What are Good Subjects for Quiz Questions?

I’m not particularly going to write in this post about what actually makes a good question. I’ve done that plenty of times before. This is more about how some topics might lend themselves better to quizzes than others, how sometimes people might think they want a quiz on a particular topic, but they’d be better advised to reconsider.

This is based to some extent on personal experience, what I find it easy to write about and what the groups of people I ask questions to and provide questions for respond well to. There are people who’d instinctively disagree with what I’m going to say, and there may also be people whose experience is very different from mine.

An obvious first thing to say might be that a good question subject is what the people answering are interested in. This is mostly true, to the extent that it probably shouldn’t be a completely boring turn-off. But you can still have topics that don’t work, even if the participants are knowledgeable about and interested in that subject.

A topic shouldn’t be too narrow and esoteric [when i say “shouldn’t” in this context, I don’t mean you can’t have a good question, even a good round, about absolutely anything, if it’s well written, but I’m just talking about percentages really], it shouldn’t be something that wouldn’t be of wide interest to quite a large number of people.

I’m probably trying to find a polite way to say it shouldn’t be about dry, boring topics in the world of work. I’ve written in more detail about not having work-related questions at a work quiz, but “your business” is a good start for topics that don’t make good quiz questions.

OK, I’ve got that out of the way. What about the classic subjects? Let’s go through them in terms of Trivial Pursuit pies …

Entertainment – basically this is the backbone of a lot of quizzes, and lends itself well to questions. It’s likely to be of interest, in some way, to most people, it can make good use of images and sounds, it has scope for dry facts and gossip, there are lots of records kept, awards, things which are indisputable.

Sport – up to a point the same, but you have to be careful about a) the number of people that loathe sport and no really nothing about it and b) just how wide it is, just how many sports there are. But it has so many statistics, most of which are verifiable, and lots of “trivia” attached to it. For the right audience, it lends itself very easily to question writing.

Arts and Literature – can be good, but statistics and facts are less well kept. Much of the most well known art and literature comes from a time before records were very accurately kept. Also, people tend to know less than they think they do about these subjects (watch Pointless for proof of this!). Also, they are subjects with such depth, that it’s quite hard to write entirely satisfactory questions about them – the interesting aspects of great books are not necessarily the facts and the figures, the bits that anyone might know.

History – basically good. It is unchanging, it is fact based – history is, in some ways, the very essence of quizzes. Of course, has to be well judged for the audience.

Geography – also good, but a bit more subject to change and more open to dispute when it comes to the great wide world of nature … which brings us to

Science and Nature – Now, my caveat is that this is not my natural subject, but I do find that Nature, in particular, is a difficult subject to write about. It is a subject people enjoy and are interested in, but does not lend itself to verifiable facts. Again, if you want proof, go to different reputable “Wildlife” websites, eg National Geographic and Discovery, and see whether their “average heights” “average weights” etc for various animals are the same. Species and categorys are disputable and subject to change all the time.You can be on dodgy ground writing questions about this topic.

Probably this all seems very sweeping, and does betray my natural inclinations. There is no real limit on what can make for a good quiz, if the writing is skilled enough, but my experience does tell me that some subjects are more equal than others.

3 replies
  1. RobotShlomo
    RobotShlomo says:

    My brother keeps wanting to start a quiz at a local pub, but here’s the problem; the formats and the questions he keeps wanting to use aren’t very good, and they’re convoluted. Here’s an example; I’ve suggested he use the standard six or seven round, ten questions per round format in a variety of subjects, and maybe throw in a music round or picture round. He insists on using a format where the participants pay a dollar to answer, and then have the rest of the patrons form a line and if someone keeps winning, they challenge that winner until someone else beats him/her, and wins the pot. I’ve stated the problem is that not enough people are involved in the game, and he said “they’re involved, they’re waiting to answer”.

    The other format he insists on is “Musical Bingo”, where he plays a 5 second track of music, and you match it with the artist on the card. This seems like it would take too long, and would involve far too much preparation on his part.

    The other problem he has is the type of questions he wants to use, which is two fold. He’s very interested in things like U.S. history and civics. “What president did this?”. “What state has that?” Those kinds of things, and I’ve suggested that it’s far too narrow a field, and he needed to expand the range of questions. I said that common categories are things like sports, science, movies, and he immediately said “I don’t know anything about movies”. The other problem is he insists on saying “I don’t like questions you have to know the answer to, and you can kind of figure out”, which seems to run counter to the entire point of the quiz. If it’s too easy then everybody gets a hundred percent, and there’s no point.

    It seems he’s setting this up for failure, or to look like he’s the smartest guy in the room. Is there any advice you can impart on something that might work, because he’s inflexible on this subject.

    Reply
    • David McGaughey
      David McGaughey says:

      It sounds like your advice is good – we’ve also written this blog post which might back you up http://www.quizquizquiz.com/blog/running-quizzes/what-makes-a-quiz-round
      He might be on the right lines having answers which everyone might be able to work out, though. Inclusion is key to a quiz, at least to start with. Once you have everyone engaged and participating and feeling like they have a chance, then you can play around with format and include more of your own ideas and favourites. That’s the main advice I’d give. As a regular quiz master, if you earn the trust of the teams, then you can do more unusual and innovative rounds later

      Reply
      • RobotShlomo
        RobotShlomo says:

        I’ve brought this up again with him, and again he’s still stuck on the format, and the questions. The problem he sees it is that “the bar / pub wants everyone to buy food and drinks”, and he doesn’t think the five person team and ten question round format allows that, which it actually does because the quizzes I’ve been to seem to have no problem with it. He’s tried the the format of one person at a time answering a random question in other places, and they’ve always failed, and why he’s stuck on that I still have no idea.

        The other part of “questions you can figure out” is that his way they take far too long. He asked “What two U.S. states border each other but have the furthest difference between capitals?”. And you have to pain over the answer and then eventually guess, and that’s EVERY question with him. I’m sure there’s ways to word the question better, but at the same time I’m thinking you don’t want players to spend all round on one question. Of course there’s the problem of these subjects being only things that he’s interested, and the fact that it seems the questions aren’t devised as a test of knowledge, but as a way to “teach” people.

        I appreciate your help, but it looks like I’m going to have to start a pub quiz on my own. This site is a great resource, and I would like to say thank you for your updates and all your hard work.

        Reply

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