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There are those who argue that a rules test is not the most reliable method of determining an official’s rules knowledge. How much stock you place in that idea is generally reflected in your scores. If you ace your tests, you probably think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Score poorly, and you are likely to take the position, “The questions were worded poorly. I’d get the rule right in a game.”

Here are some test-related tips that may not turn you into a quizmaster, but may make the process more bearable.

Study, study, study

Nothing like starting out with the obvious, right? But knowledge is power, and the better you know the material, the easier the questions will seem.

Back in high school or college, you may have had success cramming for your finals. But a rulebook is not like a textbook. The best way to learn the rulebook is in bits and pieces rather than one big chunk.

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Although every rule is in there for a reason, the sections relating to game equipment should demand less of your attention. Obsessing about the size of the ball at the expense of knowing the penalty for illegal touching of a forward pass won’t help you come test time.

Familiarity breeds success

If you’re lucky enough to have open-book testing, knowing how the book is laid out will help you go to the proper section quickly. For instance, in the high school baseball book, rule seven is all about batting and rule eight is dedicated to baserunning. So if a question about batting out of order pops up on the test, you know right where to go.

Take ’em at face value

Some of the questions will be tougher than others, regardless of how well you know the rules. You may be asked to unravel a situation that, if it actually occurred in a game, would set the sports world on its ear. That is the test writer’s attempt to see how well you can ascertain how different acts call for different interpretations of the rules.

Yet the vast majority of questions are designed to be straightforward and uncomplicated. Don’t make things harder for yourself by reading into the question.

For example, say a true/false softball quiz provided the statement, “A batted ball that settles on fair territory is a fair ball.” You quickly begin to fill in the “True” bubble on the answer sheet when you say to yourself, “But wait! What if it came to rest fair after a fielder touched it in foul territory? What if it hit the backstop first? What if? What if? What if?”

Congratulations! You have successfully wrapped yourself around the axle and you will waste the next five minutes “what if’n” yourself to a failing score.

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Unless it is obvious from the question or the entire test is driven to a particular aspect of the game, assume that every situation takes place under normal circumstances (e.g. regulation time, common as opposed to flagrant fouls, etc.) Don’t read anything into the questions. That adds an unnecessary degree of difficulty.

Beware the absolutes

 The words “always” and “never” are landmines. Tread lightly around them. There are a few situations in which those terms apply, but more in which they do not.

A good example is the softball question above. Throw the word “always” into the mix — A batted ball that settles on fair territory is always a fair ball — and it makes the question false due to the examples stated. Consider the statement, “A batted ball that settles on foul territory is never fair.” You umpires know that one isn’t true, either.

Conversely, you’d be unwise to argue with the statement, “You should never continue a game if lightning is visible.”

In sum, rarely say never or always and you’ll be in good shape.


We often think about taking tests. But what about administering them? Ever had to write a rules quiz? It ain’t as easy as it may appear. In your mind, you may know exactly what you are trying to convey. But it might not be all that clear to those on the other end.

Here are some tips for those of you who conjure up those killer quizzes.

Keep it simple

It’s fun (some would say sadistic) to devise plays with the most diabolical set of twists and turns imaginable. But that serves only to confuse, frustrate and anger the reader.

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Use plain, cliché-free English. If you resort to overly technical terms, generational references and slang, your audience may get lost.

Example: “After making a great play, A1 reacts by striking a Charles Atlas pose.” Those of a certain age group (OK, mine) know Charles Atlas was the bodybuilder whose ads used to appear in the back of comic books. Better that the situation state that A1 is drawing attention to himself. It can be argued that football officials should know what is meant by DPI, PSK and RTP. But not everyone does. Spell out those initialisms to ensure comprehension.

Give ’em some gimmes

Not every question has to be ultra challenging. Build their confidence by tossing in a no-brainer now and then. The ratio is up to you. Remember that easy ones help you too, because they’re easier to write.

Back it up

Your goal in administering a test is not only to gauge your peers’ knowledge of the rules, but encourage them to use the rulebook. At some point, give them the rule reference. If they missed the question, they can look up the rule to find out why it was wrong. If they got it right, they know they have a grasp of that rule and can concentrate on other parts of the book they don’t understand as well.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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