How to Use the Feynman Technique to Learn Faster (With Examples)

There’s a quote that’s often attributed to Albert Einstein which goes:

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

Whether or not Einstein himself actually said this (it’s never been properly sourced, so it’s likely he didn’t), it’s still an insightful observation. It’s also one that yields a pretty powerful study tip when reversed:

If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.

By attempting to explain a concept in simple terms, you’ll quickly see where you have a good understanding of that concept. You’ll also be able to instantly pinpoint your problem areas, because they’ll be the areas where you either get stuck or where you end up resorting to using complex language and terminology.

This is the idea behind the Feynman Technique.

Named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman – who, in addition to being a brilliant scientist, was also called “The Great Explainer” for his ability to relay complex ideas to others in simple, intuitive ways – the Feynman Technique is a method for learning or reviewing a concept quickly by explaining it in plain, simple language.

In addition to helping you pinpoint those problem areas in the concept you’re trying to learn, the Feynman Technique gives you a quick, efficient way to shore up those areas using targeted learning. It’s a simple technique, but it’ll help you study much more efficiently once you put into action.

So how do you actually use it?

How to Use the Feynman Technique

Since the root of this technique involves explaining the concept, you could execute it in a number of ways – including literally grabbing a friend and explaining to them what you’re learning.  However, you don’t always have willing friends at hand, so here’s the simpler method that just involves a sheet of paper.

  • Step 1: Grab a sheet of paper and write the name of the concept at the top. You can use pretty much any concept or idea – even though the technique is named after Feynman, it’s not limited solely to math and science.
  • Step 2: Explain the concept in your own words as if you were teaching it to someone else. Focus on using plain, simple language. Don’t limit your explanation to a simple definition or a broad overview; challenge yourself to work through an example or two as well to ensure you can put the concept into action.
  • Step 3: Review your explanation and identify the areas where you didn’t know something or where you feel your explanation is shaky. Once you’ve pinpointed them, go back to the source material, your notes, or any examples you can find in order to shore up your understanding.
  • Step 4: If there are any areas in your explanation where you’ve used lots of technical terms or complex language, challenge yourself to re-write these sections in simpler terms. Make sure your explanation could be understood by someone without the knowledge base you believe you already have.

That’s it!

3 Examples of the Feynman Technique in Action

As I mentioned earlier, simply defining a concept is only half the battle. If you want to explain is clearly, you have to apply it by working through examples.

In the spirit of eating my own dog food, I’ve included three examples of how you might use the Feynman Technique below.

Example #1: The Pythagorean Theorem

We’ll start with a very simple example. The Pythagorean Theorem shows how you can find the length of any right triangle’s hypotenuse:

The Pythagoreon Theorem - Feynman Technique Example

When I initially started writing this explanation, I simply wrote the sentence at the top and then added the formula.

However, note how the final page has a couple of additions:

  • A small picture showing what a right triangle is
  • An arrow clarifying the nature of C in the formula

This was my attempt to go back and further simplify the explanation. Even with a basic mathematical theorem like this one, there are still assumptions and terms that encompass ideas that you may not be 100% clear on. Challenge yourself to identify those things and define them.

Example #2: Bayes’ Theorem

Since the Pythagorean Theorem is a pretty simple concept, I thought you might like to see an example using something more complex. Bayes’ Theorem – a concept used in probability theory and statistics – fit the bill nicely.

Bayes' Theorem - Feynman Technique Example

And here’s a page working through a specific example and using the formula:

Bayes Theorem Example Problem

These pages do a decent job of explaining Bayes’ Theorem at a very broad level, but I’ll be the first to admit that this is a topic that takes a good long while to truly grasp.

In fact, I had to spend three hours reading through A.I. researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky’s 15,000-word explanation of the theorem before it “clicked” in my brain, so definitely check that article out if you’re curious. You can also check out Arbital’s more recent guide, which is – by Yudkowsky’s own admission – much better and easier to follow.

Example #3: The CSS Box Model

Here’s an example of how the Feynman Technique can be used to review a non-mathematical concept.

The CSS Box Model is a tool for representing the size of HTML elements (i.e. the code that makes up web pages just like the one you’re reading right now), as well as the spacing around them. I chose it as an example because it’s a concept that took me a long time to grasp back when I started learning how to build websites as a teenager.

The CSS Box Model - Feynman Technique Example

To clarify that page’s general explanation, here’s an example of an element with specific height, width, margin, padding, and border values written in CSS code:

CSS Box Model Example

In addition to writing the code out, I thought it would be extra helpful to show exactly how each attribute affects the overall size of the element.

To a budding web developer, it might not be immediately obvious that, say, a padding value of 10px actually increases the element’s width by 20px overall (because the 10px is applied to each side).

If you happen to be curious about the Box Model and want to learn more, check out this guide.

Think Like a Child

One final tip: While you’re working through the Feynman Technique for any given concept, it can be useful to pretend that you’re explaining that concept to a child.

Doing this will boost your own understanding for one simple reason; in addition asking things like, “Can I have another Oreo?” and “Can I go watch Dragon Ball Z now please?” a kid is probably going ask…

“Why?”

While older people often become accustomed to taking things at face value, kids are naturally curious. They’re quick to point out their confusion.

If you teach a kid how the Pythagorean Theorem works and give him the formula for using it, there’s a good chance he’ll ask you:

“Why does that formula work? How can you know it’ll always work? Prove it, sucka!”

…and then you realize that the kid was actually Mr. T in disguise all along, and now your life depends on being able to explain a geometry concept. How did you even get here?

Seriously, though, this is a great mindset to adopt. Maybe you do know how the Pythagorean Theorem works, and maybe you can easily draw out the proof by rearrangement:

Pythagorean Theorem - Proof by Rearrangement

When it comes to other concepts, though, it’s likely that you’re relying on assumptions, heuristics, and other black boxes when it comes to certain details. So adopt a child-like mindset and challenge yourself to clearly explain the whole concept.

Once you’ve done that and worked through all the steps, you can further refine your knowledge of whatever you’re studying with other techniques, including:

Hope this helps!

If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.

Looking for More Study Tips?

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades - Thomas Frank

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy my free 100+ page book called 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less).

The book covers topics like:

  • Defeating procrastination
  • Getting more out of your classes
  • Taking great notes
  • Reading your textbooks more efficiently

…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.

If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:

I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂

Video Notes

How to Learn Faster Using the Feynman Technique (With Examples)

Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing this video 🙂

Have something to say? Discuss this episode in the community!

If you liked this video, subscribe on YouTube to stay updated and get notified when new ones are out!

Image credits

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Hey there! Please note that some links in the article may be referral links, meaning that if you buy something through them, I'll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you). This helps to support CIG, but please don't buy anything unless you truly believe it'll benefit you! You can learn more here. Thank you :)

Want to Earn Better Grades?

Did you find this article useful?

Over 150,000 awesome students are learning how to dominate their classes, get more done, and land the jobs they want - and you should too.

Join in, and I'll also send you a free copy of my book on earning better grades!

Leave a Reply

24 Comments on "How to Use the Feynman Technique to Learn Faster (With Examples)"

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Anupam

Just a little question- I have read about five to six chapters of the first volume of the Feynman lectures and I am thinking whether or not I am getting data about everything within that topic. Could it be that Feynman’s simplistic system is hiding information?

raja zulkarnain

sir can you please tell me if we have to learn a new concept from book how should we read and remember it before using feynman technique

Bruno Campos

That’s really usefull! I’m horrible in Math and I’ve never understood Math so good like I got it after that post haha! Cheers mate!!!

Cathrine

Thank you i learnt about the Css Model box and i had covered CSS ON my own but didn’t get most concepts wanna be a software developer and this is a great help for me to study. Today is first day to discover your YouTube Channel am from EastAfrica a country called Kenya.

Jason

Awesome explanation of Baye’s theorum! If you want to understand the logic behind the superhero example, here’s how I think about it:
The important point is to realize that the odds of a superhero being a 6’2″ bearded guy is 5x more likely than the average person being a 6’2″ bearded guy (5% compared to 1%). Now we take this realization and apply it to our example.

We are trying to figure out what the odds are of our 6’2″ bearded guy being a superhero. It is ALREADY established that he is 6’2″ and bearded. So now we apply what we figured out before, that a superhero is 5x more likely to be 6’2″ and bearded than not. Since the odds of any random person being a superhero is .01%, the oddsof a 6’2″ bearded guy being a superhero is .05% (5 x .01%).

Please please tell me if my logic is faulty.

Nickole John

Am I the only one who thinks that his final conclusion in Baye’s is not satisfying?
Of the 700,000 superheroes, 35,000 are 6″2 bearded guys. (In 35,000 there is both secretly and Not secretly 6″2 bearded superheroes)
So I if we want to know how many 6″2 bearded is secretly a superhero, think we should mulitply it by the final answer, and now the answer is: “1,750” (out of 70,000,000 6″2 bearded guys, 1,750 can be expected to secretly be superheroes).

Someone, PLEASE read this. I’d love to know if I’m wrong or right. If I’m wrong, I need someone to explain/clarify it for me.
Thank you so much for this great article tho.

— from your friendly neighborhood, Spidey 😉

Eman
Here, the sets {secretly a superhero} and {a superhero} are equal. That is to say, if you are a superhero, you have a secret identity. Therefore, his calculations hold. You multiply P (S|B) with total bearded dudes, 70 million to get the superheros total no. within bearded dude community. This is the no. of superheroes with beards, cause the no. itself is absolute -equal to n ( B □ “intersection” S) ….(whereas probabilities are always ‘relative’). You cannot multiply P (S|B) to total no of bearded superheros, even if we assume P (S|B) is the probability of “selecting a superhero who is still in the closet, given I have selected the bearded dude community ” . This is because I am finding conditional probability given the event of selecting a bearded guy. So I always multiply with total no. of bearded guys. If you make secret superhero and superhero separate sets, the substitution in the formula changes. Say, probability of a person being a superhero,secret or not, P ($)=0.0002. Given, P (B)= 0.01, P (S)=0.0001, P (B|$)=0.05. Then, probability that, having selected a random bearded dude, you have selected a secret superhero is P (B|S). P (S|B) = [ P… Read more »
Paul Jacobson

This is great, thanks! I just watched your video and love the CSS explanation. I’m currently learning CSS and your explanation is really helpful.

Douglas Jardine

I liked your video (although I don’t do the thumbs up thing). I would like to recommend to my students (I teach mathematic). Small problem – Bayes Theorem is P(A | B) = P(A and B) / P(B) not P(B | A) / P(B)

George Hnatiuk

Nick97 The statement is correct as shown. For example (e.g.) he might be Batman. He may not be Batman but Superman so you cannot conclude (i.e.) he is Batman.

Batman

I’m Batman

Nick97

I think you meant to write “i.e.” instead of “e.g.” in the Bayes’ theorem example.

Great article, by the way!

// Read This Next

27 College Tips I Learned Sophomore Year

Want more? Join over 150,000 students and grab my free book on earning better grades  →