Learn Like a Nobel Prize Winner
“ If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Do you ever find yourself hunched over your desk, staring at pages of highlighted text, hoping that the information will magically imprint itself into your brain?
Or maybe you go into a test feeling like you knew everything about the subject, only to walk out realizing that you didn’t know much at all.
Don’t worry. You aren’t alone in these feelings. In fact, there was a renowned physicist who struggled with the same exact problems. Here’s how he fixed them.
Using the Feynman Technique
Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, developed a method to learn and internalize topics through teaching. This technique, known as the Feynman technique, is a systematic method of understanding, simplifying, and explaining complex concepts.
The goal of the technique is to take something hard to understand, clarify it, and then explain it as if you were talking to a child.
There are four steps in the Feynman technique:
Step 1: Study a topic.
The first step is to identify what topic or concept you want to learn about. Write the subject on the top of a piece of paper. Then, write everything you know or have learned about the topic on your paper. You can use bullet points, an outline, or any method that works best for you. It is essential to keep the points simple; you do not have to write an essay.
Step 2: Teach it to a child.
Once you’ve exhausted your knowledge, pretend you’re teaching and explaining the topic to a child or someone who doesn’t know the subject. Your goal here is to explain the topic in your own words, using examples that apply your understanding.
It is important to keep your discussion simple, defining the concept with examples and analogies. Keep the information brief and avoid technical jargon.
Step 3: Evaluate your teaching.
Now is the time to reflect honestly on how well you were able to explain your topic.
Were there areas that you had difficulty explaining? Did you find yourself referring back to your notes to refresh your memory? What about technical terminology? Did you use language that required an understanding of more technical concepts?
Use your evaluation of your teaching to identify your knowledge gaps and determine which ideas are too complex.
Step 4: Reorganize and simplify.
Rewrite your explanation in simpler terms, reorganize your thoughts for flow, finish incomplete thoughts, and find simple examples to break down complex ideas. It may take a few rewrites to simplify your subject matter, but it is essential to ensure that you clearly understand the topic and that your audience does as well.
It may seem counterintuitive to “dumb down” your information, but understanding starts with simplicity. Technical language, assuming someone has a baseline of knowledge and not breaking information into knowledge grabs, stands in the way of understanding a topic. If you can teach someone a confusing or complex topic, you will boost your confidence, encouraging you to continue learning.
Why Does the Feynman Technique Work?
The Feynman technique enables you to review a concept and identify your knowledge weak spots using active learning. Then, it challenges you to prove your understanding with clarity and simplicity of concepts and ideas. You aren’t passively reading and highlighting; you are actively thinking about a subject and evaluating how you would explain that subject to another in simple terms.
Help from Around the Internet
• Book: How to Become A Straight-A Student
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• App: Forest
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• Video: Three Websites Every Student Should Know About
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