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The Feynman Technique

by Tianze Li

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman has a way of simplifying complicated concepts. The Feynman Technique, a learning method named after Richard Feynman, will help you with understanding and retention. Here are the four steps of this method, listed in chronological order.

Study a Concept

When you have a concept to study, read and engage with study materials on it, including but not limited to lectures, notes, textbooks, and Open CourseWare – CCCOER. It’s also important to understand the concepts, rather than memorizing them, although memorization is a large part of exams. In STEM, it means studying the derivations of formulas and equations (this doesn’t apply to the s, p, d, f orbitals in 10th grade chemistry). In history and social sciences, it would include understanding definitions and causality.

Explain it to a 5-Year-Old

The idea is that when you’re explaining to a child, you have to refrain from using jargon and highly technical terms. If you can explain the concept clearly, concisely, and using simple language, it shows that you fully understand it. As Albert Einstein said, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Therefore, this is a way to identify gaps in your understanding.

Fill the Gaps in Your Understanding

If you identified gaps in your understanding, return to the study materials and fill the gaps. You might have to repeat these steps like a while loop (this is a counterexample: don’t use technical terms).

Organize and Simplify the Explanation

After you have grasped the concept, frame it into a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Here’s a collection of Feyman’s lectures on physics. As it shows, even quantum mechanics can be explained in an understandable way.

At its core, the Feynman Technique is about teaching. Get it? Get it? If not, go back to the beginning and re-read this article. Just kidding. Have a great day!

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