Studying is stressful. It often leads to feelings of self-doubt and leaves us overwhelmed. We try our best (usually) and still sometimes we just cannot get our heads around a subject. We’re taught dozens of memory tricks and studying hacks, but nothing really sticks. Fortunately, there is a proven technique, used by Nobel-prize winning scientists, that will help you learn and understand whatever you want. The Feynman Technique is a renowned method for studying and learning.
It is based on the idea that if you can’t describe something in its simplest terms, then you probably don’t understand it. It was originally used on complex mathematical and science-based theories, but it’s great for any subject.
In particular, it’s great for those tricky subjects that require you to understand a concept, not just remember facts. By requiring you to practice active recall, you learn better than just reading and writing.
Origins of The Feynman Technique
This ingenious technique for studying and learning was created by Richard Feynman during his years at Princeton University. He went on to be a world-renowned physicist and a Nobel-prize winner. He was known as the “great explainer” because of his ability to put complex matters into the simplest of terms.
Richard Feynman discovered that if he couldn’t explain something simply, then he didn’t really understand it. During his time at university, he filled entire notebooks with topics he wanted to learn. He took on each topic and broke them down into tiny parts until he understood the entire concept.
The method spread in popularity and became known as the Feynman Technique. The theory behind the technique is that if you understand something fully, you can explain it simply. When we genuinely understand an idea or concept, we consider it simple. It’s not complicated in our minds, so we can discuss it in uncomplicated terms.
The Feynman Technique also gives learners the opportunity to see their problem areas clearly. You’ll either find yourself stuck with some parts with not enough information or, you’ll resort to using complicated language and jargon.
Have you ever noticed that if someone pretentious is trying to sound smarter, they use bigger words? This is because they think it makes them sound more intelligent, but in fact, they’re likely like regurgitating the study materials. If you can’t avoid the complicated words, it’s probably because you don’t know the topic well enough. If you can’t use your own words to explain something, you don’t understand it.
How to Do the Feynman Technique
- Choose Your Topic
- Decide what it is you want to learn. This technique is best used for subjects that require critical thinking and understanding.
- Teach It to A Child
- Explain your subject in a way a child would understand (or just somebody with no background in the subject).
- This means breaking it right down and using the simplest language.
- You could do this out loud to yourself or write it down if you don’t have someone else to help.
- Identify Your Missing Knowledge
- Make a note of what you struggled with.
- Notice places where you used over-complicated wording and jargon to explain.
- Notice places where you couldn’t recall the information.
- Fix Your Missing Knowledge
- Go back to the books.
- Break down the knowledge you were missing into simple parts and understandable terms.
- Re-learn the information.
- Repeat these stages until you’re confident that you understand all of the information and you can explain it in simple understandable terms.
Benefits of the Feynman Technique
Unlike other studying methods, the Feynman Technique ensures a complete understanding of your subject. This technique increases our ability to think critically and analyse the topic. With a simple overall understanding of the concept, we are able to give opinions. This is particularly beneficial for essay writing and evaluations.
The Feynman Technique is great for those who don’t have strong language skills, like Richard Feynman himself. It actively encourages the use of simple language and doesn’t require writing if you don’t want to. It strips away the niche jargon which can complicate matters without knowing the extra definitions.
Instead of learning facts, figures, and definitions, the Feynman technique encourages holistic learning and true understanding.
Next time you’re struggling with exam prep and studying, give this technique a chance. It can be a quick and very straight forward method for learning. Cut out all the nonsense, all the note-taking, flashcards, and stress. Get a deep understanding of your subject in one simple hit.
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This Post Has 2 Comments
I have always held to this philosophy. No amount of jargon or arm-waving will convince me that someone knows their subject, but explaining it in the simplest terms that are understandable to a general audience will. I can’t tell you how many times this expectation has gotten me the side-eye by those who can’t explain it because they don’t understand it well enough themselves and want to instead make me feel small. I have no barrier to admitting I don’t know something, but judging on my life experience, I know I’m in a minority.
Thank you for this. The Feynman Technique (I think Einstein used it, too) should be a requirement for everyone.
Great technique for understanding but I don’t believe Feynman created it but rather made it popular, it’s basically a byproduct of intellectual honesty and deep philosophical analysis. The opposite of this technique is more revealing, why do people much more often choose to overcomplicate language with jargon, latin and greek technical language, and slang? Basically lying works, it creates the illusion of having a much greater understanding and knowledge of a subject without actually having to do the mental work, rather just copy and memorize what others have done, imitate and fake it, it sells magazine and movies, it feeds egos, it forms group/gang thinking mentalities and bonds and fosters elitists attitudes, what’s not to like about being deceptive? There’s so often a tradeoff, one chooses by their actions which is more important to them, honesty or deception, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Also important to mention is that original thinkers like Feynman and Einstein spent many years contemplating and reflecting and trying to reach a deeper understanding of those famous physics problems for which we deem so important, unlike the movies.
Also when trying to understand something, apply it to your real life, practical application, hands on experience, nothing is more rewarding, and everything we learn can overlap into many other areas of thought. For example, fix your own car, save some money, and learn auto mechanics, or build electronic devices like solar panels, wind mill generators(mechanics) and learn electronics that overlaps into auto mechanics, without having to spend countless hours and dollars going to college for it it just to end up working for someone else at a low wage 🙂 It’s a great time for self education, just like this website.