Preparing for Jeopardy!

Years ago, I considered trying out for Jeopardy! Today, I'm sharing some thoughts about that experience.

A fairly common misconception about contestants on Jeopardy! is that they don’t study before competing on the show.  Surely that’s true for a small number of them, but most players prep for months or even years.  Some of the most successful champions have talked about their process, and their various strategies have all followed a very similar blueprint:

  1. Study the obvious categories that are always tested.

  2. Make a list of other common categories, then study the things you don’t know.

  3. Learn the strategies specific to the game.

The following will cover only step one: the three categories that every Jeopardy! contestant must know.

1. Geography

This is by far the largest of the three topics.  First, learn all the U.S. states and their capitals.  Then learn the major cities (sort by population).

Next, go from continent to continent, and learn the names and rough geography of all their countries.

After learning the countries, learn major geographical features.  These include rivers, mountains, mountain ranges, seas, lakes, gulfs, peninsulas, etc.  Sort by size.

Next, learn cities.  Sort by population and read their summaries on Wikipedia.  This will give you a lot of insight on these cities, including their histories, demographics, and what languages the people speak.

Finally, learn capital cities, flags, and currencies.  Prioritize these based on proximity to the U.S., as Jeopardy! is an American show.  You will probably not need to know what the currency is in Swaziland, but you will want to be familiar with the flag of Canada.

2. U.S. History

Know the major topics, starting with the presidents.  Know all of them in order, but particularly focus on the major ones, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and JFK.

Know which ones are on currency, which ones have been assassinated, and which ones have been impeached.  Not counting the major presidents, focus on the recent ones more than the older ones.

Next, learn America’s history of conflicts, and know the dates they started and ended.

3. Shakespeare

Jeopardy! loves Shakespeare.  Know the names of all 38 of his plays, at the very least.  Break them down by category: tragedies, comedies, and histories.

Tragedies are the most important.  Know the big ones inside and out: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Othello.  After that, you should also be quite familiar with Julius Caesar and King Lear.

The important comedies are Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.  Know the settings, and know the names of the main characters, at the very least.  Secondary comedies are the Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew.  Read the Wikipedia summaries.  For the rest of the comedies, just being familiar with the names is sufficient.

There are 4 major histories.  They make up one continuing story, split up into 4 parts: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V Part 1, and Henry V Part 2.  Their Wikipedia pages should be sufficient.

Bonus Tip: It helps to know the weird side characters that Jeopardy! loves, primarily Puck, Falstaff, and Shylock.

Regardless of whether you care about the game show, much can be learned about study habits (and their rewards) from its very smart contestants.

-John P