Invitational Practice Tournament

National Science Bowl® Invitational Practice Tournament

Tips and Guidelines

Updated: June 18, 2019

Thank you for your interest in running a National Science Bowl® Invitational Practice Tournament! We understand that there are many students and coaches who want to participate in Science Bowl tournaments more often than they currently do, and since several schools have the infrastructure and desire to host practice tournaments, we want to provide you with a few resources.

Many schools host invitational tournaments for other academic competitions as a fundraiser for their clubs to purchase equipment, and running a local Science Bowl Invitational could be beneficial to your club (please check with school officials first).

Before beginning, review the Regional Coordinator Resources portion of the NSB website:  It has many tips and guides for hosting a Science Bowl competition such as scheduling and recruiting, though not all of the information applies (i.e. media coverage and attending national finals). Since the invitational tournaments are more informal, planning can begin at the start of the academic school year.

Please note that the Invitational Practice Tournaments are not sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy; however, we trust that the event organizers will not tolerate any discrimination, bullying, inappropriate actions or language, or abuse of participants’ privacy (i.e., no social media without written consent.)


What tournament format should be used?

As the goal of the Science Bowl Invitational Practice Tournament is to 1) expose more schools and students to the NSB and 2) allow teams to get as much practice as possible, a structure that enables all teams to hear most of the rounds that you plan on reading at your tournament is recommended. If you have 16 teams or fewer, you can consider running a Round Robin tournament, but if you have more teams, a Swiss-style tournament can also allow you to read most of your rounds to all teams and determine a winner with only one or two extra sets of questions. We have suggested some formats for you to consider based on the number of entered teams in Appendix A. Contact if you need advice regarding the best format for your tournament.

If you have a sufficient number of teams attending your invitational, you could consider splitting up your competition into two divisions - Division I consisting of the A teams of schools that have previously made it to the double elimination rounds at their regional competitions and Division II consisting of B teams and schools that have not previously made it out of Round Robin at Regionals.  

Since there is no official reward for winning, it is not imperative to identify a single victor of the competition. However, if resources and staffing allow it, it could be exciting to end the invitational with a single- or double-elimination tournament with the top teams from the round robin.

Where can questions be obtained?

Each December, the U.S. Department of Energy publishes a new set of practice questions from prior regional competitions on the NSB website. These questions come from a bank that grows by 32 rounds each year, providing an ample (and renewable) number of official questions that could be asked at a practice tournament. If you choose to host a tournament before December 15, we will provide you with early access to a sufficient number of previously-unreleased practice questions to ask in your matches for up to one tournament per year. These questions are free for you to keep after the invitational to use in your future practice sessions.

If you wish to run additional tournaments (which we encourage!), you could ask your A team to write eight rounds to run a small tournament with. If your A team wants to participate in the tournament, we can attempt to facilitate a “packet exchange” so that an invitational elsewhere can use the rounds that your team produced and your invitational can use the rounds that they produced. Please contact for assistance with this and please note that other questions may not be available. If you are planning on this approach, make sure you start preparing your questions at least four months before your tournament to allow ample time for editing the question set.

Although the NSB regional and national events use printed questions, you can avoid this by having a laptop/tablet in each room.

In addition, the event coordinators, and each person with access to the early-released questions, of each National Science Bowl® Invitational Practice Tournament must sign a non-disclosure agreement which states that the questions may not be shared with anyone until December 16. We don’t want to accidentally ruin other NSB Invitational Practice Tournaments.

When should the tournament be held?

The questions we will provide you are the same difficulty as regional questions, so they would serve as a useful preparation tool for your local Regional Science Bowl. You could also consider running your tournament as a “tryout” for your own team. Regardless of what you choose, please make sure that schools that register for your invitational are also registered for a Regional NSB competition.  Please remember, only tournaments held before December 15 will have access to questions that have not been posted for the public.

Where can buzzer systems be obtained?

We recommend that you ask participating schools to bring at least one buzzer system per registered team. As long as at least half of your teams do this, you will have sufficient hardware to run your tournament. Additionally, if there is a regional science bowl competition in your local area, you could ask the coordinator to borrow their buzzer systems. You could mention that your practice tournament will help raise interest in the region as well as strengthen newer teams.

What does the Department of Energy need from us?

In addition to the coordinators (and each person with access to the early-released questions) signing non-disclosure agreements, we would appreciate knowing the number of teams and the number of unique schools that participated.  We may ask you for the actual school names if any teams are accused of inappropriate behavior.

How should the tournament be staffed?

Note that 5 officials per room aren’t required: many of the roles can be combined such as moderator/timekeeper/rules judge and scientific judge/scorekeeper. We recommend at least three judges, although two competent judges can run a room.

For inexperienced volunteers, NSB training videos ( are a great starting point. The invitational can also serve to train new volunteers for the regional tournaments in a relaxed environment relative to the regional and national competitions.

To ensure that the event serves as a training tool for all teams involved, please conduct your tournament in accordance with the Official National Science Bowl® rules (

To recruit volunteers, here are a few options for you to consider:

  1. Provide an incentive, such as a discounted entry fee, for schools to bring one volunteer staff member per team that they register.
  1. Prepare 3-5 bullets on your event and ask your regional coordinator to email the information, along with your contact information, to the volunteers that staff their event. (This is also how you can recruit teams to participate.)
  2. Reach out to Science Bowl alumni in your area; they’re often happy to help and to instill their excitement in future competitors. If you do not know or do not have direct contact with any, we can assist in connecting you with the alumni network. Please contact for assistance regarding this.
  1. Because you are presumably at a school with a team, consider the following approaches:
    1. Have the A team staff the competition, if the goal is to provide practice for other teams at your (or the host’s) school.
    2. If your school has interest in hosting invitational practice tournaments for both the middle and high school levels, consider volunteer reciprocity between them (i.e. HS for MS and MS for HS). Note that moderators and science judges for both should be upperclassmen HS students or teachers.
    3. Publicize the invitational with service-oriented organizations within your school. These include (but are not limited to) National Honor Society, Key Club, and Beta Club. A full-day competition should easily provide 8+ hours of community service.

How are schools/teams invited?

Start by gathering a list of schools from the local regional competitions. Please also invite new schools that have not previously fielded a Science Bowl team since the invitational provides a soft introduction to NSB. Google Forms should work well for organizing registration, similar, but much simpler, to the official registration platform. We suggest allowing schools to register as many teams as they can field to ensure that as many students as possible get an opportunity to play Science Bowl in a structured format. Please contact for assistance regarding this.

Some Logistical Considerations

If you’ve not run an event like this at your school before, you should consider reaching out to other academic clubs (quiz bowl, speech and debate, math / Mu Alpha Theta, Science Olympiad) that have hosted tournaments to request logistics guidance. They’ll likely have experience with things like securing a site and reserving rooms. They will also have lists of volunteers that could be helpful for your event.

Regarding food, you should provide meals to the volunteers since they are giving you their time. Pizza and soft drinks are probably the most cost-effective option, especially since you can get volume discounts. We recommend that you suggest teams bring their own lunch or you provide them with sufficient time in their schedule to buy lunch locally.

When deciding if, or how much to charge for registration fees, be sure to consider the costs of reserving all of the rooms that you need, the costs of any prizes you plan on offering the winners, costs of feeding the volunteers, and the amount of money per team you are trying to fundraise for your club.


Appendix A - Tournament Styles


How many teams are entered in this division?

What tournament format?

How many total rounds will you need?

16 or fewer

Round Robin with a single final match between the top two teams.
If you have 8 or fewer teams, do one RR pool, otherwise do two pools.



Split the teams into pods of 8 and play a Swiss tournament.
After three rounds, randomize the pods and play three more rounds.
The top 4 teams would then play two rounds of single-elimination.



Play a Swiss tournament for 6 rounds and have the top 8 teams play three rounds of single-elimination.



Calculate R where R = log(N)/log(2), where N is the number of teams you have entered in your tournament. Round R up to the nearest integer and run a Swiss tournament consisting of R rounds, then play a single elimination tournament consisting of all undefeated teams, all one-loss teams, and enough two-loss teams to construct a bracket.

For 128 teams or fewer, you will use 10 rounds

For 129-256 teams, you will use 12 rounds