Have you been invited to your first team trivia event and are nervous as all get out? Are you a longtime pub quizzer frustrated by a lack of victories over years-long rivals? Here are some important strategies to help you get ready for your next trivia night!
Part One: Trivia Avengers Assemble!
By and large, bar trivia nights are a social event. A competitive, occasionally nigh-bloodthirsty, social event. Unlike quizzes on Trivia Bliss, LearnedLeague, or other trivia sites, which are played solo, a pub quiz or bar trivia situation is best when you play with the right team to push through to victory (and also have fun). Here are some tips for putting together your squad:
1. Recruit Friends and Family Who Actually LIKE Competitive Trivia
This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes smart people who know a lot just can’t handle the trivia presh, or just can’t conjure correct answers on the fly, or just don’t care for quizzing. Don’t push them to participate. Find the people who want to play.
2. Have Your Bases Covered
My specialties include movies, geography, and celebrity trivia. Other members of my regular team are into cooking, YA novels, cars, language, pop music, and myriad other subjects. We make a great team because we have a good mix of interests. In recent years, we got even better because we recruited an invaluable asset: a sports person.
We had team members who followed hockey (duh, of course we do, since we live in Canada), but other sports, especially baseball and American football (and, to be fair, the CFL, too) were just a big ball of wut? Our regular league game is not sports-heavy generally, but having at least one question every week that we couldn’t even begin to answer was a real problem. And, if you aren’t into sports, sports trivia can feel completely separate, and impossible to learn. So find a sports person. It will help.
3. Know What You Need
Some other teammates you might want to consider: People who watch broadcast television, people who follow politics closely, people who know geography, people who know history, people who watch a lot of movies, people who listen to Top 40 radio or classical music, people who can do math (or, at least, remember equations and concepts from high school), and people who play video games.
More elusive, at least in my experience, are people who are very into art history and pub quizzes, too; again, this subject area is hard to break into if you are not already familiar with it. (This is a pretty fun primer, though.)
4. Reach Across Time
No, I don’t mean breaking this (and other) dimensions, or stealing back that book for stats from Biff, but considering the ages of teammates is not a terrible idea. Why? Because a Millennial is less likely to know about the invasion of Grenada than a Boomer, and a Gen-Xer may not be up on their BTS singles. Having a range of demographics in your group can be nearly as important as having subject experts. So mix it up with the olds, and young’uns, if you can.
5. Find People You LIKE
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey gave some great HR advice: Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at three in morning. If your intention is to play on a weekly basis, don’t invite people whom you don’t want to see regularly, regardless of their knowledge base. WINNING IS GREAT, but trivia should be fun, not a chore.
6. Maintain Temperate Tempers
A corollary to the above, I know of at least a couple of teams that nearly got into physical fights when team members disagreed on an answer. A trivia team isn’t quite a democracy, so make sure your quiz pals are not going to take things too personally; if your team refuses to put down an answer that you are SURE is correct, tell them that they owe you a drink if it turns out to be correct, instead of getting huffy or incensed. On my team, we claim bragging rights if our (correct) answer is overruled. No punches have been thrown. (Yet?)
7. Keep the Team a Manageable Size
Even if you don’t think you have all subject areas covered, don’t make your team too big; more people means more disagreement and confusion, makes it harder to discuss answers without being overheard, and causes complications in getting a table where everyone has a seat and space for their drinks and/or snacks. Some trivia nights place a limit on team sizes, but if yours does not, try to cap things at six people.
8. Practice Together
At the moment of writing, much of the non-Oceania/East Asia world is still in pandemic-y, no-in-person fun land, but, however you can, get the team together to quiz each other. Jackbox games is a good one to play over Zoom, or get some questions off of this very site, get out the old Trivial Pursuit box to test each other, or go head-to-head on Sporcle.
If there’s a fact you’ve heard, or a name in the news you think might come up at a trivia night, share it with the other team members! You never know when your brain might fritz out and forget something you just read, so it’s good to have back up!
Part Two: How to Get GOOD!
If reading history textbooks and memorizing lists of NCAA MVPs sounds dreary, that’s fine! You can still get better at trivia a million different ways. The most important thing is that you want to learn; how you learn is entirely up to you. Here are some suggestions:
1. Do Quizzes
You are on a trivia site right now! Go do some quizzes! Do some quizzes here! Go do some quizzes on Mental Floss! See if your favorite news site has a ‘This Week in the News’ quiz! Download HQ Trivia! See if you can snag an invitation to LearnedLeague! There are countless possibilities online and elsewhere, so pick your favorites and get answering!
2. Listen to Quizzes
There is rarely a week where one of my LearnedLeague games, or pub quizzes, doesn’t contain a current events question about something I learned on a radio/podcast quiz like NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me or BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz. Or check out quiz podcasts Trivial Warfare or Podquiz… or even contact them to become a contestant!
3. Watch Quizzes
Jeopardy!! Who Wants to Be a Millionaire! Mastermind! The Chase! Pointless! Only Connect! The Big Fat Quiz of the Year/the Decade! Television quiz shows are maybe more popular than ever, so there is a plethora to choose from. Find your faves, and learn a whole load of valuable trivial information.
4. Go Deep on Jeopardy!
The masterful wizards at J! Archive have compiled almost every game and answer from the modern (ie 1984-present) Jeopardy! era for their freely available database. Hundreds of thousands of answers at your disposal; it’s up to you to come up with the right question.
5. Get a Peek at What Your Trivia Night Might Look Like
The league that puts together our weekly game have online quizzes on their website, which is occasionally a huge help. If your local quiz purveyors do similar, this can help give you a feel for what kind of questions/subjects the writer(s) like, and can give you an edge over those who haven’t bothered to check in there.
6. Watch More TV
TV is pretty great! I don’t know why we don’t talk about it more??
But, truly, television is a fantastic resource, whether you are watching David Attenborough’s Planet Earth, or trying to memorize the Mediocre Presidents song from The Simpsons.
Documentaries are, obviously, great for a lot of information about a single subject, the news is good for current events, and reality TV is good for keeping up with celebrity gossip (which is a trivia category all its own!), but factual (or, at least, semi-factual) programming isn’t the only thing worth watching to pick up new bits of trivia intel.
Narrative shows like Gilmore Girls might inspire you try reading some of Rory’s favorites like Anna Karenina (or at least teach/remind you that it was written by Tolstoy), Pose might twig your interest in learning about drag balls and LGBTQ history, Ted Lasso might finally get you into learning about English football, and Upstart Crow might teach you (in a very silly way) about Shakespearean times. It’s all good! Just pay attention, and stay curious, about what these shows are really about.
7. Movies Too
What I said about TV applies to the cinematic world as well!
8. If You Aren’t Already Doing So, Panel Up
Also, British panel shows are a super great way for learning new, fun facts. If you’ve not watched QI before, you are in for a treat (it’s on Britbox in North America, iPlayer in the UK, and elsewhere online) because it is exploding with Quite Interesting information. Other options include Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week (for current events), and reruns of Never Mind the Buzzcocks (for music). (It’s no wonder that British competitors do so well at the World Quizzing Championships; quizzing is in their pop culture DNA.)
9. Keep it Simple
“Okay, that’s all fine for general trivia whatever, but what if I want to learn a topic more in-depth, but I don’t know where to start?”
Unless you are participating in a trivia night for specialist law students, it’s unlikely that you need to know and understand every word of every amendment in the U.S. Constitution, but you should probably know just a little bit more than nothing. Websites and books aimed at children? Are actually very helpful for that first step to learning. Their simply presented information is sometimes enough to give you an edge over people who haven’t taken a History class in 40 years. Ditto kids science books/shows; I’m making my way through childhood favorite Eureka! right now.
Additionally, other media aimed at students, including podcasts like Homeschool History and YouTube series like Crash Course can help fill in knowledge gaps, or jog some memories of grade eight math classes.
And Canadian quizzers? It’s never bad to revisit the Heritage Minutes; trivia writers here love ‘em. Additionally, we’ve got a list of tips to help make your trivia questions stand out.
10. Ask the Tiny Experts
If you have ever asked your favorite seven-year-old about dinosaurs or space Pokemon or whatever else they are super-interested in, they’ll talk your ear off about it. Listen to them! They can teach you a lot of stuff that might come in handy at trivia night sometime, and that you may not have been paying attention to.
11. Read! A Lot!
It’s great to learn, ‘cause knowledge is power! Multiple World Quizzing Championship winner Kevin Ashman, and former question-setter for Brain of Britain, credits reading widely for much of his success. A couple of recommendations for wannabe trivia generalists include The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge and The Daily Telegraph A to Z of Almost Everything.
12. Listen Yourself Brilliant
If your eyes ache from the reading, fetch your headphones, download a biography of Catherine the Great, or an episode of Stuff You Should Know, and get learnin’.
If you’re commuting, doing housework, or even performing dull office stuff like data entry, get educated while you do it. Some podcast suggestions to learn new stuff include: In Our Time (everything from literature to astrophysics), You Must Remember This (about old Hollywood history), and No Such Thing as a Fish (a little bit of everything), but have a peruse of your favorite podcast app and you can find a podcast about nearly anything. If you don’t pick up every word because life gets interrupt-y, that’s OK! You’ll still learn plenty.
13. Don’t Rush It
You and your team might not be awesome right away, or even two years from now. This is a process, so try to be patient if that list of presidents are world capitals just isn’t sinking in instantly.
14. Don’t Just Take My Word For It
Helping folks improve their skills is one of this site’s goals, and here is The Ultimate Guide to Getting Better at Trivia, a FAR more comprehensive look at how to rule over your competitors, and the tools that’ll get you that quiz glory.
15. Don’t Forget That This is Supposed to be Entertaining!
If prepping your brain for trivia night(s) just feels too much like a chore, take a step back and reassess what you’re doing. Sure, it can be super challenging, but it isn’t supposed to be wholly unpleasant! Have fun, enjoy time with your teammates, and (hopefully) win some prizes, too!
Good luck! Stay curious, stay competitive, and have a great time!