A remarkable technique developed by a spectacular scientist, the Feynman technique is a powerful method that you can use to learn anything faster and more efficiently.
It’s relatively mentally demanding to use as it forces you to actively think about the problem instead of passively reading or listening to someone else talk about it. But, if you dedicate enough time and energy into mastering the method, you’ll see your learning results improve quicker than ever before.
Follow the steps highlighted in this article, and you’ll learn how to do just that. Here, I’ll explain what is the Feynman technique, what it’s best used for, and how to use it to become a high-achieving student.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
Who was Richard Feynman?
Richard P. Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, inventor of the Feynman diagrams and the theory of positrons, a member of the Rogers Commission, popularizer of physics through books and lectures, and an all-around genius. He is often called “the great explainer” and is regarded as one of the greatest science teachers in modern history.
Here’s a video from Bill Gates, explaining why he considers Richard Feynman the “best teacher he never had“:
Richard Feynman is one of the most remarkable scientists in history and the Feynman Technique is merely one small part of his legacy. If you’d like to learn more about him and his ideology, I recommend you watch any of Richard Feynman’s lectures. They will give you a true sense of what a spectacular teacher the man was.
For now, though, let’s continue on with our analysis of Richard Feynman’s study technique.
What is the Feynman Technique?
The Feynman Technique, developed by Richard Feynman, is a study method for students to learn through the act of teaching. To use the technique, students choose a topic and then explain it in their own words as if teaching a sixth-grader. Then, they improve their explanations and go through the process again until they have mastered the topic.
Naturally, the average school student in sixth grade is not going to understand complicated terminology, so the person using the Feynman Technique has to emphasize simplicity and concision.
Effective usage of the method requires the learner to define all unobvious terms, and this means that the Feynman Technique requires considerably more mental energy than other methods such as rote learning. The act of teaching is a cognitively demanding task, but that is also why the technique is so effective.
This study method can be used to memorize, understand difficult topics, and supplement other common study methods like re-reading textbooks or reviewing notes. It’s worth mentioning, though, that re-reading textbooks and notes are considered ineffective study strategies by most modern learning scientists.
Why is the Feynman Technique effective?
There are a wide range of reasons why the Feynman Technique has remained one of the most effective study strategies for decades.
For one, the Feynman Technique provides an opportunity for continual review and analysis, which can help to ensure understanding at a higher level than just memorizing information.
Furthermore, it provides a way for students to engage with information in a meaningful and memorable way by connecting it to personally relevant experiences and simple concepts.
Plus, the Feynman Technique is often more effective than traditional study methods because of its emphasis on active engagement. Unlike re-reading textbooks or reviewing notes, which are passive activities, engaging with new material through explaining and continuously simplifying forces the learner to be more actively engaged.
Here are a few more reasons why the Feynman study technique is so effective:
- Develops knowledge of the study topic and also public speaking skills if practiced with another person.
- Simplifying an explanation can improve the comprehension and memorization of the subject.
- Using the technique can help students rethink their thoughts on how they approach difficult subjects such as science or mathematics.
- Work well with already-learned concepts for the purposes of reviewing and reinforcing what’s already learned.
Now that we know why you should use the method, let’s move right into the step-by-step process of how to use the Feynman Technique.
How to use the Feynman Technique: 5 steps
If you want to use the Feynman Technique to study better, follow these five simple steps:
Step 1: Identify the topic you want to learn.
To begin, identify the topic you’ll be studying with the Feynman Technique. While you can use the technique for any topic, it’s most often used to study science-related topics as they benefit the most from the act of simplification.
In truth, though, the technique works just as well for most other topics as the Feynman study method is one of the most flexible. However, it’s still important that you clearly identify the topics and sub-topics you’re trying to master within each study session. Otherwise, you’ll end up jumping between topics without developing a deeper understanding of any of them.
Now that you’ve identified the subject matter, take some time and think about step two: how you would explain this topic if a sixth-grader was listening over your shoulder.
Step 2: Explain the topic as if teaching a sixth-grader.
The second step is the heart of the Feynman Technique: explaining the topic simply enough to be understood by a sixth-grade student. This requires you to meet the child at their level of understanding by using the simplest and most concise language possible.
This step will help break down complex topics into their most basic parts. Your end goal should always be to develop a deeper understanding of a topic, but the path there involves shallow but thorough explanations. Your explanations need to be short and to the point, providing only what is necessary for a sixth-grader to understand.
The explaining process can be conducted in a variety of ways and group sizes.
Some people benefit from having a real physical person listening to their explanation, while others prefer working alone and writing their topic explanation on paper or practicing in front of a mirror. Personally, I focus the best when I’m by myself in a quiet environment where I can focus on the task and not be distracted by anything else. Thus, most often I use the method independently.
But, it’s up to you to decide how to deliver the explanation. What’s most important is that the explanation is simple, concise, and understandable by an elementary school student.
Step 3: Identify areas of improvement in your explanation.
For step three, you’ll need to critically review the explanation you came up with in step two.
To do so, take a critical look at your explanation and try to identify any knowledge gaps where you could not retrieve the relevant information from your memory, together with any areas where you felt that you couldn’t explain the topic simply.
When possible, it can be very helpful to get feedback from someone whose understanding is similar to that of your audience: a sixth-grader. Doing this can improve your explanations as they will be reviewed by the target audience rather than yourself. There is always an element of bias in reviewing your own explanations, and getting feedback from a third-party can be very beneficial.
However, this is not compulsory for the Feynman Technique to work. As stated above, the technique can be used very efficiently without any third-party assistance.
Step 4: Improve and optimize your explanation.
The basis of step four will be the information you obtained in step three. Take all the critiques, knowledge gaps, and other areas of improvement you found, and use those to refine your explanation.
Here’s three tips for improving your explanations:
- Develop analogies that would make sense for someone who knows very little about the topic.
- Keep a list of words you think would be unfamiliar to children and ensure they’re defined before using them in an explanation. To optimize this process, always keep a topic-relevant dictionary open.
- Make sure that your explanations are evidence-based and backed by the source material. Whenever you’re in trouble, go back to the source material and study up on your weak points until you can use simple language to explain them.
Improving and optimizing your explanations is a crucial step of the Feynman Technique and it should not be overlooked. Even if you think that your explanation was solid and high-quality the first time around, there are likely still plenty of areas for improvement that you can target. Be critical, and stay on the lookout for any of your knowledge gaps.
Step 5: Repeat the steps until you've achieved mastery of the topic.
Keep going through each step until you’re fully satisfied with your explanation. The Feynman Technique works best with repetition, and that is why going through all the prior steps just once is usually not enough for achieving topic mastery.
Mastering the Feynman Technique requires you to take a step back and focus on simplicity and understandability, and it’s very difficult to get it right the first time around. That is why it’s important to allow yourself plenty of time for practicing the Feynman Technique. Often, you’ll need to go through each step of the process at least twice for the method to be effective.
Finally, when you’re confident that you’ve mastered the topic to the extent that you need to, it’s time to put the technique to rest and give yourself a reward for doing a fantastic job. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll grab another cup of coffee, find the next topic to practice, and start from square one. Ain’t no rest for the wicked!
Final tips for studying using the Feynman Technique
If you’ve gotten this far, you should already have a good understanding of how the Feynman Technique works. In this final section, I will cover how to take the Feynman Technique to new heights by combining it with other evidence-based study methods. After all, the most successful learners always use a combination of multiple study techniques, rather than relying on just a single strategy.
To maximize the effectiveness of the Feynman Technique, consider using:
- Spaced repetition to optimize your learning schedule. Spaced repetition algorithms provide well-optimized study schedules and they are based on continuous scientific research. While many of these algorithms are meant for flashcard-based studying, the central idea of spacing your study sessions still applies to the Feynman Technique just the same.
- Pomodoro to manage your time better, improve concentration, and optimize your study sessions. The Pomodoro method also allows you to keep track of time spent on each task, and it’s one of my favorite methods to reduce distractions and achieve a state of deep focus.
- Active recall to practice test yourself before an exam. Active recall is one of the most powerful study methods in the world, and you’ll benefit massively by adding it into your learning toolset. It requires you to test yourself continuously and when it comes to improving exam results, there really is no better technique than active recall.
By using a combination of the Feynman Technique and other study methods, you can achieve the most remarkable results. Without a doubt, Richard Feynman was a genius, and his technique continues to be one of the most powerful study methods in existence. But, that doesn’t mean that it has to be the only weapon in your learning arsenal. Your strength as a learner lies in your ability to adapt and diversify, so keep experimenting!