Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A checklist while organising quizzes

After a couple of recent quizzes where some basic concepts were found to be lacking, here are a list of things that have come out of our collective experience of attending and setting quizzes. If there are any additions/corrections, please leave them in the comments.


  • Set the correct expectations for the quiz. Clearly mention the nature of the quiz if there are themes involved. It's better to have a small group of interested participants rather than a crowd of disgruntled hangers-on who thought there would be "free pizza, man!"
  • Mention the following points:
    • Expected team size
    • Location (with directions if required)
    • Starting time and expected duration
    • Registration if required (most good quizzes don't need prior registration and actually find it more convenient that way - on the spots are preferred)
    • Any criteria to be satisfied
    • Contact information
    • Who is/are organising and conducting the quiz (if you don't mind revealing such "sensitive" information)
    • Incentives to attend the quiz (if you are well-endowed in this respect)
  • Publicity depends on how much money you have to spend and also your target audience. In the usual cases, don't forget to spread the word on the message boards and egroups (don't be insolent enough to assume they'd find out if they want to :-) ) and let all the "usual suspects" know. If you post on these egroups, do put in the obligatory questions so that your mail isn't spamming those who are not interested in attending.


  • As far as possible, start on time. Even if you don't think enough people have turned up. The latecomers can start late (and be given extra time if required and if possible). Set a standard, especially if this is an annual affair - you should see these latecomers show up earlier next year! This way, you'll atleast keep the punctual quizzers on your side.
  • Make sure you announce the following (or mention it in the elims sheet):
    • Duration of the elims
    • Tiebreak policy (the best way is to have certain questions - known in the trade as "starred qns" - marked as those which will be used for breaking ties. I have gone as far as to use two sets of "starred qns" - primary and secondary - to avoid having tiebreakers for deciding finalists, for it is so messy)
    • If you have any carryovers of points from elims to finals, mention it clearly. Such things should necessarily be announced pre-elims
  • Check your elims for typos. If there are any, make sure you make effective announcements about them
  • If your elims have audio/visual questions, it would be preferable to play them at least twice to provide teams with the opportunity to chew over them
  • As far as possible, don't change too many things during the elims for this makes teams uneasy
  • If you have people helping you with correction, provide them with sample answer sheets if they aren't familiar with them
  • Work out what constitutes a correct answer and what parts deserve partial credit. If possible, indicate this in the elims questions. Also ensure all paper checkers are in agreement over this
  • Keep checking as transparent as possible. Announce the cutoffs before the finals so that teams aggrieved over this matter can approach you (IMO, it is extremely silly and unprofessional to keep this a secret and only gives rise to idle speculation). If possible, return elims papers to teams (without accepting doctored efforts later ;-))
  • Announce how long paper checking will take, when and where the announcements of results will be made and when the final will commence
  • Decide in advance when you want to announce the answers to the elimination questions. Some like to hold it back to just before the final begins, but in most cases, it is customary to announce answers immediately after the elims


  • Decide clearly many days in advance what the format of the quiz should be - i.e. the rules of passing, the value of directs and passes etc. It is, IMO, a sign of imbecility for this decision to made carelessly (and without any thought) a few seconds after the final has begun
  • Similarly, if there are any "special" rounds, work out all the rules for that round and figure out how to explain them to the participants and the audience. Also think about possible failure points and what you intend to do if they occur
  • For each question, determine in advance what the acceptable answers (according to you) should be and how is credit to be divided. For instance, some questions have two parts to them - so decide if you need boths parts simultaneously and hence will award full points to only that team that provides both first, or whether you will give partial points to two teams if it so happens. Announce this before teams have started answering that question
  • What will you do if there is a tie for the top spots? Will you split the prizes (can this be done?) or must you insist on breaking a tie or will you leave it to the teams so deadlocked? Answer these questions
  • Do you need to draw lots to decide seating (most quizzes prefer this)? Then arrange for lots. Some of the Pune quizzes have experimented with letting teams decide seating based on some rules. If this is the case, like in the case of carryovers mentioned in the earlier section, announce this during the elims.
  • Announce the length of the quiz before you begin. Mention the remaining duration at intervals during the quiz
  • Remember to reverse rounds if this is necessary (most quizzes have this) at the appropriate point

  • How do you want to arrange seating for the finalists?
  • Arrange for and test mikes, buzzers and other equipment well in advance instead of holding up play (apologise if you can't :-) )
  • When you have files for audio/video etc., ensure you edit the filenames and display tags to remove any hints towards the answers (being paranoid about these things is fine)
  • Organise all software (presentation, audio, video etc) well in advance. If possible, check the m/c and projector equipment to be used a day earlier
  • Organise requisite number of copies of the elims, a couple of copies of the text of the finals. Keep a few e-copies of the finals & elims if required (again, be paranoid about loss). Keep them secured :-)
  • Get blank papers for use by finalists. Water for them would be a welcome addition.
  • Organise all scorers and helpers and volunteers
  • Answer what-ifs like what if the power goes out, if the audio or video can't be played, if you exceed the timelimit etc.
  • Do you need to work in breaks in the schedule. e.g, is lunch time or a tea break looming in your day's schedule?
  • Be aware of answers to questions on prizes: when, how much, where etc. Give this info to those who qualify
  • Be kind to the audience - have prizes for them if possible
  • Keep extra questions handy - they come in useful for breaking ties and engaging the audience if necessary and god knows what else!
That's all I could think of. These might seem to be an inordinately long and pedantic list, but I think they are just all about common sense. You want your participants to be as comfortable as possible in your quiz and doing these things will, IMHO, go a long way in ensuring that. Of course, there's a small matter of also ensuring your questions are of a good quality, but for that you should read these (1, 2 and 3). But if you follow most of the above, you'll atleast get brownie-fudge-with-vannila-ice-cream points for sincerity.

{Side note: this blog completes two years of existence this month, so thanks to all those who read, digested and contributed to this very interesting effort.}


brijesh said...

I agree with many of these points..
two incidents come to my mind....
Once when i was affected badly...
That was the BC Joshi finals and elims 2003. We had scored 15 1/2 points according to our calculation..the organizers miscalculated it as 14 1/2. they did not announce the cut off. we approached them as two teams who were good and honest colleagues of our quizzing fratenity told me that they had scored 14 and 13 1/2 only.we asked them to redo our paper and our total reached 15 1/2. but they did not tell us wht the cut off was and it was very clear that the fear of admitting their mistake was what made them act funny.. it can be so frustrating when you know that u deserve to be there on stage by a margin but u are sitting down...

One more incident was in Shyam Bhatt 2003. I was conducting and till then i had never announced the cut offs in prelims scores as it was never a tradition. But that day just on a whim i announced the cut off as 13 points if i remember right.
A new team altogether came up to me after the finalists were announced. They asked me to check their paper..On rechecking i found that one of my correcting people had omitted one page altogether...And they had actually 19 points. They later went on to come second. They were old hands in quizzing and i would have missed a good team on stage...leave alone their loss..

Anand said...

Dunno what prompted this post but My thoughts in sequential disarray

1) Themes are a relatively new area, but announcing the QM etc. smack of overblown presumption.

2) Always always begin on time--let latecomers lie (their excuse)

3) Tiebreaks--that's beyond me. I could never look at say 5 q's out of 30 and say that these are important enough for qualification.

4) WHY must another person correct rhe answers ? It takes roughly 75 seconds to correct AND score a paper. Invites needless comment.

5)I happen to hate both the DP & the IR systems !I hence find seating debacles, carrying over points revolting but pointless.

6) My pet peeve--QM squints into the sunset--In 1456, a young slider, oops, rider went off with his neighbour's fourth mule....rest you can read yourself, and looks expectantly at his squinting team on stage. Does anyone remember how to READ a question guys ? It is YOUR question, own up to it boldly!

7) "Register" for an event ? Yep, even a telecheck in perhaps...

8) And Meghashyam, Shamanth and of course Vibhendu would vouch for my growling pique if I am interrupted with " Er, q no 21 reads Macmohan Singh, it is Manmohan Singh" or responds to hackneyed queries of "Is it OK if I give only the nickname / title/year"....

Abhishek said...

'hegemony of the S-quizzers'

You could use Sawardekar and Sir (making not have a S name a crietria for winning)

Kunal said...

>>" Dunno what prompted this post"

You ask this even after watching the Mood-I quizzes?!

But seriously, this is a damn good list.

Ramanand said...

1. "announcing QM": why not? and i didn't mean in terms of here cometh J.R. to do our quiz, so genuflect. More in terms of non-organisation quizzes. Giving ppl some idea what to expect isn't such a bad thing.

3. tiebreakers: so what is to be done when teams are tied on the same score? Ask more qns? Invariably, there is a shortage of qns for this or ties are not broken. If you have more qns etc, no problem. But practical experience, IMO, shows otherwise. And certain qns can be in the opinion of the setter, be more imp.

4. Because it is hard to ensure uniform and fair evaluation by every team of their own paper. If you had two copies of the team's answers, this can be avoided.

5. I have been hearing this DP IR criticism for ever from you. Time you showed us alternatives. I or we have always maintained our preference for IR merely bcos to our minds it is the best system available currently. As for carryovers, I continue to think a small adv of elims is not a bad thing. By definition it is not "pointless" ;-)

6. Fair enough, but you're being way too harsh, me thinks - there are situations when this is acceptable, IMO

7. Hmm.

8. Again, you're being too inflexible, if I may say so. Typos will happen, Corrections will be made.

Anand said...

1) Well,yes,cannot really harm anything.

3)More questions. I liked Shamanth's comment that Tiebreaking questions are a mere extension of these "important" questions , and if they can be asked if teams are tied, they could be used as starred q's too.

4) Ouch ! Didn't mean that at all. I obviously was referring to the QM correcting the papers himself. Anything else is avoidable.

5) Forever is "way too harsh".I can and will do what you have asked.
If indeed IR is all that it is claimed to be, why then are we still preoccupied with seating arrangements, round reversals,top finishers picking order, "strong teams" , polarization of topics, scoring issues etc etc.
Carrying over pts--fine, it's a personal view. I will never think of it, but I guess you'll agree that it too needs prior announcements. Also genuinely tried to link this advantage thingie to say, sport, Lit , anything !Couldn't!Is not golf!

6) My being harsh stems from the QM being hoarse !Besides, this ppt thing is done ALL the time, so which situations were you on ?

8) Was referring to the my finding being interrupted in the middle of a q during Elims exasperating. Perfection eludes me too !

Ramanand said...

Anand, our "fondness" for IR never extended to saying it solved all problems which is why we have tried to debate orthogonal strategies for other issues. You may know that I'm all for Occam's Razor in these matters (and thus am not keen on
"Centaurian" style methods), but not if there are glaring problems with the most simple of methods. Plus with many of these "annoying" (my adjective :-)) ideas, well, I think we have just gone with them in a spirit of experimentation!

No wonder I'm trying to get you to do an Open quiz - I have never participated in a quiz organised by you!

Kunal T said...

How about some token prizes for non-winning finalists? I think the audience end up taking home more than the unlucky finalists.