ias exam

IAS preparation using the Feynman Technique

The journey of IAS preparation can be long, arduous and enriching. It is important to keep in mind while aiming for the IAS exam that the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) tests candidates for intellectual clarity and depth.

Moreover If you glance at the questions asked the previous year IAS exam, it will becomes evident that only memorization will not get you very far.

IAS preparation

You may come away with a sense that one must be an expert in multiple disciplines to answer the variety of questions in the Prelims and the Mains exam. But this is far from the truth and there are clever ways to get behind this problem.

I suggest reverse-engineering the question paper to decipher the hidden pattern of the IAS exam.

Observe the variety and difficulty of the questions and ask the following questions-

  1. What is the minimum amount of information I need to attempt this question?
  2. What all should I know to answer this question correctly and effectively?
  3. Where is this information available on the internet?

While going through these multiple previous year questions, you will observe that some questions are extremely difficult to pin to any one source of information and you must take educated guesses.

You will realize that It is impossible to know everything. You can read about the simplified UPSC syllabus here.

But it is possible to understand the fundamental concepts behind the workings of most things in the world- at least up to the level of clearing the IAS exam.

To achieve excellent quality of conceptual clarity you can use the Feynman Technique.

A Feynman and a fine teacher

Richard Feynman (1918- 1988), was a Nobel Prize winning physicist who made path-breaking contributions in topics such as quantum mechanics and particle physics. He also led the foundational development quantum computing, introducing the concept of nanotechnology to the scientific world.

Feynman for IAS preparation

Feynman was widely regarded as the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in all of Physics after the Einstein era.

He was a gifted teacher who taught with infectious passion and enthusiasm. His lectures on Physics were so riveting and lucid that they were aired for the general public to see. He could explain topics like quantum electrodynamics so beautifully and simply that it was astonishing.

Bill Gates once called Feynman the ‘Greatest teacher he never had’.

Despite all of his accomplishments, Feynman thought of himself as “an ordinary person who studied hard”. He believed that anyone was capable of learning with enough effort, even complex subjects like quantum mechanics and nuclear physics.

He believed in simplicity and the following technique is attributed to his personal learning and teaching style.

The Feynman Technique for IAS preparation

The Feynman Technique is a four-step process for understanding any topic. This technique rejects rote memorization in favor of true comprehension gained through selection, research, writing, explaining, and refining. 

Feynman’s biography, by James Gleick, says the following about his learning process-

“In preparing for his oral qualifying examination, a rite of passage for every graduate student, he chose not to study the outlines of known physics. Instead he went up to MIT, where he could be alone, and opened a fresh notebook. On the title page he wrote: Notebook Of Things I Don’t Know About. For the first but not the last time he reorganized his knowledge. He worked for weeks at disassembling each branch of physics, oiling the parts, and putting them back together, looking all the while for the raw edges and inconsistencies. He tried to find the essential kernels of each subject. When he was done he had a notebook of which he was especially proud.”

The Feynman technique holds that learning should be an active process of “trial and error, discovery, free inquiry”; and that if you couldn’t explain something clearly and simply it was because you didn’t understand it well enough yourself.

How to Use the Feynman Technique for IAS Preparation

Since the basis of the technique involves explaining the concept, you can practice it in a number of ways. While preparing for the UPSC exam, take any concept- Say Repo Rate or El Nino and imagine having to explain it to your 15 year old cousin.

IAS preparation
  1. Write the name of the concept and think about how best to explain this concept. Which examples would your cousin relate to?
  2. While explaining the concept, focus on using plain, simple language. Think about the underlying basic principle behind that phenomenon. Challenge yourself to find a unique example from current affairs.
  3. Review your explanation and find the areas where you found it difficult to explain something. This is the blind spot in your own understanding. Go back to the source and understand the concept better. If the source is not a good explainer of a toipic, like most textbooks, find a better exaplanation on Youtube. Chances are that you will find a short video made by someone which will have amazingly simple and lucid explanations of even the most difficult topics.
  4. Identify areas where you could find examples or could not convert the topic into simpler language. Ask yourself why this is and find out of if you are missing a key concept in your own understanding.Usually, a phenomenon is a result of multiple related principles.

It is wonderful that that the UPSC Mains exam contains Essay-type questions of world limits ranging from 100-250 words. It seems to me like that every question is a challenge in the Feynman technique- If you can explain and answer these question in simple and elegant way, you are sure to get a good score and build a solid knowledge network during IAS preparation.

IAS preparation

This clarity of thought is highly sought after and beneficial in the Interview stage of the IAS exam as well.

The Feynman Contest

I used the Feynman technique extensively during the IAS preparation and can attest to it’s efficacy. This is why I want to challenge you to a contest where you can win a Free gift.

The rules of the Feynman Contest are simple-

  • Try explaining the following Questions in simple words in the comments below.
  • You can choose to answer any number of Questions.
  • Do not use more than 200 words.
  • One winner will be chosen.
  • I will gift a personal favorite book to the best and most lucid explanation.

Questions:

AI
  1. What is Climate change and why is it so difficult to find a solution to it?
  2. Explain inflation and the role of a country’s central bank.
  3. What is Artificial Intelligence?
  4. Explain Continental drift.
  5. What is the difference between equality and equity?

Get set go!

6 thoughts on “IAS preparation using the Feynman Technique”

  1. Explain inflation and the role of a country’s central bank.

    Inflation is the phenomenon in which the commodity we purchased today, become costlier or cheaper the next day. The degree to which this rise depends mainly on the general demand and supply of the goods. If demand increases or supply shortens, the price increases.
    Inflation affects creditors as they will get only low value for the outstanding cash. Inflation may hurt importers, as they have to pay more domestic currency to obtain the required foreign currency to pay the trader.
    Who should control the inflation in economy ? A popular Government may act biased and purposely reduce the price level so as to please the people, which will affect the free market economy. Hence, a central bank is better suited for this role. As the top bank who supervises all other banks, RBI can nudge these banks to loosen or tighten the release of loans. Thereby controlling inflation in the economy.

  2. What is Climate change and why is it so difficult to find a solution to it?

    Answer: Deviaiton (variation) in climatic conditions from the expected value (parameters) is termed as Climatic Change. The reference value is taken as 19th century. The term climatic change often projected as negative term but it is not the case always. The Earth’s climate changes periodically from Glacial to Anti-Glacial periods. The fundamental problem arised when this periodic cycle got disturbed due unexpected rise in Earth’s temperature due multiple factors such as Industrialization, Fossils burning, Green House Effects etc..

    Why difficult to find a solution:
    The prime and foremost reason is it is a natural process. Anthropogenic factors are not the cause of climate change but at the same time there is correlaion between the human and the climate. Human activities had intensified the process (change). As a result the natural cycle got affected severly.
    Another difficulty is the inequalities among nations (developing and developed) in terms of basic needs such as foods and clean water to developmental aspirations. As a result developing nation finds counter productive as their basic needs are even not fulfilled (World Bank).
    Third important reason is the lack of self-motive and increased competing behaviour of the developed countries, bars them from reducing emission despite being top emitter of hydrocarbons.

    Conclusion:
    The world has acknowledged this change and came forward for agreements (Paris agreement) and conventions (UNFCC). India has also committed to contribute significantly by reducing its emmission upto 20% by 2022 and doubling green energy by 2030. Although severals steps has been taken but we need to understand that ‘road to success is always under construction’.
    Hence it rightly said, “…the world need(s) to differentiate between the survival emmission of the poor and luxury emmission of [the] rich.”

  3. Great work Vivekanand,
    I liked your answer- you explained what climate change was and the reasons behind it and then suggested some explanations for why it hasn’t been resolved yet.

    You obviously have the conceptual understanding needed to answer. Here’s what I would add this answer if i were you-
    1) Mention a few names like UNFCCC, Paris accord etc
    2) Mention human psychology is at play where most people under-estimate future dangers and focus only on the short-term consequences. A Psychological effect called the diffusion of responsibility seems to be at play among the global leaders where no one seems to be willing to accept responsibility and take action.
    3) There is a debate between developed and developing countries over who is responsible for climate change. Developed countries have benefited from fossil fuel burning and remain the major contributors to global emissions whereas developing countries argue that cutting back on emissions will slow their growth and be unfair to their populations.
    etc

    So far you are one of the top contenders in the contest. We will announce the winner soon.

    Thanks for participating!

    • Hi Sir,

      Thanks for the valuable feedback Sir, sure from next time i will incorporate the pattern which you have highlighted based on the nature of the question asked.

      Keep writing Sir, I regularly follow your blog posts. It is something different and gives an all new perspective to the preparation. Thanks for helping out the aspirants like me. Kindly try to give us some of your thoughts and tips on reading through NCERTs and revisions plus the dynamic current affairs part.

      Thanks and Regards,
      Vivek Anand

  4. Climate Change reason and Climate change and why is it so difficult to find a solution to it:

    It has been caused due to the change in optimum temperature of Earth, which supports various life forms and a slight change in this will un-stabilize certain life cycle and process in the environment. Climate change always doesn’t have to be as a result of anthropological activities because since the big bang our planet have gone through lots of climate changes which even wiped out number of species from the face of Earth and it even supported in the creation of more life forms like us. But now in current situation the climate change has been triggered by the human activities and the main reason for this is rapid industrialization around the world.

    Various international organisations have been set up and multiple climatic conventions have drafted plans to check and control this climate change. The economy these days are mostly dependent on the industries of various forms which consumes more power to run and most of these are fed with energy produced by burning or combusting of fossil fuels. Developed and developing countries are indulging in the trade wars which increases the demand and supply of goods, so as a result the industries has to run round the clock.

    • Hi Sir,

      I have given my answer based on my understanding, even if it is not good enough to obtain the gift. Kindly review my answer and please share your valuable comments.

      Thanks

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