When Arthur Chu appeared on quiz show Jeopardy! in January of 2014, he wasn’t sure how far he would get on the program.
The 36-year-old contestant actually had nothing to worry about, going on to win eleven games and impressive winnings of almost $300,000.
His strategy for winning the game is almost as admirable as his knowledge of trivia.
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Chu’s strategy for playing on ‘Jeopardy!’
Compared to 74-game winner Ken Jennings, who just seemed to be innately gifted for storing trivia in his mind and whose main strategy was intimate familiarity with the buzzer, Chu had a distinct plan of action.
“Everyone’s talking about my strategy on the show it seems,” Chu told Mental Floss in 2014, “but I didn’t make anything up—I just read people’s observations online. . . I had very little advance knowledge other than just watching the show.”
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Chu, surprisingly, did what might seem obvious to do – Googling strategies for winning on the classic quiz show. Although turning to the Internet may seem to some an inadequate manner for preparing for a game show appearance, it worked for Chu.
“So I jumped in and started Googling. And thank goodness we live in the Internet age, because there’s a surprising amount of information online about Jeopardy! strategy. The game’s been around for 30 years now in its current version, and there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions, so I started sifting through them.”
Chu realized a little went a long way in terms of category knowledge
It seems Chu went back to basics when it came to making himself Jeopardy! ready. As the Swarthmore College graduate realized, it wasn’t how deeply he knew categories that was important as much as making sure he knew a smattering of all categories.
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“I figured out what knowledge is the most valuable for Jeopardy!, and then matched that up to my own deficits in knowledge, and just hyper-focused on boning up on those specific areas of knowledge. . . I did look up, okay, these things are always on Jeopardy! Of these things that are always on Jeopardy!, these are the easiest to remember. You know, it’s not everything. . . “
Flashcards were Chu’s secret weapon
In his research of the show, after confirming he was a contestant, Chu had an epiphany that revealed a general pattern on the quiz show, a very easy-to-follow pattern. He turned to the reliable stand-by strategy of using flashcards to strengthen his trivia know-how.
“Jeopardy! is aimed at the sort of average TV viewer,” Chu revealed, “so they’re not going to ask things that are pointlessly obscure, they’re not going to go in-depth on any particular subject, they’re going to focus on these cultural touchstones that we all know. And if you watch the show, and you can identify those, you can literally make flashcards.”
“So I used a program called Anki which uses a method called “spaced repetition.” It keeps track of where you’re doing well or poorly, and pushes you to study the flashcards you don’t know as well, until you develop an even knowledge base about a particular subject, and I just made flashcards for those specific things.”
It’s interesting to learn that, even if a contestant doesn’t feel completely confident about winning at Jeopardy!, a little hard work and old-fashioned study tools can make a champion.
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