Study More Effectively with the Feynman Technique

Boosting concentration is very often a thing that modern students fail to do while trying to memorize course materials. Richard Feynman knew about the complexity of theoretical knowledge and various concepts and terms more than anybody else as he was one of the most well-known theoretical physicists in the world. Thus, he developed a specific technique that allows not only easier learning but also a more efficient teaching of complex ideas. It is the sensible thing to adopt in your studying process and now we will explain why.

How to Use the Feynman Technique?

Step 1: Pick a topic and study it.

Writing down a particular topic or concept and related knowledge is the first step in the learning process and many students make mistake remaining stuck here. They are gathering available information and trying to memorize all definitions, explanations, and formulas instead of actually understanding them. Obviously, it is rather difficult to maintain concentration in the modern information-saturated world where everything is trying to distract you. This is where the Feynman technique goes further to help you.

Step 2: Using the simplest language possible, explain the topic to someone who is not familiar with it.

Explain or pretend to explain the idea of outsourcing in business to a child. It is difficult, right? Remember that you need to use simple language as well. Is there a way to do it effectively? Yes, try to utilize examples to show how a certain concept actually works. You might feel that you are stuck at this point and this is precisely the very idea of the Feynman technique – if you cannot explain an idea in simple terms you probably do not understand it yourself. Now it’s time to fix it.

Step 3: Eliminate all gaps in your understanding of the topic.

You already noticed what particular aspects of the concept you are trying to explain caused difficulties during both understanding them yourself and teaching them to somebody else. You’ve got questions. Time to answer them by reviewing sources, course materials, your notes, and possible examples and applications again. This is how you will fill the gaps in your own knowledge of the topic.

Step 4: Make everything simple.

Simplifying is the key to use the Feynman technique really effectively. The simpler terms and language are used, the better you understand the meaning of what is being said.

Consequently, you will memorize it much better than just trying to learn complex definitions by heart. Another benefit is that you will have a firm grasp of certain theoretical knowledge, thus, you will be able to demonstrate more efficient practical application just because you understand the core idea better.

When to Use It?

There are many possible advantageous applications of this technique in your studying process. Its main benefit is that self-learning is promoted as opposed to memorizing the definitions to pass the exams.

  1. Identify the vague and incomplete parts of your study notes. If you are reading your notes and see lacking in knowledge that you have regarding a certain topic it is time to focus on the idea of true learning that is embodied in the Feynman technique instead of focusing on obtaining the grade. Remember about the main purpose of why you are at college. You need to gain knowledge rather than just collect a bunch of letter grades.
  2. Recall concepts better by creating analogies. Simplifying is related not only to the simple language used to describe a certain concept but also simple and effective real-life examples and analogies. Remember trying to explain something to a child using an example? You will remember that example yourself as well.
  3. Self-testing is the way to better understanding. Once you have read everything related to the concept you want to learn more about, try to explain it to yourself without referring to the notes and materials. Check them only when you are done and see if your comprehension is correct.
  4. Use it when you want to learn faster. Simple language and focus on understanding rather than memorizing contribute to much faster learning. And in this case, “faster” also means “more efficient” as well.

Examples of the Feynman Technique

Example 1

I experienced the power of the Feynman technique when I had to complete my course work for a Psychology class. My professor asked to write a long hypothetical study that resembles scientific articles. In order to write the paper properly I had to develop a hypothesis and the professor multiple times emphasized how crucial is to develop the appropriate and testable hypothesis.

I started researching my topic as I always did prior to writing, however, this time I could not find the appropriate and focused literature. My head was about to explode when I suddenly realized that having the topic is not enough to narrow down the study and create the relevant hypothetical empirical study.

I had to understand the concept of “hypothesis” better because I had a really vague understanding of what is expected. I refrained from memorizing various terms such as “educated guess”, “independent and dependent variables”, tried to put it in simple words to explain the concept for me, and applied a real-life example. And the result was the following: “If I do this (e.g. don’t water my cactus), then this (e.g. it will eventually die) will happen”. Then I eliminated my misunderstanding of what variables are and managed to develop a good testable hypothesis related to my specific Psychology topic.

Example 2

There is the traditional complex definition of archetypes, a concept in psychology and literary criticism studies:

Archetypes, as suggested by Karl Jung, are the major tendencies that are influential in terms of human behavior and are embodied in the collective unconscious as the part of the human psyche along with the ego and the personal unconscious. Archetypes manifest the developed and autonomous universal patterns, such as archetypal events, figures, and motifs, that are being transformed once they become part of consciousness in order to represent the specific cultural peculiarities.

This explanation is difficult to percept despite the fact that it represents the very concept of Jungian archetypes. When the perception is insufficient, you will never reach a true understanding of the concept. Let’s put it in simpler terms.

Jungian archetypes can be understood as universal images and characters that can be found among all human cultures and their myths, religions, and art. They share similar nature because people have similar general knowledge and experiences but archetypes are different in forms because of differences in cultures. There are archetypal motifs (such as creation or apocalypse), events (birth, marriage, death), or figures (God, devil, hero, wise old man). They will be named differently but the main idea will remain the same and it may be found in any story or personality in any culture. For example, there is the story of Lucifer who became the Devil in the Bible and the same idea can be found in The Lord of the Rings trilogy where Sauron is the local evil figure.

This explanation is simpler and more informative, isn’t it?

Example 3

You probably already came across such a type of academic assignment as a book or film summary. Instructors usually require to summarize all key points and ideas rather than retelling the events and wrap the paper up with your own analysis. Basically, this is the implementation of the Feynman technique in contemporary education: you read or watch a complex piece of knowledge and gather information, then you explain the idea to yourself and simplify everything while trying to meet limited word count requirements, and, finally, eliminate the gaps in knowledge after critical analysis part.

Conclusion

The major benefit of adopting the Feynman technique is that it won’t allow you to waste time studying and forgetting everything after a certain period of time. A good education is not about getting all A’s and the degree that you can’t prove with real knowledge. Successful education relies on self-discipline and learning and the more we understand this complex world, the better. The unity of simplifying, spotting the gaps and eliminating them is the key to efficient learning and teaching.

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