The Feynman Technique

“if you want to understand something well, explain it”

Part of the reason I’ve decided to write this blog is that to be able discuss or explain things in any meaningful way requires an understanding of the subject, and through writing blog posts I can not only share topics that interest me, but I can gain a deeper understanding of and retention for the topics.

Richard Feynman was a pretty smart guy, winning the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965. He was revered for his ability to comprehensively understand highly technical subjects, and to explain them to others in simple terms that they could appreciate.

The Feynman technique can be used to gain a greater understanding of content (not just technical subjects, anything) which in turn helps you to remember what you have learned – solid ideas sticks better than fuzzy ones. It’s touted as one of the best ways to revise for exams, and in a world where examined attainment accounts for so much, it’s probably worth looking into.

How it works:

  • Choose a subject and write it at the top of a piece of paper (I’d go for paper over a computer as you can quickly add helpful doodles etc.) if the subject is large, see if it can broken into more manageable chunks.

  • Now imagine you’re explaining the concept to someone who is hearing about it for the first time; capture the main ideas, avoid jargon and employ analogies and illustrations to make the point clearer

  • Through doing this, parts of the topic which you are not as confident in should start to become apparent – it will take you longer to translate it into basic language/analogies (or you might not be able to do so). This is where you return to the learning material, and start to target these weaker areas which have become evident.

  • Iterate over the previous step until there are no holes in the explanation and you feel like you truly understand everything that you’ve written on the piece of paper

 

By going through this process you will better understand the subject for sure. The act of drawing analogies increases the number of neural connections in the brain, helping to make memories stick.

For reasons that should make more sense now that you’ve read this, some of my future posts might appear to dumbed-down, and this will probably be due to either trying to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, or trying to make the article more accessible to the average web-dwelling chump. Give this a shot, even if it’s only needed for particularly elusive topics.

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