Tips and Resources

Tips and Resources

Thank you for your interest in coaching a team for the National Science Bowl® (NSB)! The NSB, just like the other academic competitions your students compete in, is most rewarding for the students when they spend some time preparing for the competition and the NSB demands a lot of focus to compete at the highest level. The strongest schools typically begin their yearly practice sessions in the Fall and have demonstrated that thoughtful preparation is key to achieving excellence at the National Science Bowl®. This webpage provides some guidelines that will assist you in putting together and preparing a team for the competition.

I. Forming a Science Bowl Team

II. Preparing for Science Bowl

III. Study Materials and Resources

IV. Invitational Practice Tournament

I. Forming a National Science Bowl® (NSB) Team

The most successful teams at National Science Bowl events (and academic competitions in general) typically have an after-school club dedicated to the activity. While some schools have in excess of 50 students trying-out for their schools’ NSB teams, any school can have a successful team as long as they can find four students who are enthusiastic about science and, importantly, Science Bowl. Schools use a variety of strategies to get students excited about NSB – we have heard from many NSB alumni that what initially got them excited about joining their school’s Science Bowl team was dropping in on a practice session and getting a chance to answer some questions.

Hold weekly practice sessions to attract enthusiastic students

Many of the most successful schools hold weekly open practice sessions in the Fall to give anyone who is interested a chance to play – while many 9th and 10th grade (6th grade for middle school NSB) students may not yet be well-equipped to be on a competing team, engendering a passion for NSB early on ensures that your Science Bowl team will have talented players for years to come. A good strategy for open practice sessions may be to only read questions from the first eight rounds of the practice sets posted on the Official National Science Bowl® website – these questions come from the early rounds at Regional competitions and are typically less difficult than the questions in later rounds. This may be a good way to get students interested in coming back to practice week after week, after which they can start practicing on more difficult questions.

For these open practices early on, it is fine to alter the competition format to maximize the amount of practice that the students receive*. For instance, if the buzzer system you are using supports more than 8 players, it is better to allow more students to participate. All players should be encouraged to solve bonus questions, and an alternative way to practice before teams are picked is to simply treat bonus questions as 20-second toss-ups open to everyone. This way, every bonus question gets read, regardless of if the toss-up was answered correctly. If there are more students interested than available buzzers, make sure to rotate frequently so everyone has an opportunity to play.

*One important exception: make sure to enforce the blurt rule. Students should be well-trained to not blurt before they compete.

Pick competing team(s) early to afford time for focused practice and specialization

It is important to start organizing the team(s) as early as possible – the start of the school year typically precedes the regional NSB competitions by only four to seven months. This may seem like a lot of time, but it can quickly disappear due to other student obligations. We suggest that coaches narrow down their competing team(s) by Thanksgiving break so that the students have ample time to focus on practicing and studying in preparation for the regional competition. Ask your regional coordinator about the number of teams that they will allow you to register: some regionals allow 3 teams from the same school! This is an excellent way to have more students gain experience for future years, even if they are not on the “A Team”.

Once teams are picked, students should be encouraged to divide up the disciplines of science and specialize. While it is ideal for each student to know the basics of every field, it is more realistic and less overwhelming to have each person to obtain a deep understanding of just one or two fields. A sample specialization for a team of 4 may look like this:

  • Person 1: Biology
  • Captain: Math and Physics
  • Person 2: Chemistry
  • Person 3: Earth and Space Science

It can often be convenient for the team captain to be the mathematician, as many bonus questions involve long computations that cannot afford the time for passing the answer down the line.

Choose motivated students who have an intrinsic desire to compete in Science Bowl

In terms of team selection, students often demonstrate variance in both interest in Science Bowl and prior preparation, so it’s important to select a team that not only has good a priori science knowledge but is also composed of students that are passionate about Science Bowl and will be able keep each other motivated through practice matches and study sessions. National Science Bowl, much like the other academic competitions your students compete in, requires time and effort to excel at and it is difficult to achieve excellence if your students have their attention split between too many activities. Moreover, the actual day of the competition should be thought of as the culmination of a team’s preparation and practice rather than the focal point of the Science Bowl experience. It is, therefore, a priority to pick students who have the interest and time to prepare effectively for the competition, so that the effort they put forth will grow their knowledge and ability far beyond any initial differences between students. We also find that exposure to the competition is one of the best indicators for future NSB success, so building teams with highly-prepared older students and promising younger students ensures that your team will have a good team not only this year, but also in future years. Remember that every team must have either four or five competitors and that teams may not be shuffled around between the Regional and National competition should your team qualify. Also, it is recommended that coaches place 5 students on each team: if one student cannot attend the National Finals, the other four students will still be eligible to attend. Teams of three students are NOT eligible to attend the National Finals. 

While team selection is ultimately up to the coach’s discretion, it can be more meritocratic to hold “tryouts” where individuals’ contributions are recorded. Remember that toss-up performance should not be the only deciding factor, as answering bonus questions correctly is often more important for attaining high scores. While many schools use seniority as a factor for deciding who should make the “A Team”, this can be detrimental to the success of the team. In fact, with all else being equal, younger students can be more valuable additions to a competing team, as they have the potential to grow even stronger in future years.

II. Preparing for the National Science Bowl®

There are several vectors along which you can focus your efforts toward improving your Science Bowl team, each of which is important. Broadly speaking, we recommend spending in-person sessions running practice competitions and allowing the students to study on their own time.

In-person meetings should be practice sessions with official sample questions

It is of utmost importance to get your teams familiar with the rules and flow of the competition in advance of the regional Science Bowl. We recommend that the vast majority of in-person team meetings be spent on practice games with either a coach or one of the students acting as the moderator. This isn’t just good preparation for the competition, it’s the most fun part of preparing for Science Bowl! Through the NSB website, we have provided over 14,000 questions from previous competitions that your team can use to practice and prepare for the regional Science Bowl competition (Links for HS, MS). For reference, that is enough rounds that you could read three rounds (approximately an hour-long practice) at each weekly session for 14 weeks a year and have enough questions for eight years of teams!

Another key aspect of holding realistic practice sessions is procuring a lock-out buzzer system. The National Finals use the “Traditional Buzzer System for 8 Players” produced by Novel Electronics (, but there are several other manufacturers that produce lock-out buzzer systems (Quiz Systems, Zee Craft, QuickPro Systems, Quizco). We highly recommend practicing with a buzzer system to familiarize your students with the flow of the competition. If cost is prohibitive, we still recommend regular practices, but acquiring a buzzer system is one of the best investments if you plan on fielding Science Bowl teams for years to come. If your students can use laptops or smartphones, there are several quiz show-style apps, such as and Trivia Bowl Live, that can be used to simulate a buzzer system. Again, we suggest reading at least two to three rounds of official practice questions each practice so that students get familiar with the flow of competition and the content of the questions so that they develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses to guide their studying. 

Students should take note of questions they missed so they can research those topics

During practice sessions, it is likely that your students will hear several questions that they do not know the answer to. Because Science Bowl questions tend to revisit the same major topics year after year, it is a good practice for your students to make note of the questions that they missed so that they can look up those topics in their textbooks on their own time. It is no coincidence that the strongest NSB teams have read thousands of practice questions during their practices – this serves to familiarize the students with both the nature of the competition and the spread of topics that we feature in our questions. A good practice is for students to write their own practice questions about topics they are researching to help crystallize the knowledge – as we will discuss below.

Students should study from their science textbooks

National Science Bowl questions are by and large sourced from science textbooks commonly used at the middle school through undergraduate levels. As a result, dedicated students can achieve a high degree of success in the competition via thoughtful reading of the textbooks provided by their sciences classes. As a rule of thumb, the content difficulty at each level of competition is predominantly as follows:

  • Middle School Regional Science Bowl – 6th through 8th grade science and Algebra II textbooks
  • Middle School National Science Bowl – Honors-level high school science and Algebra II textbooks
  • High School Regional Science Bowl – AP-level high school science textbooks
  • High School National Science Bowl – Introductory college-level science textbooks

In order to better guide your studying, we have included a list of sample textbooks at the end of this document.

Students should write questions using their study materials

One of the main study strategies that perennial Science Bowl powerhouses use is to write Science Bowl questions from their study materials. Just as teaching some material is one of the best ways to crystallize knowledge of that material, writing practice questions as you study is one of the best ways to think about what types of questions could be asked about the material you have just learned. Not only is this a good technique for studying, but it also ensures that the Science Bowl club will have a backlog of additional practice questions for years to come. Furthermore, students should try to “get in the heads” of the question writers by mimicking the style and construction of Official National Science Bowl® questions in order to ensure that their questions are both useful for their own learning and as practice tools for their teammates. As your students practice with official sample questions, they will rapidly become familiar with the style of our questions, but here are a few rules of thumb that our writers follow:

  • Short Answer questions should always have one- or two-word answers with minimal room for interpretation.
  • Questions should minimize excessive verbiage in order avoid confusing fluff.
  • Follow the conventions as listed in the Appendix of the rules.
  • The best questions not only require recall of knowledge, but also involve application of that knowledge to arrive at the correct answer.
  • The goal of writing questions is not to stump students with esoteric facts, but to challenge them to study more, and to familiarize oneself with the style of the competition.

Remember that Science Bowl is a journey, not just a destination

We believe that academic competitions and Science Bowl, especially, are best thought of as a journey. Every after-school meeting, practice round, and study session is an important part of what makes Science Bowl a valuable experience and regardless of whether your team wins or loses, your students will have learned a lot about science, discipline, and the benefits of deliberate practice. As such, it is important to set realistic goals about how much time you and your team can devote to Science Bowl and what results can be achieved given that much practice and study. While we have had instances of newly-formed Science Bowl teams winning their regional competition and, in one case, placing in the top three at the National Science Bowl, in most instances newly-formed teams find that Science Bowl is a difficult but rewarding activity that requires deliberate preparation. By setting challenging goals that will push your students and celebrating when they succeed, we believe that the National Science Bowl® will be a deeply valuable experience for you and your students!


III. Study Materials and Resources

This is a set of sample books that is not binding but serves as a good place to start studying for the National Science Bowl®.

Middle School:

Subject Introductory Advanced

Life Science

-Focus on Life Science, Prentice Hall

-Sadava, Life

-Glencoe Biology, McGraw-Hill

-Campbell, Biology

-Raven, Biology

Physical Science

-Physical Science, McGraw-Hill

-Hewitt, Conceptual Physical Science

-Giancoli, Physics

-Zumdahl, Chemistry


-Algebra 1


-Algebra 2


Earth and Space Science

-Heath Earth Science

-Glencoe Earth Science

-Seeds, Foundations of Astronomy

-Tarbuck and Lutgens, Foundations of Earth Science


-US Department of Energy National Laboratory Websites

High School:

Subject Introductory Advanced


-Glencoe Biology, McGraw-Hill

-Campbell, Biology

-Raven, Biology

-Alberts, Molecular Biology of the Cell

-Costanzo, Physiology

-Raven, Biology of Plants


-Zumdahl, Chemistry

-Klein, Organic Chemistry as a Second Language


-Giancoli, Physics

-Serway, College Physics

-Young, University Physics

-MIT OpenCourseWare



-Calculus of a Single Variable

-Probability and Statistics

-Multivariable Calculus

-Linear Algebra

-Differential Equations

Earth and Space Science

-Seeds, Foundations of Astronomy

-Tarbuck and Lutgens, Foundations of Earth Science

-Garrison, Oceanography

-Grotzinger, Understanding Earth

-Tarbuck and Lutgens, Earth

-Zeilick, Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics


-US Department of Energy National Laboratory Websites