For tournament purposes, a format covers rules of play and question structure/content. For questions, this includes question topics, clue difficulty, order of clues, and writing style. Rules of play include player eligibility, scoring of questions, acceptable answers, and procedures for protesting a question.

In particular, ACF, CBCI, HCASC, NAQT, and UC each have distinctive formats. Also, certain college tournaments and programs have developed their own distinctive formats, such as the Deep Bench format (University of Minnesota/Carleton College). However, the basic ACF format is more or less standard for non-NAQT or PACE format tournaments in the US.

ACF format has a rigorous emphasis on academics. There is no limit on graduate student participation. Toss-up questions are typically in pyramid style, with more difficult clues coming first, and a question should be answerable from any clue read. ACF is untimed; questions are generally much longer than CBCI questions. Games are usually played to a total of 20 tossups read.

The now-defunct CBCI or College Bowl format emphasizes comparatively short questions on academics, current events, pop culture, and general knowledge. The limits on participation are 6 years total in CBCI tournaments and only one graduate student per team. Questions tend to be structured so that most of the players know the answers to tossups read in their entirety. It is played in 8 minute halves, to a usual total of 22–24 tossups read, though there’s no actual limit and 30-toss-up games, though quite rare, have occurred. Game play is relatively quick as a result. Related formats are HCASC (Honda Campus All Star Challenge) and UC (University Challenge).

NAQT format balances the diversity of subjects found in CB packets with the academic rigor of the ACF format. The limits on participation are complex but in general, as long as a player is earning a degree they can play. It is based on the Penn Bowl/MLK format. Game play is markedly different from ACF or CB. Timeouts and player substitution during timeouts are allowed. The NAQT also uses power marks in tossups (15 points instead of 10 earned for a tossup answered before a certain point). Game length can vary a little, but a standard length for NAQT is 9 minute halves and a total of 26 tossups. National/Regional tournaments follow these formats very closely, while invitationals often modify these formats for their own use. NAQT also writes questions and helps organize tournaments at the high school level.

The National Academic Championship is played in four-quarter format. Four-quarter format is the general term for quiz bowl that is broken up into several phases, with differing styles of gameplay in each phase. Individual formats vary but may include worksheets, lightning rounds, give-and-takes, and tossups, with or without accompanying bonuses.

Other competitions evolved from these formats include competitions testing knowledge in the Bible, Latin, modern foreign languages, nursing, business ethics, Black History, athletic training, cooking, and hundreds of other specialties. Many medical schools use quiz bowl-style competitions as part of their “grand rounds” specialty training for students and interns. In the 1990s, “Deaf College Bowl” for university teams with hearing-impaired students emerged. TRASH is a format that focuses on pop culture and sports trivia.

In addition, other variants on the above quiz bowl formats are used at the high school level, including such formats as those of the Ohio Academic Competition (OAC), Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE), and the Panasonic Academic Challenge (PAC or simply “Panasonic”).

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