The INSIDER Summary:
• Roger Craig holds the record for most money won in a single game of “Jeopardy!”
• These are his best tips for building up encyclopedic knowledge — and actually remembering it.
Roger Craig is “Jeopardy!” royalty: During his initial appearance in 2010, he won a record-breaking $77,000 in a single game. He went on to play in 16 episodes, even playing against formidable opponents like Ken Jennings.
That kind of game show success takes a little bit of luck (he once happened to get both Daily Doubles) and a whole lot of guts (he bet $30,000 on Final Jeopardy). But it also requires a really good memory.
So what do you need to cultivate memory skills good enough for America’s ultimate quiz show? Craig spoke with INSIDER and shared his best advice for learning and retaining new information.
Before you study the material, study the test itself.
Craig’s historic “Jeopardy!” win in 2010 wasn’t an accident: It was the result of fine-tuned preparation.
In fact — thanks to an online archive of Jeopardy! episodes, and his academic background in natural language processing — he actually created software that combed through the text of every Jeopardy! question ever asked, categorising them into different subjects so he’d know where to focus his study attention. (Unsurprisingly, Craig now works as a data scientist for Digital Reasoning.)
“I didn’t sit down one day and [say] like, ‘Oh, I want to data mine ‘Jeopardy!’ and try to win the single game record,'” he told INSIDER. “It was more like, what do they ask about? How often does Shakespeare come up and how often do the presidents come up, and which comes up more often? Inside my mind I was thinking, if you understand the game better, you can do better at the game.”
We can’t all use methods as sophisticated as Craig’s, but the concept still holds true. If you happen to be studying for something specific — a test or work presentation or bar trivia even a game show — it’s wise to try and find out which subjects deserve the most focus.
Create mental images.
Don’t just learn the word arabesque and know that it’s a ballet step. Instead, when you’re learning the term, find a picture of a dancer performing the step and study it, too.
“If you can see the image in your mind,” Craig said, “it will stick much more in your head.”
(FYI: This mental image technique is used by top memory champions, too.)
Let your mind wander.
A little word association can be a good thing when you’re trying to sharpen your memory.
“People that play these quiz games a lot free associate more in their head,” Craig said. “Pick something like Chicago — when you say Chicago, what do you think of? You think of Illinois, you think of the city, and Lake Michigan. But then you might think of the musical, and you might think of President Obama or you might think of Al Capone and then all these memories come flooding back.”
Don’t rely on flashcards alone.
Rote memorization — essentially repeating facts over and over again until they stick in your brain — is controversial among educators and memory experts, but it’s still widely used (it’s probably how you learned your times tables back in elementary school). Craig utilised a flashcard app called Anki as part of his prep for “Jeopardy!”, but he’s also found that his rote memories don’t last very long.
“If you’re really good at rote memory, that’s fast, and you can churn through [information] fast. But then at some point you’re going to be like, what is this really about? You could be translating German into Russian and not understand the meaning of anything [in English],” He told INSIDER. “The meaning and context are key — they will reinforce the memories.”
Read Wikipedia and “The Idiot’s Guide.”
So how, exactly, can you create meaning and context — especially if you’re learning a subject that’s totally new? Craig has a strategy for that, too.
Say you need to learn more about Shakespeare. You could read “Hamlet” over and over and over until you’ve memorized every single line. But without any foundational knowledge about Shakespeare’s life and career, knowing all those lines won’t mean as much — and may not stick in your brain very well.
“A better [plan] would be just read about how Shakespeare was, read about the plays, learn what the top plays are, and the plot synopses,” Craig said.
Then go forth and dig into “Hamlet.” This way, you’ll know the plot and characters — but you’ll also know that “Hamlet” was Shakespeare’s longest play by far, that the title role has been played by both Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch, and that it inspired the Disney film “The Lion King.” By building yourself an interconnected web of foundational knowledge, Craig says, you’ll be able to recall facts much better. The more points of reference you have about a subject, the better off you’ll be.
And you don’t need any special research skills to build yourself such a web: Craig recommends basic primers like Wikipedia pages and book series like “The Idiot’s Guide” to get yourself acquainted with new information.
Want to know more about what it’s like to be on “Jeopardy!”? Here’s how Craig described his experiences on the show.
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