“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” –Richard Feynman
This technique was developed by the great scientist and professor Richard Feynman. Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, showed NASA in a beautiful but straightforward experiment without using words. He took an O ring and put it in a cup of ice water. The O ring represented the space shuttle The Challenger, and the ice water described extreme conditions at temperatures that were never tested at. A few degrees were the difference between a safe space flight and the disaster at which it was. Feynman exposed the human error caused by a government agency with too many bosses and not enough employees, trying to save too much in all the wrong places. He was a science hero to many, and in his later years, he distanced himself from the government agencies he was connected with. This is a simple technique invented by Feynman, or his nickname The Great Explainer, is for anyone who wants to learn more quickly and efficiently.
This technique will help people better understand a concept in any subject matter they are learning or have learnt. If you already understand it well and are studying for an exam, you can use this technique to test your understandings and challenge your assumptions. The best way to know your material is to teach it to someone else or pretend to teach it to someone else.
The four steps to the Feynman Technique:
1. Take a piece of paper and write the concept’s name at the top.
2. Explain the concept using simple and easy language. Write it out as if you were teaching it to someone. Work through different examples, well dissecting them from all angles to make sense to you and others.
3. Identify problem areas, then go back to your resources for further review. Work back through your notes or watch videos on the subtopics and then go back to writing it out and use new examples until you fully grasp the areas you’re having troubles with.
4. Narrow down any complicated terms and challenge yourself to simplify them. Use the complicated language and write it out in simple terms that make sense to you that is easy to remember, and easily teachable to others. Don’t just make it in simple words you understand but write it so you would be able to teach a kid the concept(s). Kids are really good at asking the question, “Why?” Which will then force you to challenge your assumptions. For example, if you’re working on a formula in chemistry, a kid might ask why we need this formula, why this formula works this way, etc.
This technique helps you review your knowledge about a concept to see where your strengths and weaknesses lay within that concept. It can help you simplify your strengths and identify and work on your weaknesses. This easy technique helps save you a lot of time and enables you to figure out what you need to work on more.
“If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein