Schools Challenge | General Knowledge Quiz
What is it?
Schools Challenge is a general knowledge quiz for schools. It’s been running since 1978 and involves around 250 schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
How’s it played?
It was based on University Challenge, so if you’ve ever watched that, you’ll have a reasonably good idea of how Schools Challenge works, though we flatter ourselves that we’ve made some necessary improvements. The basic format has two teams, each with four members, using buzzers and playing each other for half an hour. Each round of questions comprises a ‘starter’, which individuals buzz to answer; the team that has guessed the starter correctly then has the first chance to answer three related ‘bonus’ questions. (Schools Challenge, unlike University Challenge, allows the other team to answer bonus questions the first team hasn’t responded to correctly.)
How is the competition arranged?
The country is divided into regions with up to 16 schools in each region: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a region each. Each region is run as a separate competition on a knockout basis, and is under the control of a Regional Organiser.
Opponents in the competition are chosen by a draw (which takes geographical location into account, in order to reduce travelling). Some (smaller) regions play all their matches in a single afternoon or evening; some divide into two halves and play on two days, with the winners meeting each other later; some play in pairs, arranging time and place by mutual agreement. Once the regional competition is completed, the winning schools from each region then play a set of inter-regional matches to reduce the number to eight teams; and those teams meet to determine the national winner. Both regional and national winners receive a shield that they are entitled to keep until the next year’s competition.
When does it all take place?
The Senior Competition is played during the second half of the autumn term and the first half of the spring term, with the Inter-Regionals played in March and the National Finals at the end of April. The Junior Competition is played during the spring term, with the Inter-Regionals in May and the National Finals in mid to late June.
Which year groups can enter Schools Challenge?
There are actually two competitions. The first, Senior Schools Challenge, is open to pupils from any year up to and including Year 13 / Upper Sixth, and must include two pupils from Year 10 or below: most schools field two Sixth Formers and two pupils from Year 9 and/or 10. The second, Junior Schools Challenge, is open to pupils up to and including Year 8 (it was originally designed for prep schools, but many maintained secondary schools and a few middle schools take part).
What sort of questions are asked?
Anything you can think of may be asked, as long as it can be considered ‘general knowledge’: current affairs, history, geography, language, literature, sport, science, music (classical and popular), television, film, drama, famous people… We don’t ask ‘Trivial Pursuit’ style questions (‘How many people went to the doctor complaining of acne in 1972?’).
Who sets the questions? And how can we see what they’re like?
All questions are compiled and produced by the National Organisers, Paul and Sue Sims, and sent out via the Regional Organisers: you can see some specimen questions by emailing Paul and Sue (see below). Questions used in previous years can be obtained from the latter at a nominal cost to cover photocopying and postage; these can be useful in helping to select a team or in running your own internal competition, as well as for practice.
Where can we get buzzer equipment? And is it very expensive?
Initially, you don’t need any equipment, as the majority of schools in the competition already have their own sets, and can supply whatever’s needed. If you take part regularly you’ll probably want your own buzzers. If you don’t have a friendly D & T or Physics department, or if you want the professional stuff, Jaser Electronics are the first port of call: their buzzers are designed specifically for Schools Challenge. They’re not cheap (prices are shown on the website), but schools with active Parents’ Associations have often found them helpful!
How much does it cost?
The school subscription rate is currently £18, to cover administration. Many regions allow schools to enter two teams, the subscription for dual entry is £24.
You’ve almost persuaded us. How can we find out more?