The 6 Essential Rules of Trivia

One of the most common issues people run into when hosting a trivia night of their own, is not clearly defining the rules or forgetting essential components of the game. Clearly defined trivia rules are what drives the game forward, helps avoid any confusion in gameplay, and overall, makes the game run very smoothly, to be as fun as possible for all participants.

With such a vast amount of trivia games in existence, there are many different rules, so defining a definitive standard set to rely on can be a challenge.

With that said, I decided to do some research and layout what a definitive rule set for trivia should encompass. Feel free to use this article as a guide to helping you understand and use what I believe to be, the essential rules of trivia.

The Rules of Trivia

1. Defining the Rounds of the Game

Trivia night games are typically made up of a number of rounds. It is important to define the number of rounds and the types of rounds you will have during the game. This enables people to better understand where they are in terms of the gameplay, what the stakes are, and roughly, how long the game will last.

As an example, at the end of a lot of trivia games, there may be a bonus or lightning round, where the rules may change slightly, so being upfront will make the game more transparent and help your participants avoid any confusion about what is going on at different phases in the game.

2. Defining Scoring of the Trivia Game

Scoring is arguably the most important aspect of the game. One of the more common ways to define scoring is usually through a 1 point answer system. In other words, for every correct question to get, you are awarded one point to the team. This is the most simple way to play and the most straight forward. It is also the easiest to tally, keep track of scores, and the least likely to cause confusion about how participants are scoring.

Another somewhat common way to play (which I think is a much more fun way to play, based on people’s responses) is by increasing the difficulty per round and increasing the point value accordingly. I enjoy using this style of scoring system the most because it offers players that are falling behind an opportunity to catch up; it makes for a much more competitive and engaging game, for the entire duration of the game. Ensuring balance during gameplay is typically maintained using a clever scoring system, so have fun, make things interesting, and layout the rules clearly so everyone understands how they work.

3. Defining Time Limits per Question

Using a timer to limit the response time by question does a few important things; it maintains a rapid pace of play, makes the game more exciting, and reduces the possibility of cheating; the quicker participants have to answer, the less likely they will be to pull out their smartphone and start googling answers.

Timers can also be fun when they are visually present in the game to all participants. It really does enhance the element of excitement, seeing a timer tick down as you rack your brain to answer. Keeping a high pace of play will also ensure your players stay engaged, so, make sure to use a timer, not just to keep the fun factor up, but to avoid any funny business during the game.

4. Choosing the Score Keeper for the Game

This may seem like a moot point, but I’ve experienced a few game nights where people who have a stake in a specific participant winning, will finagle the scores to their preferred player’s advantage; this will absolutely ruin a trivia night.

Allocating an impartial scorekeeper (ideally the host) will help reduce cheating. Trivia nights are meant to be fun, but cheating can quickly turn the game sour, so it is best to keep the players and the scorekeeper as two separate entities to keep things honest.

5. Defining the Penalties

Finally, make sure you outline any penalties that would be incurred for violating the rules. As an example, some people will shout out answers. It is important that you clearly lay out what the penalty would be for doing so, to help reduce any issues coming up in the game.

Trivia games can get competitive very fast, so it is best to clearly define penalties for specific actions upfront and avoids any moments that can take the fun out of the game for everyone.

6. Defining a Winner in the Trivia Game

Defining the winner or the winning team of the game is a detail that I have seen overlooked as well, and it definitely causes confusion. It is best to be transparent with the scoring system, and how a winner is declared.

This may seem very obvious, but if you are using a scoring system with increasing difficulty and point values by round, it is important to lay out the parameters of scoring and how the winner is determined. This will save you some trouble at the end of the game, especially if you are awarding prizes.

Trivia Rules you Can Use for your Trivia Night

The parameters I have outlined above will help you create your rules for trivia. If you prefer, you can use the following as your own trivia rules, since they include what I believe to be, the definitive guidelines for creating trivia rules. Feel free to modify them for your own personal use.

Trivia Rules:

Welcome to trivia night. This is a trivia night where the questions will include a variety of topics.


This trivia night will have 10 rounds with 5 questions per round. The level of question difficulty will increase by each round.


The value of each round will correlate to the value of points awarded for each correct answer. In other words, for round 1, each correct answer is worth 1 point. For round 2, each correct answer is worth 2 points, and so on.


For each question, you will have 5 seconds to answer. Each question will be timed using the timer which will be tracked by our host. If you answer a question once the question timer has expired, the answer will NOT count, even if it is correct.

Score Keeper

The host will function as the scorekeeper. At the end of each round, the host will tally each team’s score and present it to the trivia participants.


Any form of cheating will NOT be tolerated. If you are caught cheating, you will be disqualified from the game and no longer be allowed to participate; do NOT use your phone to look up answers. Yelling out answers will also cause a penalty to your score. Every answer shouted out will reduce your score by 10 points.


In the event of a tie, there will be a bonus round. The tied teams will go head to head answering 5 extremely difficult questions. The team who gets the most right will be the winner and awarded the prize of the night.

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