Quiz Master’s Rules

               Quizzes are everywhere. There are pub quizzes, school quizzes, charity quizzes, online quizzes and many more but what makes a good quiz? As somebody who has been running them for more than 20 years, I have a few thoughts…

The Players

There are two types of players. The first group are the serious players, they have come specifically for the quiz and will ask for a paper within 3 nanoseconds of arriving. These people are very serious, speak in a whisper during the questions and will inevitably shout during the answers convinced they (rather than the quiz master) must be correct. They don’t care who is listening, they must be right. I was listening to Radio 2 this morning and somebody stopped the game to argue with the DJ that their answer was correct, of course it wasn’t and they just wasted the time of 8 million listeners with their quibbling.

The second group are people that didn’t know there was a quiz and just happened to be there and decide to play on a whim. These people usually chat loudly throughout and will need the questions repeating multiple times as they were not listening. They are also, often drunk. The second group will also check through their Facebook account and take photos during the quiz.

These two groups do not get on. However, it is not true that the serious teams always win. Although this is a huge stereotype, team serious often have large gaps in their general knowledge. Asking questions about mountain ranges, royal history and classic novels will suit them nicely however it is not hard to trip them up with topics like last weekend’s football results, music released since 1990 or the plotlines of Coronation Street.

It is also not unusual for me to pick topics I think the most annoying people in the room will struggle with. Drunken singing halfway through means more questions on Monet, arguing about the pronunciation of words means more questions on the X-Factor. Simple.

The Questions

The easiest way to get a set of quiz questions is to use a book or website, hundreds of options with no effort required. However, there are potential problems with this.

  • How old are the questions? Could it be out of date?
  • Who were the questions originally written for?
  • Is it possible the answers are wrong? Absolutely every question asked will need running through a search engine beforehand because the players will do exactly that. Even people with no realistic chance of winning will run up to the stage with their phone if they think there is any chance of a correction. Years ago, people would bring me photocopies of reference books to prove their point, at least that took time. Now the arguing can start instantly. What fun.

The Answers

Unless you are playing for huge prizes, the best way is getting the teams to switch papers to be marked. Allow time for this, they are never expecting it and it takes ages for people to rewrite their answers legibly and explain that they wrote their answers in the wrong places. It is surprisingly common for people to write the answer to question six next to a number other than six.

My own rule is “if you know what they mean and what they mean is right, give them the point”. Perhaps this is generous but there is nothing more tedious than a five-minute discussion after every answer about what counts as the same thing as the answer, dodgy spellings and “do I get half a point if the surname is right?”.


Now that everyone has internet access in their pockets, there has been an obvious rise in people cheating by looking stuff up on Google. The other teams know this and will make a fuss if they see anyone using a phone for any reason. If is best to ask everyone to put their devices away and not use them at all for half an hour until the questions are over. However, many people can’t survive without their phone for that long and within 10 mins will start checking their inbox. There is little that can be done to stop this and it makes the life of a quiz master harder.

So rather than fact-based spoken topics, start using photos instead. What flower is this? Name this footballer? Where is this building? All these things are much harder to discreetly Google under the table.


I really enjoy a tie-break situation, it brings excitement and is the only time everyone shuts up to listen. In my experience, the easiest way is ask a question where the answer is a number and the nearest answer wins. That way, there will be a winner straight away and we won’t need another tie breaker. The question should involve a large number that isn’t a round number – the Guinness Book of Records is great for these…

For example – ‘In his hometown of Lima, Peru, Otto the bulldog, set a record for the longest human tunnel travelled through by a skateboarding dog but how many people’s legs did he glide through?’ Nobody will know this kind of thing and although the serious teams will moan, it is completely fair and provides a humorous end to the evening.

Expressive angry businessman in formal suit looking at camera and screaming with madness while hitting desk with fist

In summary, I love hosting quizzes. I have accepted long ago that people will always tell me I am wrong (often at great volume from across the room) but as long as my research is done, I can happily brush them aside and as the quiz master the power is mine. Plus, I have the option of petty revenge if a winning team has been a lot of trouble – souvenir tea towels as a prize.

PS – Otto skated through the legs of 30 people. So now you know.

4 thoughts on “Quiz Master’s Rules

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