How to Study Faster Using the Feynman Technique

03 JAN 2018

You can’t deny that learning new things is great!

Adding a new set of skills or understanding of a new concept to your repertoire is great for the mind, body, soul, and of course, the ego!

Additionally, expanding your knowledge, your horizons and growing your brain power is vital to becoming a better student, and ultimately, a better person.

There’s only one problem with learning: studying can be a complete and utter bore!

However, what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? What if I told you there was a way to study that could speed up the studying process to make you more efficient, the whole process more fun, and...

...wait for it...

Here’s the real kicker: improve your scores and ability to learn!

No, I don’t possess the power of witchcraft, it’s actually much simpler than that. Take a seat friend, because I’m about to open your eyes to a whole new world of learning!

The Feynman technique

Often, when being taught how to study, we’re told to limit our social lives, put as much time per day into reading and researching, and to write and rewrite notes to drill it into you memory. Basically, you're told to cut out your extracurriculars and bury your head in the books.

Well, that just isn’t right!

Studying techniques are essential for any student looking to study effectively and efficiently.

No matter what stage of the journey you’re at – high school or uni – study techniques help keep your mind fresh while studying and allow you to speed up the process while retaining more information!

Study techniques can help you to strive and reach beyond the classroom allowing you to embark on a self-study experience and stand out as the perfect college candidate.

You can try many different study techniques, all of which require a lot of self discipline and independent work, each with pros and cons.

However, there is one technique that stands out as one that does not tolerate mindless or aimless learning in any regard. Instead, it targets knowledge gaps so you know exactly what you need to be focusing on, ultimately maximising efficiency and performance.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you to you: the Feynman technique!

What is the Feynman technique?

Group Study

The Feynman technique was developed by Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman (makes sense, right?) who was not only known as a brilliant scientist but also a “great explainer” for his ability to translate complex scientific theories into easy to understand terms.

Like, so super easy that even my scientifically illiterate mind could keep up!

Feynman was of the belief that "If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough” and this is the basis of the Feynman technique.

Essentially, with the Feynman technique, you take regular breaks from hitting the books and attempt to understand how much you actually know about the chosen subject by explaining it to someone.

The logic behind this technique is to help you pinpoint gaps in your knowledge to make the studying process more targeted and efficient. Pretty simple, but super effective.

Don’t believe me?

Research shows that students who study when expecting to teach something not only learn at a faster rate but are also able to achieve better exam results. Ha! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The Feynman technique is genius in its simplicity. It allows you to step away, gather and process thoughts, and identify where to focus your energy when returning to study.

Certainly beats mindlessly scrolling through and absorbing as much content as possible in the hope that you’ll retain it all.

How to use the Feynman technique

Studying Laptop 2

There are a few strategies to best apply the technique and get the most out of it!

Before we get into the how to, let's just clarify that although the theory is named after Feynman, you can use the technique to learn pretty much any concept – it’s not limited to just science and maths.

Whether you’re trying to get a grasp of a mathematical theory or trying to pin down the subplot and concept in your favourite novel, Feynman can help you.

There are five steps to study more efficiently using the Feynman technique:

Step 1: Study a concept for 1-3 hours

Step 2: Explain/write out the concept in your own words – as simply as possible

Step 3: Review your explanation and pinpoint knowledge gaps in your understanding and areas where you’ve used complex language

Step 4: Continue studying, targeting the knowledge gaps and areas of weakness

Step 5: Repeat

The most important steps in the process are steps two and three – explaining the concept in your own words and reviewing to identify your areas of weakness. Once you’ve done this, you’ll know where to exert all of your efforts when you go back to study, which is the differentiating factor that makes the Feynman technique so successful.

When it comes to explaining your concept, the best method is to do so with a study partner and they can help you pinpoint you knowledge gaps; However, if you don’t have a friend willing to torment themselves by sitting through your study sessions, you can simply record yourself explaining the concept or simply write it down on a piece of paper.

Better yet, if you have a younger brother or sister, explain it to them! If you can make them understand a complex concept, then you really know your stuff.

Personally, I like to study with a friend or record my voice. Speaking out loud allows you less time to consider your explanation than writing it out which makes your knowledge gaps much more pronounced when reviewing.

However, this is simply personal preference, and everyone operates differently, so try it out both ways and see what you like!

One of the strengths of the technique it that it’s ideal for studying (cramming) before big exams or tests. End of year high school exams, or college application tests like the SAT or ACT are all perfect situations to implement the Feynman technique and bring your score up to the next level!

Have a maths exam coming up? Simply work your way through each of the theories that will be present on the papers until your knowledge gaps become non-existent and the exam content becomes second nature.

Got an English essay due? Use the Feynman technique to work through the novel you've been studying, its meanings and interpretations, until you have a strong grasp of the content, and the essay will flow!

If you want to study medicine at university, the Feynman technique is a great way to prep for the undergraduate entrance exam, the UMAT. Sit practice tests, review the sections, and explain the theories and concepts involved in each and identify where you need to focus.

Benefits of the Feynman technique

So, what do you get out of the Feynman technique?

Well, other than a streamlined approach to studying that has been proven to improve your results, Feynman is the fastest way to level up!

No matter what your goals are, whether you want to become a trader on Wall Street or a doctor, the Feynman technique can help you get there.

You eliminate all the guess work in study, meaning less time stressing and more time learning.

This can help you go beyond the classroom, jumping ahead of your peers in leaps and bounds.

Before you know it, you could be striving for education beyond the comfort of your country's shores and looking at attending some of the best colleges around the world. The Ivy League and Oxbridge universities will be in reach.

Believe me that using this technique will revolutionise the way you think and learn and help you reach your potential. You'll become the dream candidate for colleges the world over!

Seriously, Feynman is that dang good!

And once you do make it to university, the study efficiency learned from Feynman will minimise the stress of your jam packed student timetable.

What's more, you're taught to become aware of your learning processes and what techniques work best for you before you're forced to learn the hard way at uni.

By the time your first semester of exams come around, you'll be able to understand how you operate best when preparing for tests, exams and assignments, and absolutely ace them.

Too easy, brother!

Feynman around the world!

No matter what your future plans are, the Feynman technique can be matched to any style of education offered around the world. The liberal arts in the US, the in-depth approach in the UK, or a standard course structure in New Zealand or Australia; you'll be well equipped to handle the study load and style.

If you're looking to study in the US where they offer liberal arts degrees that allow students to explore interests and experiment with lots of subjects as opposed to focusing on one or two, Feynman can give you an edge.

While many students may struggle with the freedom of a liberal arts degree, the Feynman technique will allow you to switch between focuses as you're forced to step away from the books and relay your understanding of each respective topic.

This makes the change between subjects all the more simpler when compared to those that simply read and absorb as much as possible with no structured approach.

No matter the style, subject or location of your education, a tried and tested study technique such as the Feynman can help you excel beyond all expectations and level up!

Other study methods

While the Feynman technique is one of the best study methods, it certainly isn’t the only method available to students.

Another popular method is the Pomodoro technique, which does not focus as much on pinpointing knowledge gaps as it does on increasing productivity.

Pomodoro combats the issue we’ve previously mentioned of mindlessly scrolling and absorbing content by encouraging students to step away from the task at hand at regular intervals. It’s essentially a time management technique used to improve efficiency.

In the original Pomodoro technique developed in the 1980s, there are six steps:

  1. Set yourself a task to work on
  2. Set a timer (traditionally 25 minutes)
  3. Work on the task
  4. End work when the timer rings
  5. Take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go back to step 2
  6. After four "pomodoros", take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your count and repeat from step 1

Giving yourself regular time to process new concepts prevents you from becoming inundated with new information and not actually taking any on board.

Heck, if you’re really looking to maximise your capacity to learn, you could even combine the Pomodoro technique with the Feynman technique. Simply study using the Pomodoro technique and endorse the explain and review aspect of the Feynman technique. The best of both worlds!

You’ll be bowing minds with the capacity of knowledge you’ll be taking on board.

Another method which is often endorsed by secondary school and college students is context-dependent memory.

This method is a little more eccentric, for lack of a better word. It’s based on the scientific belief that we remember information better if we recall it in a similar context to the time at which we learned it.

So if you learn in a large hall, you’ll be well equipped for the exam; whereas if you study in your bed with your dog jumping around and a pile of clothes next to you on the floor, you might struggle in the quiet confines of a classroom.

There was a study carried out on divers about this method, which suggested environment is a major factor in how well we retain information. In the study, it showed that divers could recall information learned on land better when they were on land than underwater, and conversely they were able to recall information learned underwater better underwater than on land.

Pretty interesting stuff. However, environment is just one aspect of context-dependent memory, and there is plenty of information suggesting that memory can be enhanced when triggered by not only environment, but also by mood, senses, and even physiological states.

For example, if you’re studying maths, you might rub eucalyptus oil on your chest and then do the same when you enter your exam to enhance your memory.

Another tactic would be to drink a caffeinated drink while revising (like you wouldn’t be doing that anyway, right?), and then drink one again before the exam. This rise in your caffeine levels kickstarts the familiar physiological state that may provide the perfect environment for learning and recall.

Though I wouldn’t rely solely on this method, it’s certainly worthy of trialling. I mean, realistically, if you’re studying in a quiet environment and you're well caffeinated, it’s not gonna hurt your chances of getting a better score.

However, I would maintain the regular breaks in study as endorsed by other methods including Feynman and Pomodoro.

Final Thoughts

Look, everyone studies and learns differently, which is fine, but if you’re hoping to gain access to the best colleges in the world and you don’t use a study technique… you’re gonna struggle!

In addition to its ease and effectiveness, the Feynman technique does also teach some essential life skills for university students, which is why we believe it’s one of the best for young and aspirational students looking to become the best.

You’ll learn how to work effectively and efficiently, maximising your ability to learn and remember new information. With the Feynman technique, you’ll be well-equipped to manage your time and workload, which can become mighty stressful as a student at a world class university!

With the help of ol’ Dick Feynman and his revolutionary study technique, we’re sure you’ll be paving your pathway towards top grades, top schools, and eventually, the top of the world.

Go get ‘em, tiger!

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