Putting together a quiz night (Part 1)

Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we don’t currently host any weekly pub quizzes, concentrating instead on corporate quizzes and question writing (as well as a few pretty exciting ideas in the pipeline). However, we put together hundreds of quiz nights every year and have written many, many pub quizzes in the past, so feel pretty well qualified to talk about how to put together a jolly good quiz for any kind of crowd.

In this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about quiz rounds as a whole, rather than specific questions (and their balanced distribution within a round and a quiz), which I’m sure we’ll come to at a later date. I’m talking about the overall construction of a quiz rather than the details.

How long should it be? How many rounds? How big should these rounds be? How hard should it be? What subjects to include? What should I avoid? What kind of rhythm should I establish within each round? What embellishments add to the magic?

Having listed all those questions, I realise that there’s rather too much there for one blog post. It goes without saying that these won’t be prescriptive answers, and that I, and no doubt you, will have been to plenty of excellent quizzes where the format was very different from what I lay out below. However, these suggestions reflect personal preference, a bit of common sense, and generally speaking, what we at QQQ have, over the years, discovered works best for us.

So, first of all, how long should a quiz be? Well, we get asked to run quizzes lasting anything from 20 minutes to 3 1/2 hours, and we like to think that, whatever the length, we’ll give our client just what they’re looking for (i.e. top notch quiz entertainment). However, quite often these shorter ones use the quiz as just one part of a bigger  showcase event or to be fitted in between courses of a formal meal, so I’ll concentrate on those where the quiz is the main focus of the event.

If you have an evening devoted to a quiz, whether a corporate event or a pub quiz, somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours is ideal – I’d probably plump for 2 hours of quizzing with a break in the middle. This is enough time to fit in a wide variety of question types and subject matter, to build up a real momentum, to make people feel they’ve got their money’s worth, yet can be broken up into convenient chunks so participants who feel desperate for a cigarette or something radical like a conversation with their colleagues have an opportunity to do so.

If it’s less than an hour and a half, I often feel there are things we’ve missed, and more than two and a half hours, well, maybe for real enthusiasts, but it can be tiring for everyone (think about a film that is 2.5 hours long – tiring, and you are just sitting back and relaxing…), and if half the participants aren’t extremely drunk by the end, you’d be surprised.

And, on a similar topic, how many rounds should there be?

Somewhere between 5 and 8, I think, bearing in mind that one round should nearly always be a table round (pictures/puzzles, that kind of thing). 4 can sometimes feel like too few, like someone’s speciality will be missed out and they’ll feel unfavoured. This can be addressed by including plenty of different subjects within hybrid rounds, but nevertheless, I’m in favour of a good spread. You don’t want to have too many rounds though – people will forget what came where and just feel a little confused. It’s quite hard to answer this question, though, without moving to the next, which is

How big should these rounds be?

Here, I think the important answer is that it can, and should, vary. Although it might make practical sense sometimes, 6 rounds of 10 questions ad infinitum is rather a shame. Think in terms of time rather than number of questions – I don’t think a round should be much less than 15 minutes and I don’t think even the meatiest of rounds should be much longer than 25 minutes. In this range, this will give you 10-15 questions, but there might be quite a few multi-part questions with lots of different points available.

It’s very much part of our modus operandi to keep players on their toes – so you know roughly what’s coming, but not exactly – mixing up the the pace of the rounds and the number of questions and points per round is one technique that we use to achieve that.

Lots more to come, but for now, what’s the longest/shortest quiz you’ve ever been to? What is the ideal length and structure of a pub quiz?


1 reply
  1. S512
    S512 says:

    I can only provide the perspective of pub quizzes in my part of America, but part of what makes an ideal length depends on the nature of the quiz.

    I’ve been in 3 hour quizzes, which are only that long because the quiz master doesn’t know how to run things. (See Mr. Bemused Desultory Member from the previous post).

    I’ve been in 2 hour quizzes, which are great if the questions are a good mix of categories and questions and types (and who’s on your team). If the questions are bland or just not in your area, it feels a bit of a drag.

    My favorite currently is 20 (written) questions in 20 minutes. (With scoring and tabulation, the whole thing is done in less than hour). Even though it’s short, the questions are tough, and the quiz master is excellent. (And if you’re having a bad night, or if you still have office work to finish, being able to get home at a reasonable hour is an underrated thing.)

    I suppose a one-hour quiz may be below the standard length, but because it’s well run, it leaves me wanting more (which is a good sign).


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