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What makes a great question?

Features | October 2017


The British love a good quiz but, without certain ingredients, the magic won’t happen, says Mark Mason, the man with all the answers

If pub quizzing were an Olympic sport, Britain would be a shoo-in for the gold.  There’s nothing we like more than a few pints, a piece of paper and a pencil, and someone asking us for the name of Henry VIII’s third wife* (see below for answers). I’ve been studying the craft of the question writer as I travelled the country for a book about quizzes. Not just in pubs – I attended charity quizzes, Radio 4 quizzes, even the House of Commons press gallery quiz (you do not know the meaning of the word ‘competitive’ until you have seen a bunch of political journalists trying to beat each other). What did I learn about devising the perfect question? There are many different approaches, but a crucial first step is to avoid dull questions that are simply a test of knowledge and nothing else. Ones like: ‘What’s the capital of...

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