Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Good Quiz Guide

I spent some time yesterday working on the quiz for Thursday night. In the last couple of months I’ve gone back to the old fashioned way of doing it – meaning that I get the books out, work through them picking out questions, and then write them down on paper in categories, making notes about which question should go into which round. Only then do I bring the computer into it.

Writing each question down in this way means you’re much more likely to get the wording of the question right. In my opinion wording the question is one of the most neglected aspects of the question master’s craft. The way that you word a question can make a difficult question gettable, or an easy question impossible. Too often I go to quizzes where the question master doesn’t really have much of a clue what he’s actually asking you – and if he doesn’t know, then how the hell can you, the audience?

I’m a little worried that my quiz may be too tough. I toned own some of the questions as I was writing them out yesterday, but even so I can’t help thinking that it may be too hard, and I might put a couple of easier questions into each round before Thursday. I wouldn’t like to jeopardise my chances of getting question marks in the Good Quiz Guide.

The Good Quiz Guide is one of my pie in the sky daydreams that keeps me sustained in idle moments. Basically it would involve me travelling throughout the length and breadth of Britain, playing in and assessing all the pub quizzes I could find. It would be one along the lines of the Michelin Restaurant Guides, and instead of stars I’d award question marks, to a maximum of 5. I already know my criteria : -

Venue : -
what is the pub/club hosting the quiz like ? This actually covers a lot of ground – you can think of cleanliness and décor for a start, then there’s the range of beverages, and the prices. This is before you even get as far as practical considerations that directly affect the quiz. For example – what is the lighting like ? Can you actually see the paper you’re writing on ? How well does the sound system –if there is such a thing – work ? Is it well attended ? Is it too well attended , and therefore too noisy ? What is the atmosphere like ? Are people actually enjoying themselves ? How welcome are you made to feel as an outsider ?

Format : -
This relates to the structure of the quiz, and the type of questions used. How many questions are asked in the quiz ? What is the range of questions like , in terms of the spread of the topics, and the range of difficulty. Is it clear what each question is actually asking you ? How are the different rounds organised ? Is there a handout ? Are there prizes ? If so, what are they and how many are given out ? Is there a jackpot, or bonus round ? Is there a limit on team sizes? Are handicaps used in any way ? Is the quiz home made, or bought in from outside ? How long, in terms of time, does the quiz last ?

Question Master :-
Question masters make quizzes – literally. It doesn’t matter how good everything else is – a poor question master will ruin a quiz. I’d want to know - does the question master have any kind of rapport with the teams? Does he waste a lot of time , or get on with it ? Does he think he is a comedian? Does he sound like a hospital radio DJ ? When he gives his answers, how accurate is he ? How does he respond to a challenge to one of his answers ? Does he show obvious bias to one of the ‘home’ teams ?

So putting all of that together, a 5 Question mark quiz would be something like this.

It would take place in a clean, well lit pub, where the prices of the drinks are not extortionate. The pub would provide answer sheets, scrap paper, and pens for those that need them. The quiz would be well attended, although there would be plenty of tables chairs and benches for the participants. No one should ever have to play standing up. Non participants would be encouraged to either be quiet for the whole quiz, or to go to another part of the premises for the duration. New teams would be welcome, and made to feel welcome by participants and organisers alike.

The quiz would be open to teams of 2 – 6. Larger teams would be encouraged to split into two. Between 50 and 80 questions would be asked in the evening, not including a handout that would be given out before the start . Ideally marking would be carried out after each round by a specialist marker, to avoid cheating between teams. Three rounds of 20 questions each is a pretty good format. The questions would need to be from a very broad range of subjects, and range from the pretty easy to the difficult , and no one category – eg entertainment – should provide more questions than others. Questions should have been found and compiled by the question master who reads them out – quizzes bought in are usually bland and unsatisfying. Handicaps should on no account be used. A jackpot round would feature. Prizes should be small, since the larger the prize the greater the resentment towards regular winners is generated. The quiz should last about 90 minutes, but this should all be real quizzing, with no 15 minute breaks in the middle.

The question master would have a lively rapport with his teams. I wouldn’t want him to initiate any banter himself, but to be able to respond to comments from the regulars. I’ like him to get on with his questions once he starts, but be prepared to repeat at the end of the round if necessary. He’d need to show understanding that it’s a quiz, not a solo performance. Also he’d need to have made sure that his answers are mostly , if not totally , correct. On no account should he be tempted to give extra clues once he has asked a question. If he needs to do this, then he shouldn’t have asked it.

There we are then. The recipe for a perfect quiz And if you ever find one exactly like this, then please let me know.

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