How long is a piece of quiz?

When people book a quiz night with us, they can book us, as long as we have availability, for whenever they like and for as long as they like.

But that is not to say that we don’t have a good idea of how much time a good quiz should take up. We can make a 20 minute quiz great and we can make a three hour quiz great, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a bit better if they were closer to the optimum length.

I’m going to carry on with my theme of comparing quizzes to other forms of entertainment. How long is a good gig? Generally if you get less than an hour, you feel short-changed, and if it’s over two hours, you’re running out of puff. There are exceptions, of course. I saw Leonard Cohen last month and the old genius played for three hours (including a 20 minute break) and it was all magnificent. But, two things 1)  to my chagrin, I had to leave a minute before the end of the final song of the 3rd encore, otherwise I would get caught in the crowd leaving and definitely miss the last train home. As it was I only just made it (as you can tell, I’m finding it hard to forgive myself) 2) Leonard Cohen is a legend of 20th century culture who I and 20,000 other people felt privileged to be in a room with. QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters are all excellent at our job, but we don’t presume to hold such personal sway!

We provide entertainment. When a gig is entertainment (as opposed to recital/masterclass), it has an optimum length (1 1/2 hour- ish), as does a film (between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, and even 2 1/2 is pushing it, take note The Hobbit etc). A masterful work-of-art film, watched by real fans and buffs, may take longer to unravel, but again, we know, as QuizMasters, we are not creating a work of art.

Furthermore, a quiz is a participatory experience – it is more mentally draining than a film or a gig. 3 hours of quiz could give anyone brainache!

What else? Booze. We’ve written before about the role of booze in a quiz. it’s unavoidable and it’s also perfectly welcome. But I think we all know a room full of people drinking for 2 hours has a very different atmosphere and attention span to a room full of people drinking for 3 hours.

I’m pretty happy running a quiz for anything between an hour and two and a half hours, but I do think 1 1/2 – 2 hours is optimum. This gives time for a real momentum, a real test of different subjects, a spread of scores to develop, for the cream to rise to the top, for any quietness and reticence at the start to be completely overcome, but it also means that people don’t begin to get quiz fatigue.

We do often get asked to do longer quizzes, sometimes people will book us from 7 to 11, but we are usually able to persuade people that is a bit long.

The thing is, people may be used to slow and steady quizzes with long gaps between rounds where the marking is done, lots of general awkward spaces, and 3-4 hours time being just enough time for, say, 100 points. Because of the way we run our quizzes, with the speed of marking and emphasis on pacing and flow, we can probably fit in more in a shorter space of time (while also giving people plenty of time to think).

All the timings I have given have not mentioned breaks. Breaks are also an important part of the evening. Again, there is probably an ideal of one break, of 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what food people have. More than one break, for whatever reason, can shatter momentum, as can one break which is too long. However, if I’m doing any quiz of over an hour and a half, even if a break is not written in to the evening, I’d recommend one – and usually put one in, if only to avoid a mass cigarette/loo/fresh air exodus at a point where a sudden, temporary emptying of people will affect the momentum of the quiz (and indeed my control of that momentum).

So, what’s the optimum? Honestly. Notwithstanding “we’ll fit into any schedule”, true though that is.

I like a quiz that starts at 7 (with people hanging around and having a drink or two for half an hour or so beforehand), breaks for half an hour at 8, finished by 9.30. Perfect. It’s amazing how many event planners see things exactly the same way. I’ve probably done more quizzes that fitted that precise time frame than any other. Within that time, I’ll be able to fit in up to 9 rounds of different lengths, pacing and format, including picture rounds and buzzers, and there will be 100+ available points. That seems like plenty!

How long is the quiz you run, or take part in? Could it be longer or shorter, and how do you maintain people’s interest for the length of time?


3 replies
  1. Barry Bridges
    Barry Bridges says:

    This is a great question – and I hope relates to my own musings on how long the optimum quiz should last!

    In my opinion, 2 hours of quiz is enough. But this needs further clarification.

    From previous QuizQuizQuiz quizperience, 1 hour just isn’t enough to get participants to invest fully in the potential outcome of the quiz. They need to have enough time quizzing to care about the effort they’ve put in; to become emotionally attached to the results.

    3 hours is just too long. At this point it starts to feel too much like a test…like an assessment you need to survive. That’s not to say I haven’t run some outstanding 3-hour quizzes, but that there’s a limit to how long someone’s attention span will last. Most movies run to less than 2 hours…3 hours of answering questions can be mentally tiring and cause some participants to switch off.

    Again, it’s about maximising their emotional investment in the results. Too little time and they don’t care. Too much time and they equally don’t care.

    So, what’s the point? I think 1.5 to 2 hours of quiz is just right. You can fit 6 – 8 solid rounds in, have some variety, alter the pacing and keep everyone happy. You can leave them wanting just a little bit more, but not take up so much of their evening that they regret spending it being challenged, probed and quizzed all night.

    One final remark though. For me, I think getting the interval right is critical. No matter how long the quiz, you can’t stretch a quiz across a very wide time slot, because too long an interval and you risk losing any emotional investment or momentum you’ve built up.

    In summary:

    1.5 – 2 hours of quizzing time is optimum
    2 – 2.5 hours to fit the quiz into (including breaks) works best

    Just my 2 cents…

  2. QuizBitch
    QuizBitch says:

    My regular quiz starts at 7.30 with the rules of play, two rounds of questions, a picture round then the answers for the first half. The break, when I check the answers and everyone visits the bathroom, usually lasts about 15 minutes. Then we have a music round and a knockout round. We usually finish by 9.45, with a jackpot question just before the results are announced. It sounds long, but people are engaged by the different round formats and the jackpot ensures people stay until the end.


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