The Difference Between Surface and Deep Level Understanding
In the early 20th century, Nobel prize-winning physicist Max Planck toured Germany to give lectures on quantum mechanics. He used the same chauffeur to drive him across the country who also happened to accompany him to the lecture hall each time.
After hundreds of trips, the chauffeur half-jokingly suggested that at this point he’d memorized the lecture so well he could deliver it by himself just as well as Max Planck could. Max Planck, not so jokingly, decided to take him up on the offer.
At the next event, the chauffeur went ahead and began to deliver the lecture by himself, which he did perfectly. To his delight, he received great applause from everyone in the room, but then came time for the questions.
As you may have expected, the chauffeur couldn’t begin to comprehend the question despite having “learned” the lecture and watching Max Planck answer hundreds of questions in previous events.
This story demonstrates an important distinction between surface level ‘Chauffeur knowledge’, and deep ‘Planck knowledge’. In your preparation for the FE Electrical and PE Power Exam, it’s crucial that you minimize the former and instead, try to develop deep understandings of the concepts so that you can tackle any question on the exam.
But how do you develop these deep concepts instead of falling into the trap of passively reviewing and memorizing? In order to develop a deeper understanding of concepts, you need to be critical of your own understanding.
An extremely simple yet powerful systematic way of testing your own understanding of concepts is a technique known as The Feynman Method, popularized by Richard Feynman.
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Who was Richard Feynman?
Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist who invented Feynman Diagrams and contributed immensely to quantum electrodynamics. But his massive fame in today’s day and age comes from a different reason.
Feynman was nicknamed “The Great Explainer” for his incredible ability to simplify extremely complex topics and teach them effectively. Its easy to complicate concepts and ideas with wordy definitions, but it requires a deep understanding to take a complicated idea and explain it simply.
How do I use the Feynman Technique?
1. Take out a piece of paper and write the name of the concept at the top.
2. Write the definition/explanation of the concept under including all scientific jargon and complicated terms.
3. Rewrite this sentence in simple words.
4. As you’re writing it in simpler words, you will notice when you have weaknesses because you’re having trouble explaining it simple terms. Take note of these weaknesses or part of the concept that you don’t understand so that you can learn them.
Example: Difference between a Permutation and Combination
Definition: A permutation of a set is the arrangement of its members into a sequence or linear order, or if the set is already ordered, a rearrangement of its elements. A combination of a set is a selection of some members of a set regardless of order.
Simplification 1: A permutation of a set is a selection of its members where different orders mean different permutations. A combination of a set is a selection of its members where different orders still lead to the same combination as long as the same members are present.
Simplification 2: A permutation is any selection where order matters, a combination is a selection where order does not matter.
As you keep using the Feynman Technique, you will notice that you instinctively begin to simplify things even without a paper. The Feynman Technique can become an extremely powerful tool that you can use in your life to make sure you understand something well.
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Which topics should I use for the Feynman Technique?
If you get a question wrong on the On-Demand Course, Study Guide, or Practice Exams, always ask yourself why you got it wrong.
More often than not, its because you didn’t understand the concept that well. You should be very critical of this gap in your understanding so that you can fix it. By re-visiting the topic and then using the Feynman Technique, you can help confirm that you understand the topic well.
How does the Feynman Method Help?
The FE Electrical and PE Power Exams are concept-heavy tests that require you to apply what you’ve learned to a variety of problems. There is no use in memorizing formulas or re-reading textbooks. Instead, it is far more helpful to fill gaps in your understanding so that you can tackle more practice problems.
The two ingredients among the many FE exam tips for a successful attempt at the exams is a solid understanding of the wide range of topics and lots of practice so that you have the confidence and experience to handle anything the exam can throw at you.