Feynman Technique: How to Simplify Complex Ideas

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Picture of Florencia Basavilbaso

Florencia Basavilbaso

Content Writer At Gradehacker

When it comes to studying, there are many learning styles you can come up with to learn anything you need. And to get a deep understanding of the most complex subjects, you have the Feynman Technique!

And what is that? You may be asking, and that is what we want to explain to you today!

At Gradehacker, we have years of experience providing the best method of learning for our community and facilitating their college experience, making us the non-traditional adult student #1 resource.

To enhance your learning process and improve your understanding, we present you with a powerful method and all the necessary key steps to elevate your grades and enjoy your study time!

What is The Feynman Technique?

Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist considered highly intelligent, an accomplished scientist, and an all-around genius.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist is mainly known for his Feynman Technique, a four-step process to turn complicated terms and advanced concepts into complete understanding.

The 4-step learning method is made so anyone can approach learning through:

You understand complex concepts by separating them into smaller, simpler parts and then reconstructing them.

The technique encourages the learner to take a concept they are trying to learn and explain it in their own words to gain a deeper understanding and retain more information.

This method is particularly useful for studying difficult topics with complex and specific vocabulary, such as mathematics, physics, and computer science.

The Feynman Technique follows four steps:

  1. Choose a concept you want to learn.
  2. Teach it to someone else in simple terms.
  3. Identify gaps in your explanation and focus on them to deepen your understanding of the concept.
  4. Take time to reflect on what you have learned and review the concept further if needed.

This last step is important for reinforcing your understanding of the concept.

These types of learning techniques encourage active learning, which has been proven effective for mastering complicated concepts.

It allows you to approach difficult topics and stay organized, making it easier to understand and remember. The Feynman Technique can be applied to any subject, providing a powerful tool and deep learning for anyone.

Now let’s take a deep look into what the steps are about.

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How Does it Work: Step-by-Step Tutorial

As we previously mentioned, this is a way of studying and understanding complex concepts by breaking them down into smaller ones. Then you’ll use simple language where you can share your point of view and, that way, make it memorable.

To get the most out of this technique, it’s important to follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose a Topic and Study

The first step in the Feynman Technique is choosing a topic or concept you want to learn.

This could be anything from a complex physics concept to a new language. It will be easier if you select something that interests you and that you think would benefit from this method of study, but it works with any challenging concept as well.

Once you have what you need to study, you do your research and try to understand the topic.

Read about it, watch videos or lectures, take notes, and ask questions. It’s important to get as much information as possible so that you can fully understand the concept. 

In this step, you should also list related terms and concepts you need to learn.

Step 2: Teach and Explain Your Topic in Simple Terms

The second step of the Feynman Technique is to explain your topic in your own words.

This means breaking down the complex concept into smaller, more manageable parts and then attempting to explain them using only the simplest language.

Write down all the steps you took to break down the concept and try to explain it in as few words or in simpler terms as possible.

After getting this, no matter how it went, it will lead us to the next step, which is:

Step 3: Identify Knowledge Gaps And Fill Them

The third step of the Feynman Technique is to identify any knowledge gaps or areas of confusion.

It’s perfectly fine if you can’t memorize or explain all the steps you broke down.

Read through your explanation and look for parts you don’t understand or are unsure about. It’s perfectly fine if you can’t memorize or explain all the steps you broke down.

Once these areas have been identified, research them in more depth and make sure that you fully understand them individually before moving on.

Also, it’s important to ask questions and seek help if needed. Don’t stay with the knowledge base, do anything you need to get a deep understanding and no doubts and gaps left.

With these concepts cleared out of the way, you are ready to jump to the last step.

Step 4: Refine Your Explanation Until You Understand it Completely

The fourth and final step of the Feynman Technique is to refine and simplify your explanation until you understand it completely.

This involves going over your notes and revising them if needed

You may need to re-read some of the material you used for research or ask questions to ensure that you understand the concept completely.

Once you feel confident about your understanding, you can apply this technique to the next topic or concept.

Pros of The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique is a powerful learning method that provides many benefits. This technique will help you to:

This technique enables students to gain a deeper understanding and better recall of the information. Plus, it can be applied to any subject, making it a great tool for all learners, regardless of their educational level.

Cons of The Feynman Technique

This technique is great in many ways, but there are some things that you want to take into account when approaching your study session.

One of the drawbacks of the Feynman Technique is that it can be time-consuming

It requires effort and focus, as learners must break down concepts into simpler parts and regenerate them in their own words.

This way, you may find it unsuitable for all topics or learners. Some topics may require more technical knowledge or ability than the Feynman Technique can provide.

For example, complex mathematical concepts or advanced scientific theories may not be easily simplified by breaking them down into simple parts.

And overall, this learning method may not be suitable for learners who have, in general, difficulty breaking down concepts into simpler parts.

Finally, the Feynman Technique requires much practice and repetition to master a concept. Considering that the learner must break down the concept into simpler parts and then recreate the information, it can be a lot to do for some.

So, it all depends on who you are and what you need!

Anyone can use this technique and enjoy its benefits, but if you are looking for a strategy to improve your productivity in a way that is more fast-paced and manage your study time in a different way, you should definitely check the Pomodoro Technique.

This time-management strategy is meant to help you get through your studies quickly by giving you a sense of urgency and rewarding your effort with short breaks to clear your head. You can find more information here:

How to Use The Feynman Technique (Example)

The Feynman Technique is a powerful learning method that can be applied to a variety of topics and concepts. Here are two examples of how to use it:

Feynman Technique applied to math

We take a complex math equation and break it down into smaller, simpler steps. Then you have to write out each step in your own words and explain what each step is doing and why it’s being done.

For example, let’s say you want to learn how to calculate the area of a circle.

  • A circle is a shape that has a round edge. 
  • The distance across the middle of a circle is called the diameter. 
  • The distance around the outside of a circle is called the circumference.

If what you want is to calculate the area of a circle, based on the prior step, you may not know the formula for calculating the area of a circle.

The formula for calculating the area of a circle is A = πr2 (A= pi * r^2)

Where A is the area, π (pi) is a constant value of approximately 3.14, and r is the radius of the circle. The radius is half the diameter of the circle.

  • A circle is a round shape with a diameter across the middle
  • To find the area of a circle, you need to know the radius (half the diameter) and the value of pi
  • The formula for the area of a circle is pi times the radius squared. You can calculate the area of a circle by multiplying the value of pi by the radius squared.

By using the Feynman Technique to learn math concepts, you can simplify complex ideas into easy-to-understand language. This can help you learn math faster and improve your ability to retain the knowledge over time.

Feynman Technique applied to biology

Let’s now use a more simple subject like biology and explain the photosynthesis.

For example, you are trying to memorize the Photosynthesis process

Photosynthesis is how plants make their own food using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water.

You may not know the steps or in what order the photosynthesis is made.

It takes seven steps:

  1. Light absorption: They absorb light from the sun. 
  2. Conversion of light energy to chemical energy
  3. Water splitting: Water molecules are split into hydrogen ions (H+) and oxygen (O2), and electrons are released.
  4. Electron transport chain: Electrons from water moving through the plant cell, transferring energy as they go.
  5. Carbon Dioxide Fixation: plants combine carbon dioxide from the air with a molecule called RuBP.
  6. The Calvin cycle: The process of turning carbon dioxide into glucose.
  7. Release of oxygen.

Photosynthesis is a process where a plant absorbs energy from the sun, which is then used to create glucose (sugar) and oxygen. This glucose is used by the plant for energy to grow and develop.

This is done through seven basic steps: light absorption, conversion of light energy to chemical energy, water splitting, electron transport, carbon dioxide fixation, and the Calvin cycle, and the release of oxygen.

The process is essential for plants, algae, and some bacteria to survive and plays a critical role in the Earth’s ecosystems.

Then if you explain it to other people and they have questions that you can’t answer, you can go back to your textbook or other resources to review the information and find the answers.

Simplify the concept further and continue the process until you can explain it and feel comfortable.

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Tips For Maximizing The Effectiveness of The Feynman Technique

  1. Use diagrams to visualize key ideas and help organize your thoughts
  2. Work through different examples of each concept to ensure you understand it fully
  3. Ask questions as you go along to deepen your understanding further
  4. Practice regularly to build up your knowledge and confidence
  5. Review the material overtime to ensure you have retained it
  6. Compare your work with the original source to ensure you fully understand it and have the information correctly.
  7. Take frequent breaks while studying so that your mind can stay fresh and focused. This will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed or frustrated

To maximize the effectiveness of the Feynman Technique, it’s helpful to include both visual and auditory elements. Drawing diagrams to explain key concepts can help organize your thoughts and make complex ideas easier to understand.

Then, verbally explaining each concept in your own words will help you better understand the subject. Asking questions as you go along will further deepen your comprehension and ensure that you have a good interpretation of the material.

If you don’t know how to be a visual learner or want to take your studying skills to the next level, check out these tips:

Taking Your Learning to the Next Level With The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique is a great way to learn any concept in a simplified and organized manner, there is no doubt of that!

It’s a technique that will never get old, and the more you use it, the easier it becomes to take any information from your classes, making it ideal for any student!

And if you still have doubts and don’t know how to approach your studies, remember we are here for you! From your college essay to entire classes, we help anyone looking to find balance in their lives and earn their degree faster!

You can also check our other articles for more tips and advice that will improve your study technique and learning experience:

Picture of Florencia Basavilbaso

Florencia Basavilbaso

Florencia Basavilbaso is a content creator passioned for writing, music, films, and the arts. At Gradehacker, she helps to improve non-traditional students life’s by finding and providing the most useful information, so they can always progress. You can find her on LinkedIn.