How to Compile a Quiz and Hold a Quiz Night Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Compile a Quiz and Hold a Quiz Night

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An EastEnders programme featuring a Comic Relief charity quiz night in the Vic.

Quizzes are a popular activity; holding a Quiz Night can be a good method of fundraising. The type of quiz we're talking about here is the 'table quiz', where the questions are asked to all teams at the same time, the members of each team consult among themselves and then write down their answers. Everybody participates in a team. This Entry doesn't discuss the 'television-format quiz', with two teams equipped with buzzers, in front of an audience. Much of what is said here, however, would also apply to that type of quiz.

There are plenty of books available if you want conventional subject rounds of questions on, eg, history, sport and television. This type of quiz suits those who have many facts at their fingertips, but can leave people floundering in a round where they have no expertise. The evening can be more fun, especially for those who are not so keen on answering questions, but want to support the cause, if you compile your own quiz of a less orthodox nature. Here's how to do it.

Compiling the Quiz

Subjects for the Rounds

Choose themes or keywords for each round, for example: colours, hot/cold, firsts/lasts, fictional/famous animals, shapes, homes, days of the week, criminals/detectives. Of course you can also have simple themes such as acronyms, which still lend themselves to the inclusion of a wide variety of subjects. At first, aim to have about 12 to 14 topics, to be whittled down to eight to ten later on. To add more variety to the evening, you may like to have a picture or audio round (see below). Another option is to have one or two ongoing rounds for teams to complete at their leisure. These could ideally be pictorial, or questions that may need more thought. Possibilities here include first lines of novels, giving the next line in a poem or song, anagrams, collective nouns, a number crossword or cryptic clues. A useful way of using up fun or interesting facts which don't fit elsewhere is to have a true/false or pot luck round.


If you can, allow a few months for preliminary work. You need to collect information that can be fitted to your themes. Pay attention to the news and everyday life, look at popular magazines and televsion programmes and search encyclopedias1. Putting the keyword of the theme into the search engine of an electronic reference source can throw up all sorts of useful information. The sort of data you want to look out for combines two facts such as book title and author, singer's number of hits, characters in a drama, date of a discovery, inventor of a well-known item, alternative flower names. Bear in mind the age, interests and ability of your target audience and try to include something for everyone. For instance, if the event is being organised by a gardening club, you may want to have a horticultural emphasis. Over-60s might struggle with modern media questions yet will be familiar with the news and popular culture of the 1940s/50s, in contrast to younger participants.

Writing the Questions

This is the trickiest part. Questions must be worded unambiguously so that there is only one possible answer. For each piece of information, consider which part of the fact needs to be in the question or answer to make it easier or harder. For example, Who wrote the opera 'Fidelio'? is likely to have more people guessing the answer than What is the title of the only opera written by Beethoven?

Avoid dates or other specific numbers as answers, unless you permit some leeway in marking, such as full marks for exactly right, and half-marks for answers within a reasonable margin of error.

Decide how much information to give in the question. It's possible to give a clue, or narrow the possibilities for those who have to guess. For example, What would you do with a 'beg wot' - wear it, eat it or travel in it? (Answer - eat it, it is an Ethiopian thick stew.) or Which film first 'blew into' cinemas in 1939? (Answer - Gone with the Wind).

Compiling Each Round

The knack here is to make each round varied so that everyone feels they can answer something on each round. Try to start and finish each round with an easy question but insert one or two tough ones in the middle. After all, you need some way of discerning a winner by the end of the evening.

Aim to have a roughly equal representation of interests spread across the whole quiz - sport, history, science, literature and so on. Having a mixture of these within each round means that a team lacking expertise in a particular area doesn't spend the whole of one round utterly perplexed. Ten rounds, each of ten questions, will comfortably fill the evening.

Pick a title for each round that hints at the theme. This can be enigmatic, to keep the participants guessing, or can openly indicate the theme. Clich├ęs can be used to good effect as cryptic titles. Possibly the whole evening could be themed, for example by giving the rounds song or book titles.

Keep one question in hand that could be used as a tie breaker at the end of the quiz if necessary. This could be something where the answer could be numerical and so unusual as to have to be guessed, so that there is less chance of needing a second tie-breaker question.

Picture Rounds

There is plenty of scope here for diversity within the round. Subjects could be album covers, flags, famous people, logos or silhouettes of objects/countries. If, for instance, famous people is your chosen topic, include scientists, sportsmen, musicians, and writers as well as actors and other celebrities, from both the past and the present. Ensure that the pictures are sufficiently large and clear to facilitate identification.

Audio Rounds

An audio round need not be simply music to identify, although there is a wealth to choose from - jazz, pop, classical, folk etc. You could focus on television programmes, film soundtracks or adverts as your theme. If you have the resources, why not try identifying sound effects, national anthems or famous people speaking. Do make sure that the sound is reproduced to a sufficiently high quality. Clips should be fairly short, but repeated.

Organising the Evening


Where will the event take place? Make sure you book, and find out how much the hire charge will be. Check the facilities to know how many tables/chairs there are, how many can safely be fitted in the room. Tables should be sufficiently far apart to avoid teams being able to overhear each other. Find out what sort of catering is possible and if a PA system is available. The question master will certainly need a microphone to ensure audibility and prevent a sore throat by the end of the evening.


Decide how many people the tables will comfortably accommodate and specify the maximum number of players per team. There is always discontent if a team of ten wins when other teams have only eight people2. Typically, teams of six to eight give the most enjoyment. You might also offer to assemble teams from individuals buying tickets.


Don't forget to organise prizes. You may like to reward the team in last position with a wooden spoon (literally) or other consolation prize such as sweets. For the winning team, bottles of wine may be suitable, or perhaps small engraved medals. Other minor prizes could be awarded for most original/amusing team name, neatest answer sheet, most amusing wrong answers, best behaviour - use your imagination. If you can entice a celebrity along to present the prizes, this may boost attendance.


Are you going to offer a meal or merely nibbles? A break half way through the evening is often appreciated by both the participants and organisers. If there are sufficient organisers, home-cooked food is often welcome. Otherwise you could order fish and chips to be delivered. Make sure that your ticket price reflects the cost of the refreshments provided. Running a bar provides extra income but requires a licence, purchase of supplies and manpower on the night. It also disrupts proceedings when people visit the bar, as well as providing an opportunity to peek at answer sheets on other tables. So it may be better to sacrifice some profits by asking attendees to supply their own beverages (and glasses).

Extending the Fundraising

Many fundraising events include a raffle. Local businesses might be approached to provide prizes, or the organising committee could appeal for unwanted gifts. Alternatively, sacrifice some funds to purchase suitable prizes such as toiletries, chocolates or wine. Cloakroom tickets can be used as raffle tickets, sold on the night. Drawing the raffle can be done at a midpoint break but is more usefully done after the last round while the final scores are being totted up.


Nobody will attend if they don't know about the event. At least a month ahead, put notices in local magazines, posters in prominent places. You will probably still need to cajole people personally! Give clear information about the date, time and location as well as the nature of the event and where tickets can be bought. A closing date may be necessary to be able to make catering arrangements and plan the room layout. If food is to be ordered, make sure people are told to give their requirements in advance and how to do so. Calculate a ticket price that for a reasonable number of participants will cover your costs and provide some profit, without being so expensive as to deter attendance. Provided enough tickets are sold, you're ready to embark on the evening itself.

Final Arrangements


Each table should be equipped with pencils, scribbling paper3 and a Joker card. This can be another opportunity to represent the beneficiary of the evening: for example, different flowers, if raising funds for the Gardening Club. The purpose of the Joker is to double the scores of the round on which it is played4. Sheets for answers should all be issued together to each table, each clearly headed with the title of the round and team identification5. Teams may be invited to give themselves a name - otherwise identify each table by number/letter or team captain's name. Ongoing rounds can be put out on the tables before participants arrive, or distributed at the start of the quiz.

Essential Personnel

A good question-master will make all the difference to a quiz night, speaking clearly, injecting humour and giving encouragement. He/she may also introduce the event, thanking people for attending and explaining the format of the evening. The marking system should be explained and it is wise to declare the question-setter's decision as final - right or wrong6. Sadly, a reminder to switch off mobile phones is usually required. You may even wish to confiscate any such means of communication to prevent teams consulting outside sources of information.

Prior to each round, ask if any teams wish to play their Joker on that round. Each question should be read out twice, with a brief pause for writing of answers before moving on. Either read out the answers to each round straight after the collection of the answer papers, or after the following round. Sharing some of the amusing guesses (actual or imagined) can enliven proceedings. Ongoing rounds can be collected half way through and the answers given at the end of a midway break.

At least two helpers will be needed to collect and mark the answer sheets. Collect the answer sheets in a different order each time to avoid any team always having more thinking time. Provide the markers with a clear answer sheet, showing appropriate allocation of marks for full or part answers.

Score Sheet

Everyone likes to see how their team is progressing, so a score sheet needs to be visible to all parts of the room. High or low tech? Having a laptop and projector makes for easy alteration and updating of the scores if you dare rely on the technology. A power failure or software problem are familiar blights you can do without. A blackboard or large paper sheet are low-tech alternatives which can be duplicated to ensure a good view by all. Before the teams start arriving, do a final check that all systems are in place and operative.

Final Scores

Hopefully there will be some competition right up to the end, so the final scores will be anxiously awaited. On the other hand, some participants may have drunk so much that they hardly care! In the event of there being a tie, you may need to summon a representative from each team to try the tie-breaker. This can either be first to answer, or ask each person in turn (without the other hearing).

Having awarded any loser's prize to the team in last place, move fairly swiftly through the scores, allowing for brief cheering and applause of each team. After the top team has been announced and given their prize, it only remains to thank everyone for coming. If possible give some indication of the amount raised.

With luck, someone will then apparently spontaneously rise to thank the organisers for all their hard work. You may even get asked to prepare another quiz!

1Not forgetting h2g2, of course!2A large team is not necessarily an advantage. There is a greater chance of someone knowing the right answer, but also the possibility of more argument about it! 3Covering the tables with paper or banqueting roll is an alternative to scribbling paper.4The Joker must be played at the start of the chosen round, before hearing the questions.5This enables teams to look ahead and decide on which round to play their Joker.6There will always be someone who will dispute at least one answer during the evening.

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