The Feynman Technique for Fast Learning

Learning difficulty? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Feynman proposes 4 simple steps to improve the learning process.
The Feynman Technique for Fast Learning
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 29 November, 2023

Maybe at some point you’ve felt like you weren’t getting anywhere in some particular subject. Or maybe you’ve wondered why you were learning so slowly.

Maybe you’ve even gotten desperate after failing to remember the meaning of some concept after trying several times. Well, retaining information in your mind isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

But we’re here to help with that; today we’re going to show you the Feynman technique.  It’s a simple, effective strategy for picking up knowledge more quickly and deeply. Keep reading to find out what it involves.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

-Albert Einstein-

Who was Richard Feynman?

Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist. He’s known for his work on path integral formulation in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, the superfluid physics of subcooled helium, and the Parton model for particle physics.

Feynman, along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his contributions to quantum electrodynamics.

On top of that, according to a 1999 survey by the British magazine Physics World, out of all 130 major world physicists they listed, Feynman falls among the top ten of the greatest physicists of all time.

I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding, they learn by some other way — by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!”

-Richard Feynman-

Richard Feynman

What exactly is the Feynman technique?

Biographer James Gleick explained the Feynman technique in his book, Genius: The Life Science of Richard Feynman. By using this technique, anyone can pick up knowledge effectively if they really try. In fact, it’s also an amazing study tool you can use to prepare for exams. 

“What I cannot create, I do not understand.

-Richard Feynman-

James Gleick tells the story of how Feynman opened a blank notebook and wrote “NOTEBOOK OF THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT” on the title page. He was reorganizing his knowledge.

The physicist was always trying to get to the heart of everything he studied. What he wanted to do with that notebook was to write down explanations for the concepts he was developing in his research. 

The great thing is that you can also do this same thing with a friend. What you would do is tell them whatever you’ve learned so that you can memorize it and understand it better as you explain it.

But we don’t all have friends who are so patient and willing to help. That’s why Feynman developed a slightly different, but equally effective technique: learning by explaining. 

Friends using the Feynman technique: learning by explaining.

The basic idea is to actively read the material and then try to explain it simply, as if you’re talking to a child or someone who knows much less than you about the subject.

That’s why this learning method is seen as active, because you explain what you’re studying. Doing that means you have to use different language and different strategies. As a result, you notice your mistakes and learn more efficiently.

I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

-Richard Feynman-

The 4 steps in the Feynman technique

The Feynman technique for learning is made up of four simple steps. So let’s take a look at what they are.

The first step

To begin with, you have to get a sheet of paper and write the name of the concept you’re studying at the top. For example, if you’re studying the Pythagorean theorem, you should write that at the top of your paper.

The second step

Once you’ve written down the concept, you have to describe it in your own words. You also have to use simple language, as if  you’re describing it to someone else.

If we keep going with the Pythagorean theorem example, you’d have to write something like “in a right triangle, the square root of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares roots of the other two sides.”

hand writing in notebook using the feynman technique

The third step

What you do in the third step is look over everything you’ve written. The point of this is to identify whatever parts aren’t explained perfectly, are confusing, or aren’t well-written.

To do that, you can go back over your notes or even look for new information. It’s also helpful to use examples to reinforce your knowledge.

“Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.

-Richard Feynman-

The fourth step

The fourth step is where you look over what you’ve written one last time. So if you’ve used language that’s too complex, you rewrite it in a simpler way that’s easier to understand. 

Sometimes using metaphors or analogies can help with that. The important thing is to make sure that anyone could understand your ideas.

If you’ve gone through these four simple steps and your explanation still isn’t easy to understand, you might not have fully grasped what you studied. In that case, you should start the process over again.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.