What is the Feynman Technique and Why Does It Work So Well?

The Feynman Technique is a highly effective studying method that involves use of teaching a subject to further internalize the information.

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By Lillian Dong

Coming home from school, you stop to think—something’s off. There is a nagging feeling in the back of your head, almost as if you forgot something. There is a biology exam tomorrow! You sprint to your room, nearly tearing the zipper open as you unpack along the way. Once you are at your desk, you slide everything over and throw down your textbook. You flip to chapter three and your eyes are already drooping. Despite reading the pages, again and again, the information just won’t stick. Frustrated, you sit there sulking before remembering a new study method you heard of: the Feynman Technique. Out of options, you decide to try it out.

The Feynman Technique, created by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, has many variations but generally follows the same pattern: review, teach, organize, and repeat. These three steps, while simple in nature, prove to make a successful studying method as it solves the root issue of studying: the inability to grasp the fundamental concepts of the topic. The method’s final goal is to create a narrative or story that allows for the internalization of information. As a result, the Feynman Technique is highly efficient, acting as a much more productive medium of preparation and learning.

The first step of the Feynman Technique is to compile information that is relevant to the topic of choice. It begins with reviewing the material, which can be done in various ways. In most cases, it starts with rewriting the information that is remembered to formulate a basis of knowledge that will be relied upon and added onto. Once finished, the next step requires a more verbal approach that enforces an active form of studying. Using the information previously compiled, make an attempt to teach the subject to verbally elaborate further details. This could be teaching family, friends, or even inanimate objects. The incorporation of simplified language prevents knowledge gaps from being formed through the use of complicated jargon, words that are esoteric to a field of study. Simplicity also creates clarity, demonstrating a deeper understanding of knowledge extracted from surface-level explanations. Similar to the first review, the final step includes identifying areas of improvement in the explanation. Update the teaching approach by noting complicated jargon, structuring the explanation so that the ideas flow into one another, and adding analogies to clarify concepts. Remember to cross out irrelevant information and organize your knowledge to be crystal clear. From here, the steps are repeated.

But why is this particular method so acclaimed? Well, for starters, we need to understand what memory actually is. When a person learns something, that information is stored as electrical and chemical signals, which activate a series of neurons, or nerve cells. This activation occurs as the signals pass through a set of synapses, which are the areas between neurons. As this pattern of neurons is activated more, a specific memory gradually becomes more familiar. The inverse is also true—the less that sequence is visited, the harder the memory becomes to recall. This phenomenon is demonstrated through the forgetting curve, which psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus proposed in 1855. The forgetting curve models information retention over time, suggesting that people quickly forget most of what was learned while only retaining a small percentage. As a result, just reviewing the information is insufficient. The Feynman Technique “bends” the curve, shortening the time it takes to understand the information and increasing the amount retained. It effectively transforms short-term memory into long-term memory through the repeated organization of meaningful insights.

More importantly, the main aspect of the Feynman Technique emphasizes being able to teach this information and to teach it well. This concept of learning through teaching is not a unique idea, however. In fact, it dates back to a quote by the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca: “While we teach, we learn.” In the 1980s, a German author by the name Jean-Pol Martin gave this concept a name: the protégé effect. The reasoning behind this is simple: when a person learns in order to teach, there is more engagement with the material compared to learning for the sake of learning. By incorporating a teaching mentality, there are clear benefits, such as increased motivation, a deeper awareness of what is being taught, and applying superior learning strategies in organizing data. When it comes to the act of teaching, all of these factors play a role in consolidating that information, achieving the end goal of the Feynman Technique.

“Thank you for attending my TedTalk! Goodnight.” As you finish your presentation of macromolecules to the array of stuffed animals on your bed, you let out a sigh of relief. Glancing at your heavily annotated paper filled with notes on proteins, you feel a sense of pride. The information that was so difficult to recall an hour ago is now immediately accessible. You put away your textbook happily, knowing you will ace this test.