Article written by Sathyani Kotakadeniya, law and psychology double degree undergraduate from the Queensland University of Technology, Australia (QUT).
Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning scientist who had an equally Nobel prize-worthy talent for explaining very complicated concepts in simple terms to just about anyone. He was the founder of the now widely known study method: the Feynman technique.
The Feynman Technique is a simple and effective study method to test how much you have learned. Incorporating the Feynman technique into your studies will help deter you from a passive learning style and prompt you to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. This will then help you ace those looming exams around the corner!
As a kid, I used to think that the people who used complex language to explain something had a very good understanding of what they were talking about, even though their explanations left me even more confused. It turns out I was wrong. Albert Einstein’s quote summarises the core idea of this technique:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
The Feynman technique can be broken down into four key steps:
For example, let’s say you are studying contract law this semester and want to learn about the enforceability of a contract.
Explain a complex concept you learned in class to a friend or family member who has a low understanding of the subject matter. If you are studying alone or prefer to do so, talking out loud or even teaching the potted plant on your table or teddy bear perched on your cupboard will suffice. The idea here is to verbalise what you have learned. Feynman stated that ideally, you should be able to explain a concept simply enough that even a third grader will be able to understand it.
Don’t use complex legalese language to describe enforceability. What does enforceability mean in layman’s terms? Can anyone who doesn’t study law understand what you are saying?
Ask yourself questions like: Was there something missing that I could have included when explaining this concept? Did I forget it, or am I unsure how to explain it? Mark or keep count of these errors.
At this stage, you should have had a preliminary reading of the concept, tried to teach someone or something about it and identified the gaps in your understanding. Make sure you fill in the gaps when you revisit your learning materials. Simplify!
This is a more advanced technique than glancing through your notes or textbooks because it will force your brain to think more critically and will boost your memory.