How to Make Sure You Have Understood a Topic Clearly

How to Make Sure You Have Understood a Topic Clearly

I am going to start this topic with a simple question. Why do we go to school? What’s the actual motto of schooling?

The answer’s very simple and I guess most would agree to it. School is for learning. It can be anything, ranging from education to extracurricular activities, but the basic motto remains the same- “learning.”

Ironically, one of the primary things that students fail to learn in schools these days is the apt way to learn a topic clearly. Rote learning is not a decent technique to apply in every subject yet, the same technique is used repeatedlyby students to clear their exams.

Unfortunately, the negative consequences come in higher classes where students face a great deal of difficulty in grasping complex topics because their basics aren’t clear enough. Rote learning doesn’t quite cut it. Alternative effective techniques need to be implemented ASAP.

One such technique is known as the Feynman Technique.

The Feynman Technique: 5 Steps and that’s All

The Feynman Technique helps you to comprehend, recall as well as explain everything within a short span of time. The Feynman Technique is considered an active*learning technique.

*Just to make things clearer, the following are two examples of active and passive learning respectively. Self-testing is considered an active form of learning. Re-reading printed notes on the other hand is considered a passive form of learning. An active learning form is considered more effective than its passive counterpart. The Feynman Technique is an active form of learning.

The Feynman technique isn’t too complex and has only five steps that are:

  • Choose a concept,

  • Explain the concept as if you are explaining it to a five year old kid,

  • Pinpoint any knowledge gap,

  • Use an analogy,

  • Simplify the concept.

The Feynman technique: A brief History

The Feynman Technique is a mental model coined by Richard Feynman, a Nobel-prize winning physicist. Mr. Feynman was also known as the great explainer because of his extraordinary ability to explain things in the easiest way possible.

David Goodstein said that Richard Feynman took pride in himself on being able to explain most complex ideas in the simplest possible ways. According to Feynman, if a concept cannot be reduced to something that can be understood by any layman of the subject, then nobody has fully understood it.

How should you use the Feynman Technique?

The basic steps are simple. Adhering to it might be difficult though. Anyway, here you go:

1. Choose any concept

Like I said before, the Feynman Technique can be used to learn virtually anything.

Want to learn gravity? Or do you want to learn the theory of relativity? Or do you simply want to learn about World War 2 (like how did the war start)? No matter what it is, you can implement the Feynman Technique to understand it in detail.

Sothe first and the foremost thing that you have to do is to choose the topic that you want to learn.

2. Explain the concept as if you are explaining it to a layman

This is the part where you are forced to make the subject matter simpler such that even a layman can understand it from his/her point of view.

Another effective way to understand this point is to put yourself into the shoes of somebody who has no idea of the concept that you are studying at that very moment. By putting on a layman’s shoes, you are actually simplifying the subject to the best of your abilities.

A simplified subject is easier to comprehend.

3. Pinpoint the knowledge gap (if any)

Is it impossible for you to describe the concepts you have learned in layman’s terms? That means there is a knowledge gap somewhere that you have failed to notice or comprehend.

Go back to the matter again. Explore every nook and corner of the matter. Remember you HAVE TO get a simpler explanation from the concept; otherwise, the layman won’t understand it. Push yourself to get it.

If you get it, you just know for sure that you have understood the topic clearer than daylight.

Feynman used to believe that if anything can’t be explained in layman’s terms, there’s a problem with hisunderstanding; not with his teaching ability.

4. Using an analogy

Are you working with abstract concepts? Is it too abstract to be understood by a 5 year old kid?

Try using an analogy to build a link between the concept and something that you already know. This has the benefit of connecting old and new concepts in your head; thereby allowing you to learn the concept effectively.

5. Lose some details; but simplify it nonetheless

If the concept still appears pretty difficult to you, go back and simplify it even more. Sometimes it helps to lose a few details along the way.

When should you use this technique?

Almost always. Use this technique to explain concepts to yourself at the time of your studies. Use it now while you are studying this blog to explain the content of this blog to yourself.

Making a habit of it could be the secret to your academic success.

Why Feynman?

Leaning’s not about remembering something difficult; it’s more about making things easier. This technique can be used for anything. From understanding quantum physics to a simple math problem, this technique can be implemented to learn anything to perfection.

The basic principle is too simple. It forces you to make things easier. Meaning, if you feel that something is too difficult, the Feynman technique can make it easier in matter of minutes. By making things easier, you will automatically learn and remember it better.

I’ll end this now with a classic quote of the man himself-

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

- Richard Feynman


So that’s all for now then folks. Hope you had a good read.

Sudipto Das

Sudipto writes technical and educational content periodically for and backs it up with extensive research and relevant examples. He's an avid reader and a tech enthusiast at the same time with a little bit of “Arsenal Football Club” thrown in as well. He's got a B.Tech in Electronics and Instrumentation.
Follow him on twitter @SudiptoDas1993

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