The word quiz was invented to win a bet. In 1791, a Dublin theater owner named James Daly claimed that he could invent a word in 24-hours, and the word was quiz. He told his crew to scrawl the word on walls and public displays all over the city, and sure enough, he won the bet. You could say this was one of the earliest examples of something going “viral” which is fitting for quizzes.

No one really knew what to do with the word until Cosmopolitan began running personality quizzes in their newspaper in the 1800’s. It was at this point that our modern interpretation of the quiz took hold, and a new era of content marketing was born. However, the interest in quizzes flat lined for hundreds of years. Newspapers and magazines ran quizzes as a normal part of operations, but they never took off.

Just six months ago, Buzzfeed finally cracked the code to making the perfect quiz. After decades of lethargy, the quiz finally had new life blood and took off like a rocket into outer space. So what was it that caused this change, what elements of Buzzfeed quizzes do we find irresistible?

1. Who am I? This question, more than anything else has defined world history in a way that can’t be denied. From religion to world conquest, every human action can be traced back to finding out who we really are inside.


Quizzes, while fun and frivolous, give us just a little bit of insight into who we really are. Whether we are discovering which city we should live in or what kind of cookie we are, every quiz gives just a little bit more meaning to our existence.

2. Some meaning. Quizzes may be dumb, but they are always grounded in something real. Even the ridiculous quizzes like “Which Kind of Dog are you?” begin their lives as actual psychological assessments that are modified to fit into our modern culture.

3. Horoscopes. Quiz writers are very similar to horoscope writers. That’s because a typical quiz result uses the same tactics as a horoscope to be believable, no matter who you are. Here’s how they do it:

  • The opposite effect: You sometimes like to go out and party, but other times you like to stay at home and relax
  • The good person effect: You care deeply for humanity and want the world to be a better place
  •  The upbeat effect: Fun people are contagious with their positive vibes.

4.Totem poles. Quizzes either marginalize us or categorize us in a positive way. What that means is quizzes put us into a category based on which result we get. When I take a car quiz and find out I’m a Chevy truck – that places me in the chevy truck category.


Everyone else who gets that result is in a category with me, we are in the same place on the totem pole. While this could be interpreted as marginalization because we are placed into a bin with a bunch of other people, it can also be viewed in a positive light since we get to feel “at home” in the same category as our friends.

Additionally, a lot of quizzes tend to be based around celebrities, so I can get Mark Wahlberg as my result and feel like an action hero.

5. Instant Gratification. If you text message  friend and they don’t respond within five minutes, you get a little mad. Technology has morphed us into people who can’t wait for anything, and we demand results.

The average Buzzfeed quiz is ten questions, taking about 45 seconds to complete. That means that your result is less than a minute away. There’s no waiting around to see what kind of car you should buy or which board game matches your personality, you get your result, and you get it now.

It’s appropriate that the word quiz was invented due to a viral campaign, because the Buzzfeed quiz pretty much exemplifies viral. Now that you know the secrets of Buzzfeed, it’s time to get involved with a quiz of your own and use the techniques perfected over the last three hundred years to drive loads of traffic to your site.

Read more: