The Feynman Technique: How to Learn Faster

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Ultralearning" by Scott Young. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the Feynman Technique? When is the best time to use Feynman’s method?

The Feynman Technique was inspired by Dr. Richard Feynman as a method to develop a deeper knowledge of any subject. This method is especially helpful for overcoming the illusion that you know something better than you actually do.

Continue on to learn more about the Feynman Technique and how to use it.

The 3 Steps of the Feynman Technique

Physicist Richard Feynman, known for his eccentric approach to learning, inspired an ultralearning method for developing deeper knowledge called the Feynman Technique. It’s a valuable tool when you want to understand an idea intuitively. The method has three steps:

Step #1: Grab a piece of paper and document the issue or idea you’re seeking to understand.  

Step #2: Underneath the idea, write an explanation of the idea as if you’re teaching another person. 

  • If you’re exploring a problem, give a detailed description of how to solve it, and explain why it’s the best approach.
  • If you’re exploring an idea, describe it with the assumption that your reader has no knowledge of the idea.

Step #3: As you’re completing step #2, stop whenever you don’t feel able to clearly explain, and review your learning resources to get clarity. Then continue with your explanation. 

This method helps you overcome the illusion of explanatory depth (which makes you think you know something better than you do) by making you describe what you’re learning in detail. 

When to Use It

There are three significant scenarios this method can benefit.

Scenario #1: Lack of Understanding

When you don’t understand something at all, apply the method while going back and forth between it and your learning materials. This allows you to slow down and make sense of an idea until you understand it deeply enough to describe it to others.

Scenario #2: Problem-Solving Difficulties

When you come across a problem that feels unsolvable, or you’re struggling to master a skill or method, use the Feynman technique to create a standard explanation summary, but as you’re doing so, break the problem down step-by-step (in even greater detail than the summary). This keeps you from writing your explanations only in summary form, which may cause you to lose key details for your understanding. You invest more time upfront, but you save time later by solidifying your understanding in one practice session. For example, 

Scenario #3: Intuition Development

Try developing your deeper understanding of an idea by exploring it in a wide variety of ways. For example, create abstract, visual representations rather than putting each detail into words, (the intention being to create examples that learners with less understanding will easily grasp).   

The Feynman Technique: How to Learn Faster

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  • How a formal education doesn’t open the doors it once could
  • The 9 core principles that can help you master any skill
  • How to create a self-directed learning project to help you advance in your field

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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