How to Study For Jeopardy - The Ultimate Guide for Contestant Hopefuls
Last Updated: Aug 23, 2023
So, you’ve decided you want to take the leap and try out for Jeopardy!. Where do you begin your Jeopardy study preparation?
For you skimmers and TL;DR folks here's the short and skinny outline to the age old question:
How can I get better at Jeopardy?
- Watch the show as much as possible.
- Study top subjects cold. (resources on this below)
- Acquire the right study materials.
- Take practice tests.
- Practice with a purpose by making it harder
- Learn memorization techniques such as "Pavlovs".
- Get better at the buzzer.
- Start to write your own clues to understand how the writers think.
- Keep your mind sharp with daily trivia, crosswords, and more.
Studying for Jeopardy! can seem like a daunting task. With over 400,000 clues and questions over the years, it makes it seem like there are so many places to start.
Don’t fret because we’ve done the hard work for you by combing through hundreds of episodes, contestant articles, interviews, and books on the subject.
Here’s the essential break down of the process to get on Jeopardy:
- Study the right way (this guide will give you the 80/20 approach).
- Sign up for the Online Practice Tests at the main site.
- Get at least 35 / 50 questions correct (based on anecdotal evidence, this is the minimum threshold).
- Once you’ve passed, you’re in the general candidate pool. This is the only point in the process to which you have absolute, full control. To get the next step, you’ll have to be lucky. You will likely repeat steps 1-4 several times before you’re ever called to compete.
- Be lucky and get drawn for a fake regional game or Zoom interview with the producers. (Jeopardy confirmed in 2020 that they’re now doing Zoom calls. Thanks, COVID-19!)
- Crush the practice game and interviews. Try to stand out and have a good story in hand.
- Impress the producers, and you make the final contestant pool.
- Get drawn to be on a taping week.
- Go to taping week. Get drawn randomly to a game.
- Know your stuff and play your best.
As you can see above, there are a lot of steps to make it on Jeopardy, and most of them, past level 4, require a lot of luck with some preparation.
This article will help you get crush step number three (pass the online test) and will serve as a useful practice guide should you get any further.
The first thing that every contestant, Jeopardy! Champion and show-runners will tell you is to watch the show religiously. That is table stakes if you want to get good. We have a bunch of resources below to let you know where you can catch reruns too.
It’s not enough to just know trivia, you must know the general cadence of how questions (or answers rather) are worded to give you more data about the correct response. Often there are two to three clues packed in each answer to help you arrive at the right question.
Watching Jeopardy will also get you accustomed to categories that are idiosyncratic to the game. For example,
Potent Potables - category about drinks and cocktails
Before and After - the answers are phrase mashups with a shared word (ex. Donald Trump Card, Micky Mouse Trap, Good Morning America The Beautiful)
Categories with “ “ - this usually mean that the correct response will begin with the characters in quotes.
Watching the show will also help you if you actually get on the pre-games or actual show since you’ll sync with the rhythm and timing in which the hosts asks the questions. We won’t get into buzzer training (it’s crucial to win the show) or the advanced stuff here but can recommend some resources if you’re ready for that stage.
What are the best places to watch Jeopardy!?
As of this writing, there are several places you can catch Jeopardy!. One of course would be in daily syndication in your area. The regular programming typically runs five days a week and hosts several tournaments each year (College, Teen, Tournament of Champions, and Teachers).
Here are a few other places to catch your favorite show:
With Netflix no longer syndicating Jeopardy, Hulu is your main choice for catching reruns of every iteration of the show. They have "Celebrity Jeopardy", "Jeopardy Masters" and the regular show. If you have Hulu Live, you can record and watch new episodes of Jeopardy from national syndication.
One cool thing about owning a Sony Smart TV is that you can download the SonyPlay app from your TV and the accompanying smartphone app to play along with popular episodes. Check out this video to see it in action.
How do you study for Jeopardy!?
Well, we’re a little biased, but we believe J!StudyGuide is a great place to get started on learning the basics you should know to have a well-rounded knowledge base and a good shot at passing the test. If you take a look at the Jeopardy Masters, you can bet that, on average, about one out of four Champions has used J!Study to help them in their journey to get on the Master's stage.
We also recommend learning to practice effectively by practicing with purpose. Check out this video from TED to learn some effective techniques.
J!StudyGuide.com - Sells a 400+ page guide full of core topics to get better at Jeopardy!.
J-6 on Alexa - If you have an Alexa (Echo), you absolutely must enable the Jeopardy! Skill. You’ll get twelve new clues every single day and see how you rank with players worldwide. This is a great way to practice performing under pressure (since there’s a time element) and train at yelling out the answers in the form of a question. Editors Note: We miss the old voice with Alex!
Jeopardy! Test Prep Center - We recommend visiting the official Jeopardy Center and playing through all of the practice tests multiple times. Since the practice tests don’t change much, we suggest waiting a few weeks to re-take the tests.
J! Archive - This is the defacto database for past Jeopardy! episodes. They also go in-depth on game strategy, betting strategy, and more if you want to polish that part of your skillset.
Protobowl - Trivia website, which allows you to compete with other players answering old Jeopardy! questions. This is a great place to work on your speed once you have a good foundation of knowledge. It will also allow you to get a ton of reps on the most popular categories.
Sporcle - Billed as the world’s largest trivia website, we love to use their custom quizzes around Presidents, Geography, Capitals, and a host of other categories. Sporcle is a fantastic rote-learning based resource to keep your memory fresh.
JBoard.TV - This is one of the largest Jeopardy! forums on the open web. One particular useful thread topic is past Online Tests. There are a handful of old tests linked out as archived Youtube videos. We recommend taking as many as possible and tracking your results in a spreadsheet. Try and find the areas where you’re weak and put study time into those categories.
J!Tools - Great for tracking your score when watching the games on TV. Use this to track your % correct responses.
JepSim - This is a fun web app that lets you play categories and clues from past Jeopardy Seasons. You can take it on good authority that this another secret weapon a lot of the advanced players use.
Jeopardy World Tour - This one is the official Jeopardy! app, but it’s mostly multiple-choice and sometimes gimmicky. It’s fun, but we wouldn’t suggest it for the bulk of your study time. Available for iOS and Google Play if you want to have some fun.
Brainscape - This is one of the best flashcard apps out there and one that (we believe), Jeopardy! standout, Buzzy Cohen alludes to using in his book. Brainscape allows you to save time since the algorithm learns which answers you don’t know well and shows you those more frequently than the ones you're more familiar.
Also, if you want to get good at Jeopardy!, you’re going to have to hit the books. There’s no getting around it. Here are some of the best books for Jeopardy training.
JStudyGuide.com - Available by PDF only, this guide will give you a little bit of everything at the surface level of popular categories and was explicitly designed for Jeopardy! training and study in mind. With over 400+ pages, it provides thousands of facts as well as helpful images to remember the facts or build “memory palaces” (more on that below). The best part is that some of the course proceeds go directly to helping cure pancreatic cancer!
Ken Jennings Books (especially the children's books) - Any list would be incomplete without the Jeopardy! GOAT. Ken has a multitude of fun trivia books and we’d especially recommend buying his children’s books. James Holzhauer admitted that his success was in part due to reading a lot of children’s books!
Cultural Literacy - This is a book that Ken Jennings recommended everyone read. At over 672 pages and 3.2 lbs, it packs a ton of useful information. Use this one to fill in gaps where you’re strong and to get base knowledge for categories where you’re weak.
An Incomplete Education - This book could be considered Cultural Literacy’s big, witty brother. With over 3600 facts and 941 pages, it makes for a great resource in developing your broad-based trivia knowledge.
Buzzy Cohen’s Book - Get Ready - Buzzy’s audiobook is a lot of fun, and while you won’t learn a ton about facts that might appear on Jeopardy!, you’ll learn about how a multi-time Jeopardy! Champion prepares for the challenge. It also has practical advice in which you can use outside of Jeopardy! such as preparing for an interview, sales call, a presentation, etc.
Moonwalking with Einstein - You’ll have to memorize a ton of information if you want to go anywhere with Jeopardy!. The issue is that rote-learning (repetitive memory cramming) is not the most efficient method. Moonwalking with Einstein will teach you the tips and techniques that the world’s greatest memory champions use to memorize hundreds of decks of cards in a short period. The “memory palace” technique is a must-know for anyone serious about Jeopardy!.
The Answer is Reflections of My Life by Alex Trebek - Alex’s book is packed full of fun anecdotes and stories about his life before and during Jeopardy. It’s not the best study material but it will give you a greater familiarity and appreciation for Alex and how the game has evolved.
Secrets of the Buzzer - This is a must-read if you pass the tests and are lucky enough to make it to the later stages of the candidate process. Both Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer have suggested that buzzer speed is the number one determining factor that will set you apart.
J!Study Score Tracker - If you want to get better at Jeopardy study, you're going to need to actively practice improving your Coryat Score. Coryat is a method of scoring that calculates the raw value of your correct answers minus the incorrect answers (with no penalty for unanswered clues and no Daily Double bonuses). The J!Study Score Tracker book is an excellent way to track your progress on pen and paper. The book also include daily trivia practice!
Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! - A fantastic book written by one of Jeopardy's biggest winners. Some of the advice is outdated but most of it still holds. You get to see how his brain would decipher a clue and the tactics he used to garner his success. His self-deprecating writing style makes this a fun read.
The Intellectual Devotional - A lot of religious practitioners keep a spirtual devotional near their bedside. Well, this is book every aspiring trivia contestant should keep by hers. The authors have an entire series, including American history and popular culture.
Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy - This is a recent book that chronicles the show's history and gives you a behind-the-scenes look on its success. While it won't help you much in studying, it will give you a greater appreciation of America's most beloved gameshow.
Very Helpful Puzzles / Games / Flashcards:
Trivial Pursuit (MASTER EDITION) - This is great for just quizzing yourself in categories where you're weak. Be sure to get the most recent Master Edition as the others are built for mainstream audiences.
Jeopardy! Board Game - While I don't think this is the best way to study for the Online Test, I do think it's great prep once you pass and you're on your way to get interviewed or the real thing. Be warned, I've read about missing pieces in this set. Like most Jeopardy games, nothing beats the real thing but use this plus a buzzer to get your timing down.
GeoToys World GEOPUZZLE - Jeopardy Champ and TOC contender, Kevin Walsh, swore by using these geo-puzzles as a great resource to get good at geography. Each piece is shaped like the individual country!
Imagimake: Mapology (World and USA) - This is a highly rate jigsaw puzzle that kills two birds with one stone. You're able to learn countries by completing the puzzle and their capitals with separate flag placements. Warning, this game is missing a few countries (namely Israel) but its fun nonetheless if you use to supplement your knowledge.
Amazon's Movie Trivia - I found this one fun to just brush up on movie trivia. Most of the questions are on the easy side, but you're not likely to find too many truly hard movie questions on Jeopardy.
100 PICS (Flags of the World) and (Capital Cities) - These two flash card sets are fun, compact ways of studying if you're tired of flash card apps. Something about being able to touch the cards make studying geography more bearable.
CARDDIA Collection of Country Flags - If you want a more complete set and don't mind paying the extra price, CARRDIA has a great deck as well. It has the country and capital on the same side, so it's primarily for flag recognition.
Inventors / Authors / Composers / Scientist Card Game Bundle - These are regular card decks with famous contributors in science, literature, and the arts. There's not the best "flash card" functionality per se, but they good to peruse while playing solitaire.
The World Game - This is a Geography Card game that does include all countries of the world (as of this writing) and is a lot of fun to play with family. Each card also has facts about each country, including the capitals. Easy clean up!
Anatomy Quickstudy - This card pack is essential if you're not strong in human anatomy like myself. Which one's the tibia and fibula again?
Papersalt Triva Cards: The Presidents - I purchased several flash card packs for US Presidents to test out for my trivia study since it's such a popular category and I can say with confidence that this set is absolutely my favorite. The JStudy Guide presidential section is modeled on this set.
Sparknote's Latin Vocabulary Study Cards - This pack comes with over 1000 study cards. The quality of the cards are lacking but the quantity is there. Latin often comes up in Jeopardy clues (and surprisingly a lot in FJ) but also knowing some latin will help with translation in several other languages. The only downside to this pack is that you can only study Latin -> English and not the other way around as they also printed the answers on the English side.
Monarchs of England: 59 Royal Flashcards - This was another useful set as before I was just scrolling through the Wikipedia articles to get the English monarchs in order. This has a lot of cards but I don't think you necessarily need to know all of the Saxon kings (maybe a few pre-Norman kings have shown up as $2000 clues?).
CARDDIA Books of The Bible Flashcards - It's hard to find a good Bible study (no pun intended) as most of the Bible study material is spiritual based. These were the most secularized study cards I've found. The woodcut illustrations are nice and is a good 80/20 approach to getting the important facts from the Bible. Since they come up often, I'd also recommend studying the 12 disciples.
If you take the above advice, you should be on your way to passing the online tests in minimal tries. If you don’t get a callback, don’t get discouraged… several Jeopardy! Champions had to take AND pass the test multiple times before they were given a chance to compete. Happy studying and if you're looking for a complete Jeopardy study guide, be sure to check ours out!
Other helpful links:
31 Jeopardy Study Books
Frequently Asked Questions:
No, Jeopardy contestants do not get categories before the show. Every Jeopardy Champion and contestant gets asked this question. They all will confirm that the contestants learn about the categories the moment they show up on the big screen. Game show producers are very careful to not give any one play an unfair advantage. This also could be in violation of 47 U.S. Code § 509 (Prohibited practices in contests of knowledge, skill, or chance).
No. Jeopardy only provides contestants with the Prep Center and practice tests on their website. There is no evidence of contestants receiving materials from anyone affiliated with the show
Do Jeopardy losers keep money?
The Jeopardy "losers", i.e. 2nd and 3rd Place contestants do get to keep $2000 and $1000 respectively - even if they didn't "win" that much on the show. Though, given that they have to pay for their own airfare, travel and hotel accommodations it's more of a reimbursement a lot of times versus prize money.