What are Pub Quizzes?

Posted in Quiz Advice

A pub quiz is a quiz held in a pub. It is a largely British phenomenon, which reached its peak in the early 1990s.

Pub quizzes are still extremely popular and may attract people to a pub who are not found there on other days. The pub quiz is a modern example of a pub game.

Though pub quizzes can cover a range of formats and topics, they have many features in common. Pub quizzes are also increasingly popular in the rest of the English-speaking world.  

The format

Pub quizzes (also known as trivia quizzes) are often weekly events and will have an advertised start time. This time is often only approximate and it may be up to half an hour after it that any quiz-related activity begins.

First of all, someone (either one of the bar staff or the person running the quiz) will come round with pens and quiz papers, which may contain questions or may just be blank sheets for writing the answers on. A mixture of both is common, in which case often only the blank sheet is to be handed in. Often the pub expects that paper should be split in two - one half to hand in and one half to be kept as a record of the answers.


It is up to the quizzers to form teams, which are generally based on tables, though if one table has a large group around it they may decide to split up. Some pubs insist on a maximum team size (usually between six and ten). The team members decide on a team name, which must be written on all papers handed in.


People often have to pay to participate - typically £1 or £2 per person. This is often used as prize money (see below).

Some quizzes require no payment at all, as the pub quiz is simply a way to get you into the bar (typically on less busy nights like week nights) to spend money.


There may be between one and more than half a dozen rounds of questions, totalling anything from 50 to maybe 80 questions. Rounds may include the following kinds (most common first):

  • Factual rounds - these are usually spoken, either over a public address system or just called out. Common topics include:
  • General knowledge - covering the topics listed below (if they're not a separate round) and also topics such as history, geography and science and nature. There may well be more than one of these rounds.
  • Sport - comprising the statistics and minutiae of popular, well-known sports and general facts about others.
  • Entertainment - movies, TV shows and music (see also below).
  • Picture round - these use photocopied or computer-printed hand-outs and consist of pictures to be identified, such as photos of famous people (possibly snapped out of context, or else partially obscured) or logos of companies (without tell-tale lettering), famous places or objects pictured from a strange angle.
  • Music round - these consist of excerpts (often only the intro or other non-vocal segment) of songs played over the PA system. Usually the teams must identify the song and also the singer or band (sometimes the year the song was released is also required). Variations include the inclusion of film soundtracks and TV theme tunes (requiring the title), and/or classical music (also requiring the composer).
  • Puzzle rounds - generally on a hand-out sheet. These may consist of crossword puzzles, anagrams, Dingbats and basic maths problems.
  • Novelty rounds - themed round a specific word or name (e.g. all the questions relate to a famous Norman); 'connections', where the last answer in the round provides a link to all the previous answers; true or false; and various others to break up the general stream of questions.

Question setting

The questions may be set by the bar staff or landlord, taken from a quiz book, bought from a specialist trivia company, or be set by volunteers from amongst the contestants. In the latter case, the quiz setter may be remunerated with drinks or a small amount of money.

Often questions may be drawn from the realm of 'everybody knows' trivia, therefore leading to controversies when the answers are false or unverifiable. In addition, as the quizzes are not formal affairs, slight errors in wording may lead to confusion and have led to a recent court case in the UK.


In some cases, the papers are marked by the bar staff. Alternatively, teams may have to mark their own answers and the handed-in papers are consulted only to check that prize claimants haven't cheated by altering their answers. Another method is to have teams swap papers before marking, though this can be divisive.

1 or 2 points are scored for each correct answer; some quizzes allow half marks for 'nearly right' answers (such as a celebrity's surname when their full name was required). In some quizzes, certain questions score higher marks, particularly if they are unusually difficult.


With the mass use of mobile (cell) phones and mobile internet access, cheating has become a problem for some pub quizzes, with covert calls and texts made in the toilets, recent newspapers and magazines brought along specially, 'ringers' and so on. Though a maximum number of members set for teams may help to prevent huge numbers of people collaborating, groups posing as several distinct teams are quite common. Some quizzes now ban the use of mobiles and nullify the score of any team found to be cheating. Though more prevalent where large sums of money are at stake (see below), cheating can sadly be observed even for relatively low stakes.

One case exists where a landlord banned the use of mobile (cell) phones completely from the establishment during the quiz evening and in order to guarantee that no contestant used such a device, an FM radio tuner was connected to the public address system. Should any team member use a mobile phone during the duration of the quiz, loud pulsing sounds would be heard while other teams tried to locate the culprit!

Some quizzes also now ban re-entry to the pub after the quiz has started, in order to prevent team members from going to use public internet stations, public telephones and mobile devices out of sight of the Quizmaster. Generally, though, a pub runs its quiz alongside its operating normally, making such a measure impractical.



Prizes are awarded to the highest scoring team, and possibly runners-up as well. Prizes are usually one of the following:

  • alcoholic drinks: a case of beer or some money on a bar tab to spend at that pub are common.
  • cash: if money was charged for entry into the quiz, this is often pooled to form prize money. This may all go to the winning team. Alternatively, there may be a separate short set of questions or even a single 'jackpot' question to win the cash; if no team gets the right answer, the money is typically rolled over, making a larger prize the next week.
  • vouchers: such as cinema discount-coupons, food discounts, or even drinks vouchers for use at the bar holding the quiz.
  • drink-related promotional items sent by a brewery, such as t-shirts and beer glasses advertising their products.
  • miscellaneous or novelty prizes, such as chocolate or cheap toys. The winning team may get first choice to pick a prize from a range on offer.
  • cinema tickets.
  • Another format for quizzing is called "infinite bounce". This format is generally used when the number of teams in the quiz is large - usually around 8-10. Every question is addressed to the team succeeding the team that answered the previous question. If no team answers the question, the next question is addressed to the team succeeding the team to whom the previous question was addressed.

Quiz leagues

A quiz league is an organisation that runs quizzes, normally in pubs, though such competitions are distinct from the standard pub quiz as they will normally involve two teams and often include a number of individual questions. No prizes are normally awarded at such a league match, but prizes and kudos may go to the quiz team winning a league or a knockout competition. The National Trivia Association runs a nation-wide contest involving various pub trivia games played around the US.  

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