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What I've Learned about Learning Efficiently

I use the Feynman Technique to learn concepts and SQ3R for reading comprehension. After 15 months in a doctoral program, they are essential for me.


The Feynman technique is a strategy for mastering a skill or information through concise and simple language. To paraphrase James Gleick, a biographer of the famed physicist and Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman (1918-1988), who developed the technique while in graduate school, it's a process of disassembly and reassembly that creates a path to understanding. Gleick's 1992 biography, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, is the primary source for descriptions of the technique.

Based on Feynman, my approach to studying looks like this:

The essence of Feynman's approach can be seen in his lectures from the California Institute of Technology (available in print or freely online at In Lecture One, we find a variation of his well-known quotation about particles, and it's a fitting example of the conciseness, clarity, and brevity that characterizes his technique.

Things are made of myriads of particles about 10-8 cm in diameter. They are in perpetual motion, the faster, the hotter. They stick together in complicated patterns. They resist being pushed too close together.” [The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963]

The Feynmann Technique (which is based on rephrasing, simplification, and recall) also works well with Francis P. Robinson’s SQ3R reading comprehension technique (first published in his 1946 book, Effective Study). SQ3R is the approach I use when I'm tackling an article or book chapter; Feynman is the technique I use for specific concepts.

Survey (skim chapter headings, figures, tables, diagrams);

Question (complete practice problems; ask yourself What is this about? How

does it help me?);

Read actively and re-phrase (using prior knowledge from S & questions from Q)

Recite what you learned to activate retrieval benefits (recall S and Q);

Review what you learned (write and repeat your thoughts; use flashcards);

embrace spaced repetition.

The Feynmann Technique applies especially to Robinson’s stages of read, recite, and review.


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