There’s this pretty well known quote that gets thrown around a lot and it’s often attributed to Albert Einstein and it goes, Now whether or not Einstein was the person who actually said this, let’s be real he probably wasn’t, it’s still really insightful and reversing it reveals a pretty powerful piece of study advice. Now this idea is something I touched on briefly back in my video summary of the Study Less, Study Smart lecture by Doctor Marty Lubdell, because in that lecture he talked about one of the effective study techniques being to teach what you’re learning to someone else.
So in this video, I want to dig deeper into that idea and share with you a step-by-step process for doing this, which has been called the Feynman Technique. Now this technique is named after the physicist who was, in his own right, a great scientist. In fact, back in 1965, he won a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics, which is something I had to practice saying a couple of different times, and he contributed to science in a number of different ways, including in the development of what are called Feynman diagrams, which are basically graphical representations of the math behind how subatomic particles work. But in addition to being a great scientist, he was also a great teacher and a great explainer. And in fact, one of his nicknames was “The Great Explainer,” because he was able to boil down incredibly complex concepts and put them in simple language that other people could understand. And that’s why he’s one of those great scientists who is also known as a very good teacher. And in fact, even in his own learning, Feynman was famous for tirelessly working through equations until the concept he was wrangling with was intuitively easy to understand, in his mind.
So that’s why this technique is named after him, but you don’t have to be a physicists or you don’t have to be working on math or science problems to use this technique, because explaining a concept works to improve your understanding of that concept in basically an area, be it history or be it math, or be it web development. It doesn’t matter, and it also works for multiple different purposes. If you’re shaky on a concept and you want to quickly improve your understanding, you can use it. But if you already have a pretty confident grasp of a subject, and say you’ve got a test coming up soon, you can also use it to test your understanding and challenge your assumptions. As Feynman himself said, The ultimate way to ensure that you actually understand all the little nitty-gritty details of a concept in head is to explain it to someone else, or at least to pretend you’re doing so.
And that is the crux of the Feynman technique. So, let’s get into it. It’s a process of four steps and the first step is to simply get out a piece of paper and write the name of the technique down at the top. And in the example I filmed here, we’re gonna use the Pythagorean Theorem because it is simple and it won’t get in the way of the actual steps we’re going to go through. Step two is to explain the concept and to do it in simple, plain English, or French, or really whatever language you happen to speak. But the idea here is to do it in a way that’s easy to understand as if you were teaching someone else. And don’t just settle with defining the concept either. Also work through examples and make sure you’re able to use the concept in practice, as well. For step three, identify any of the areas that you’re shaky on after your explanation or identify areas that you got stuck on that halted your explanation and go back to the source material or go back to your notes or work through examples until your understanding of these subareas is just as solid as all the other areas.
And finally, step four is to look at your explanation and try to identify any areas where you’ve resorted to using technical terms of convoluted language and then challenge yourself to break down those terms and explain them in simplified, easy to understand words. Remember, the key here is simplicity. The act of explaining a topic as if you were teaching it to somebody who didn’t have the same base assumptions and base knowledge that you have is the ultimate test of your own knowledge in that subject.
And that’s pretty much it, that’s all there is to the Feynman technique. Now using this tecnhique is incredibly helpful because it, number one, helps you to quickly overview the concept and see where your knowledge is solid, but number two, it helps you to instantly pinpoint the areas where you’re shaky and where you need to do extra work. And that makes this technique a great first step in reviewing a concept because it’s very efficient and it helps you waste less time. I did want to give you guys one extra suggestion though, and it relates to how you frame your mind going into step four. Instead of just thinking how can I make this simple, how can I put it in plain English, also think, how would I explain this to a kid? Why? Well besides asking questions like, “Can I have another Oreo,” or “Can I go watch Dragonball Z?” A kid’s gonna ask, “Why does that work?” And that’s gonna help challenge your assumptions.
For instance, going back to our Pythagorean Theorem example, maybe you know the formula, but a kid would ask you why does that formula work? Why does the Pythagorean Theorem hold as a rule for all right triangles? And yeah, maybe you understand that intuitively, maybe you could bust out the proof by rearrangement, but maybe you can’t. Maybe you’ve always looked at the formula and taken it at face value, in which case, you have some more learning to do. Now speaking of the Pythagorean Theorem, maybe that was a bit too simple of an example for you and you’d like to see this technique applied to something more complex or something that has nothing to do with math at all. If that’s you, in the companion article for this video, I’ve included a couple of different examples. One going through Bayes’ Rule, which is a concept and probability theory in statistics, and one going over the CSS Box Model, which is related to web development and not related to math, at all, that you can check out. So if you want to see those, you can click the card on the screen right now to get over to the article, or you could find the link down in the description below.
Beyond that, if you enjoyed this video and found it helpful, definitely give it a like to support this channel and if you have addition tips or ways that you use this technique personally, I would love to hear from you down in the comments below. Additionally, if you’re not subscribed to this channel yet and you want to get new tips on how to be a more productive student, you can click right there to subscribe and you can also click right there if you want to get a free copy of my book on how to earn better grades. Otherwise you can click right around there to find another video which you will probably find interesting.
Thanks for watching and I will see you in the next one..