Study by teaching: The Feynman technique

If you can explain something complex – in simple terms – to a child, then you likely have a firm grasp of an idea. You’ve also demonstrated the Feynman technique for learning – simple in its method but profound in helping you gauge your understanding of complicated subjects.

Known as the “Great Explainer,” Richard Feynman was a Nobel-prize winning physicist renowned for his ability to clearly articulate dense topics, such as quantum physics, to virtually anyone. He coined the Feynman Technique, a more active way of learning that is essentially about pushing yourself to communicate an idea clearly, to help you remember it better later on. The technique is also meant to help you pinpoint any gap you may have in your knowledge.

Master any concept in four simple steps

As Feynman once said, “I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” So, if you want to truly master a financial concept for work or an exam, try using the technique. Here are four simple steps.

  1. Choose a topic and study – First, pick a subject you want to understand and start reviewing. As Feynman himself would agree, use active learning rather than passive learning, which means don’t just read about something – take notes in your own words. And remember, the Feynman technique can be used for any subject, no matter how complex.
  2. Explain it so a kid would get it – Now pretend you’re teaching your topic to a young child, by either explaining it out loud or drawing out/writing down the concept. Instead of using big words, keep it in simple layman terms. Simplifying the information forces you to deal with it in your own mind and way, which builds stronger neural pathways to help you later retrieve what you’ve learned.
  3. Identify knowledge gaps – As you try to communicate the subject in simple words, hit the books when you get stuck. The gaps in your knowledge should be apparent. Be sure to push yourself to find the right layman terms and keep addressing the knowledge gaps until you can explain the topic fully.
  4. Review language and use analogies – Repeat the process using simple language, but if you’re having trouble finding the right words, try using an analogy. Analogies simplify ideas by associating them to something more familiar, which may boost your ability to remember later on.

    For example, if you’re trying to explain how a bond works, think of it as lending money to a friend. The borrower (your friend) gets access to the lender’s (your) money up front, for a certain period of time, and then has to pay back the lender in the future, with interest.”

For more tips on effective studying, check out our other related articles.