The show was a standard Q&A with a school theme. Each game was split into 12 "grades," one question per grade, with material appropriate to each. First through fourth were basic buzz-ins, while fifth gave every player a chance to score. Sixth through eighth grades were questions with multiple answers, and the lowest scorer was "expelled" at the end of this phase of the game. The two remaining contestants played the "High School" round for 9th through 12th grades, followed by the Senior Year Showdown to decide the game. The high scorer moved on to the "$50,000 Final Exam" bonus round, sitting at the "Desk of Destiny" and answering questions for a chance to win $50,000.
This show provides examples of:
- April Fools' Day: As part of the network's April Fool's Day switcheroo, Kennedy of Friend or Foe hosted what ended up being the last original episode of the series. In addition, GSN senior vice president of programming and game show fan Bob Boden played the "Answer Kid".
- Bonus Round: Answer 10 questions in 60 seconds. Get all of them right and you win $50,000. Lose and you get $250 per right answer.
- Bonus Space: A variant. The first player to buzz-in on the Middle School round won a $200 bonus, either in quarters (for washing machines) or as a Domino's gift certificate.
- Confetti Drop: When a player answers all 10 questions correctly in the final round and won $50,000.
- Consolation Prize: The "expelled" players received World Book Encyclopedias.
- Lifelines: In the High School round, each player had one "Cut Class" card, which they could use to force the opponent to answer.
- Lovely Assistant: Subverted with "Gorgeous George" Davidson, a short, bald male model who brought out props related to the questions. He often acted as if he would rather be anywhere else.
- Moon Logic Puzzle: Some of the material was a bit esoteric, such as asking for the fate of Henry VIII's wives at the fifth-grade level.
- Negated Moment of Awesome: The first $50,000 win happened on the first episode, but the contestant never got his money because it was later discovered that he had been on Russian Roulette earlier that year. (Under American game show rules, contestants who have been on any game show must wait a full year before being on another.)
- One-Book Author: "Gorgeous George" Davidson never did anything else.
- Product Placement: Whenever the Domino's prize was announced, Gorgeous George would come out eating a Domino's pizza straight out of the box.
- Punny Name: The contestants are winning money ostensibly toward a college tuition. Also a pun on the word "intuition", a desirable quality in a game show contestant.
- Schmuck Bait: One question asked the contestants for the proper meaning of the phrase "I feel badly". One contestant went for the obvious wrong guess of saying that it means "I feel the opposite of good", when anyone who's up on his or her grammar would know that "feel badly" would literally mean that your sense of touch is affected; "I feel bad" would be used to indicate "I feel the opposite of good".
- Sound-Effect Bleep: On the first episode, the Bonus Round winner said something that had to be censored by a cat's screech.
- Spiritual Predecessor: The title of the show makes it sound like it's paying off college tuition similar to Debt...which back then, it might have been, but in 2018 the truTV game show Paid Off became exactly that.
- Tuckerization: The sign above the door where the host entered indicated the "classroom" was situated in "Cronin Hall". Rich Cronin was president of GSN at the time.