News & Politics

A “Jeopardy!” Winner’s Trivia Tips

Want to try out? Get better at trivia night? Read on.

Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings with the author. Photograph of Curran by Jeopardy Productions.

So, you want to be a Jeopardy! contestant. The bad news first: Tens of thousands of people try out annually, and only a few hundred make the show. You need luck, and I can’t help you hack the selection process. The good news: I can help you prepare for the test. Why listen to me? I was a two-day champion in January, so I have some recent experience. But more important, I’m just a regular guy with a full-time job and a social life. I love learning, but I’m not spending my days poring over reference books and memorizing dates. Here’s how I got (reasonably) good at trivia without making it my job.

Go Beyond Your Interests

I’m a public-policy consultant and sports fan, but when I’m out for a walk, I never listen to politics or sports podcasts—I check out, say, 99% Invisible, a podcast about design that covers a huge range of topics. My first Jeopardy! game, I knew the Final Jeopardy answer immediately because I’d heard about the 50th anniversary of The Godfather in an episode.

Do the Crossword and Play Trivia Games

Crossword puzzles require spelling and wordplay, but they’re also mini trivia drills. Get in the habit of solving them every day and you’ll learn things you never knew you’d need to know. and board games like Trivial Pursuit and Wit’s End also mix fun competition with trivia learning.

Take Advantage of DC

The city is packed with free or cheap museums—plus universities, think tanks, and bookstores. Would you rather memorize Wikipedia entries on Chinese dynasties and 17th-­century painters or learn about them by exploring the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art and the National Gallery? I know my answer.

Go to Pub Trivia

Local trivia hosts write tough questions to keep up with the nerdy crowd, so it’s a great learning tool. Also, the Jeopardy! writers love asking about “potent potables,” so hanging out in bars helps round out your knowledge base—as long as you remember what you learned.

Read Children’s History and Reference Books

Should you get tapped to appear on the show, bolster your knowledge with children’s books, a practice that Jeopardy! legend James Holzhauer swears by. You don’t need to study the political and economic trends that led to World War I—you just need to remember who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Kids’ books stick to the basics.

Watch Jeopardy!

My longtime habit of viewing the show was the main reason I felt calm when I actually found myself on the stage. You’ll adapt to the rhythms of the game and get a feel for the famously tricky buzzer timing—both as essential as any bit of trivia.

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Washingtonian.