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English Language Institute

March Madness: What You Need to Know

As February comes to a close and March nears, you will start to hear a lot about March Madness. If you study English with the ELI here in New York City, live elsewhere in the United States, or just pay a lot of attention to American media, you might wonder what we’re talking about.   Read on to learn about March Madness and how to talk about it with Americans and other English Speakers.

college basketball game at night as part of march madnessMarch Madness is the name of a tournament for college basketball in the United States. The best teams compete to win the tournament, and many Americans make their own brackets to see if they can predict the winner of each match along the way. With 63 different games, it’s nearly impossible to guess everything correctly. As of 2020, no person has ever successfully chosen a completely correct bracket.

Sometimes in offices, classrooms, and among friends, we have pools to see who can guess the most correct bracket. This isn’t a pool like where you go swimming. In this pool, everyone must complete their bracket before the tournament begins. Each person usually puts in a certain amount of money or some other item, and whoever has the most correct will get everything in the pool (usually the money).

College basketball championship chartWhile you might know professional basketball and the NBA, March Madness is only for college basketball. Colleges and universities compete against each other to reach each tier of the tournament. We have specific names for these tiers, including Sweet Sixteen for the top 16 teams, Elite Eight for the winners of the Sweet Sixteen, and then the Final Four to determine which teams will compete in the championship match.


Pace University is in a different division than the March Madness teams, but you can be sure a lot of students will be talking about it on campus.

Do you want to come to New York to study English and experience March Madness?  You can visit the ELI websitecontact the ELI  or apply here.


Word List:

  • March Madness (n.) -  the time of the yearly college basketball tournament for the National College Athletic Association
  • Tournament (n.) - A series of games and matches between teams to eventually determine the champion
  • Bracket (n.) - Your guesses of the winners of each game leading to the championship. For March Madness, you can’t change your bracket after the first game is completed!
  • Pool (n.) - When people or offices have a contest (sometimes with prizes) to get the most accurate bracket for the tournament.
  • NBA (n.) - National Basketball Association.  A professional basketball league. March Madness is only for college teams.

WRITTEN BY JEFF MCILVENNA