winning percentage in the preliminary rounds, or win one playoff match. At the National Championships, teams are split into groups of 6. The top 2 teams make the Upper Bracket rounds. The other teams will play in a consolation group. The top Upper Bracket teams in each group will then play in the playoffs.

Timeline of the National History Bowl

Regional History Bowl tournaments happen across the country and happen at any time throughout the fall and winter seasons. The list of events can be found on this page.

The National History Bowl happens in late April of the competition year in various locations. In 2023, it is Arlington, Virginia! Check out this link for updated information for your competition cycle.

There is also a level above the National History Bowl – the International History Olympiad, which is in Rome, Italy, in late July, for the highest of placements in the National Bowl.

How Should You Prepare for the National History Bowl?

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the National History Bowl:

  1. Start by reviewing the basics: Make sure you have a solid understanding of the key events, people, and concepts that have shaped world history. You can start by reviewing your history textbooks and notes. The breadth of information covered in any history class can be an amazing starting place to make sure you are covering the expansive wide net of information that you need to cover for the Bowl. Review the key terms and trends that expand past one era of history. Write a list of what differentiates one empire from another, and what differentiates one era from another. Use flashcards to quiz yourself on information for fast recall, as remember, the Bowl is also a game of speed – you are encouraged to cut off the question asker if you believe you know the answer. The basics here also include the competition rules! We have provided a comprehensive summary of the format above, but be sure that you and your team know the rules in and out.

  2. Read widely: History is a vast subject, and it's impossible to know everything. However, the more you read, the more you'll know. Read widely and deeply on a range of historical topics, and be sure to cover all of the empires and cultures throughout history, from the Incas, to Egyptians, to Mesopotamia, to the Chinese. Reading can provide the depth in the knowledge you began to uncover by reviewing the basics.

  3. Watch historical documentaries: Watching historical documentaries can be a fun and engaging way to learn about history. Look for documentaries that cover the topics and periods that will be tested in the National History Bowl. If you want to succeed in the History Bowl, you clearly love history, so these documentaries can be a fun way for you to hang out with your friends, prepare for the competition ahead, and for you to enjoy yourself and feel better from the stress.

  4. Practice with mock tests and tournaments: To get a sense of the types of questions you might encounter in the National History Bowl, try practicing with mock tests. This will allow you to get a feel of the way the Bowl asks their questions, allowing you to recognize trends to make sure you can answer before the other team does. Even order your own buzzer set if you need to.

  5. Choose your team wisely: The National History Bowl is primarily a team competition, where you have to place trust in yourself and your team that you all can answer any question that comes your way. One person cannot be responsible for the entire world's knowledge, but a team can. Therefore, choose the people you are participating with closely, and be sure to have extensive team practices and study sessions to make sure you are all on the same page. Additionally, working with others can help make studying easier, allows you to split up information to study deeply, and can encourage one another.

  6. Use online resources: There are many online resources available that can help you prepare for the National History Bowl. The Bowl offers all historical questions as study material. Look for websites and apps that offer quizzes, flashcards, and other study tools, specifically for history-esque questions. Do not be afraid to use resources made for AP World History or US History, as these resources can be incredible.

  7. Stay focused and motivated: Preparing for the National History Bowl can be a long and challenging process, so it's important to stay focused and motivated. Set realistic goals, track your progress, and celebrate your achievements along the way. Getting a question right is great, winning a round is even better, making the playoffs is amazing, etc. Celebrate, have fun, and enjoy the process of the competition. Do not let a competition designed to challenge and push you on the topic that you love make history something that you hate.


If you’re looking for the chance to explore the STEM side of your knowledge, or want another opportunity to build your own independent project and research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.

Aaron Zheng is a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Bioengineering. He is passionate about biotechnology, business development, and aiding students get to college, regardless of background. In his spare time, he looks to read, journal, and explore the world.

Image source: National History Bowl logo



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