This morning, I managed to trip over a flip-flop on the way to putting a coco pop in the bin. I’m really not sure that I am smarter than a 5th Grader (or a Year 6 in UK terms). Lockdown has only made me dumber. It makes Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? sound like a threat, rather than a question.
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Is already an odd proposition on these shores. The format never really made it over to the UK, where we’re writing from. We have hazy memories of one series that tried but failed. But the premise is simple: it’s like Eggheads, but the Eggheads are replaced with bratty, precocious kids, right? Eh, not quite.
The first questions you have to answer are on accessibility (extra marks to HandyGames for allowing players to change so much), where one question stood out: do you want to de-Americanify the game? As in, remove the questions that make the game US-focused? We couldn’t select ‘Yes’ quick enough.
Then you’re presented with two game modes – Exam and Study – and the ability to change the cosmetic look of your desk (eh?) and your kids (whaaaat?). We’ll get to those last two in a minute. Exam and Study may look like different game modes, but they really aren’t. Exam is the ability to play the show single player, without your partner heckling you over a stupidly wrong and embarrassing answer. Study is multiplayer, but also with the ability to play solo. Which, by our measure, is the same game mode twice.
The format of a game of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is basically Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, but with a small child watching you. It’s kind of unsettling. You climb up a ladder of increasingly difficult questions, but instead of unlocking increasing amounts of cash, you are working through the various grades of a school-going child. You move from First to Fifth Grade, with two questions for each Grade, culminating in the showstopper: a Sixth Grade question. Supposedly, and it very much is supposedly, each question is from the syllabus of the given Grade.
Doubling down on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? comparison is the child we mentioned. You have a number of ‘cheats’ (the equivalent of WWTBAM’s phone-a-friend, ask-the-audience, etc). You can use these cheats to swap notes with the bug-eyed child, or you can ask the class, or merely swap the question for another. You get one of these each, so use them sparingly.
That really is it. Since we’re leaning on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, it’s very much in the ‘don’t make a mistake or you’re finished’ mold, so be prepared for some short matches if you don’t pay attention.
Having played dozens of matches, we have questions.
Why is it that Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? needs two presenters? It’s very proud of the fact, proclaiming that it’s a ‘two-host show!’ with the enthusiasm of a six-year old. Is this a thing? Does it make game shows better? In our experience of, well, this game, it manages to slow everything down to a limp, as the presenters keep presenting to each other, introducing the other like we haven’t met them before. It’s an odd dance, and a confoundingly boring one.
Why, if we removed American questions, does it all feel resoundingly American? That will be a positive for readers over the pond, but it’s a confusing twist. We were asked the following Spelling question: how many ‘e’s are there in the word spicy? Now, autocorrect has already told me that there are no e’s in spicy. But no. There’s one, apparently. Because American.
The same goes for questions on metric systems, dollar values of things, americanised names for vegetables and generally a US-centric viewpoint. We had to re-activate the option to find out what changes when you select it: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? removes US categories when you toggle the option, but individual questions remain the same. Bah.
Next question. What is wrong with the US Grade Syllabus? We’re not convinced that 2nd Graders know what the second most spoken language is, and where the country of its origin is on a map. Nor do 4th Graders know where the world’s oldest university is located and – yep – again put a pin on the map (Spain and Iceland, if you’re interested). This is a wild ride of difficulty, and we’re going to take some convincing that it marries up with the knowledge of a junior schooler.
Those two questions are good examples of how finicky and oddly precise you have to be, too. You’re often given a world map and a pin, with every single country shown on it in detail. There are no labels or countries to help you. Know where Cuba is? Know the precise location of Cairo within Egypt? Here’s a pin. Go at it! By the way, the game is over if you fail.
And is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? always this torturous? By heavens, this is just an eleven-question game show. But every question is laboured over like it’s life-or-death. Presenters are introduced, children are introduced, children are asked for a fact (in a double-take moment, a pre-teen starts talking about the symptoms of HIV), categories are picked from, questions flash up, options flash up, timers begin. Then there’s a drumroll to see if you got it right. Chris Tarrant would have got to £1m before we reached 2nd Grade here. It’s so slooooow.
Finally, did anyone think that unlocking costumes for the children was going to incentivise us? After every round, you get a kind of XP which unlocks new question categories (good, and really should be there from the start), new children (who have little to no bearing on the games), desk bobbleheads (for some reason, answers appear on a desk with lots of toys and scribbles on), and the costumes. So, if you’d like, you can dress Eli as a mad scientist, or Ava as the Statue of Liberty. You go girl: enjoy dressing up. But we couldn’t care less.
We have so many more questions. Why does everything have a Five Nights at Freddy’s creepy sheen, like the presenters and children are going to meet our eyes and suddenly leap at us? Why are some questions – particularly the 6th Grade ones – ridiculously easy (can you spell QUEUE, people?)? There are more, but at some point we have to make judgments, rather than continue to unleash our bemusement at Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.
The best part of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is the ability to construct your own character name and force the presenter to say it back to you (“Free-range Clown, how are you doing?”). When that’s the best part, you know that you’re not in the presence of a world-beater. This is an intolerably slow quiz game with a single game mode, wild difficulty spikes and a format that doesn’t lend itself to video games. It doesn’t work well in multiplayer, and getting booted from the game after a single wrong question can’t help but deflate. For £24.99, that’s not going to get us opening our wallets.
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is the wrong question. Are You As Patient as a 5th Grader? is the more appropriate. You will need patience of steel to last eleven rounds with this slimline quizzer.
You can buy Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? from the Xbox Store
- 6800 questions is a big old library
- Some fun questions that tinker with the format
- Presented slickly, if a little robotically
- Absolutely glacial in its pace
- Format is rubbish and doesn’t suit video games
- Americanised questions can lead to odd mistakes
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - HandyGames
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 23 August 2022
- Launch price from - £14.99