# According to Feynman himself, his classes were a failure for 90% of his students.

*While some may view Feynman-style pedagogy as supporting inclusive learning for all students across varying levels of ability, Feynman himself acknowledged that his methods only worked for the top 10% of his students.*

At first glance, the Feynman lectures might suggest that anybody can learn a subject if it’s presented in an exciting, intuitive, and conceptual manner. But according to Feynman himself, his classes were a failure for 90% of his students.

In his lectures, Feynman did a phenomenal job appealing to intuition and conceptual thinking, making complex physics feel simple and accessible without getting too deep into the math.

On the flipside, however – when it came time to solve actual problems on exams, Feynman’s students failed.

Don’t believe it? Take it from Feynman himself in the preface to his quantum mechanics lectures:

*"I don't think I did very well by the students. When I look at the way the majority of the students handled the problems on the examinations, I think that the system is a failure."*

Additionally, while some may view Feynman-style pedagogy as supporting inclusive learning for all students across varying levels of ability, Feynman himself acknowledged that his methods only worked for the top 10% of his students – and he even went as far as to admit that those were the only students he was actually trying to engage with his teaching.

*"Of course, my friends point out to me that there were one or two dozen students [10% out of a 180-student cohort] who—very surprisingly—understood almost everything in all of the lectures, and who were quite active in working with the material and worrying about the many points in an excited and interested way. These people have now, I believe, a first-rate background in physics—and they are, after all, the ones I was trying to get at."*

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It’s worth noting that, because Feynman taught at Caltech (which is one of the most selective universities in the world, and possibly the most STEM-focused university in the world), the top 10% of Feynman’s students were really the top 1% of students in general (and that’s a conservative estimate).

So, for the other 99% of students, what method of learning DOES work?

What works is starting out with a minimal dose of explanation (in which intuition and conceptual thinking do have a place) – but then immediately switching over to active problem-solving.

During active problem-solving, students should begin with simple cases but then climb up the ladder of difficulty to cover all cases that the student could reasonably be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of on an assessment.

Assessments should be frequent and broad in coverage, and students should be assigned personalized remedial reviews based on what they answered incorrectly.

Students should progress through the curriculum in a personalized and mastery-based manner, only being presented with new topics when they have (as individuals, not just as a group) demonstrated mastery of the prerequisite material.

And even after a student has learned a topic, they should periodically review it using spaced repetition, a systematic way of reviewing previously-learned material to retain it indefinitely into the future.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. In fact, it’s an inhuman amount of work. Which is why I’ve been working at Math Academy building a system to automate it.