• Ian Gibbs

Student Tip 2: Don’t Do What You’re Told

Updated: Sep 12


Washing machines are great, aren’t they?

You choose the temperature, duration and spin-speed and, all being well, that’s what your washing machine does.

Your toaster works in a similar way. You choose a setting between warm and burnt and that’s what you get.

One day, I hope I have a robot that when instructed will clean the kitchen, take the dog for a walk and bring me a full English breakfast in bed with a copy of the morning news. That would be lovely.

But, as you know, you’re not a robot. You can think for yourself. You’re not limited by what someone (your teacher) tells you.


Although flatly refusing to cooperate will only cause problems, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t do more.

‘Do more?!’ you exclaim.


Before you start wondering what sort of idiotic blog this is, please let me explain.

When your teacher tells you what to do (for instance - when setting homework), she sees the situation from her position: a teacher talking to a class of students of various abilities.

But you see it from yours. You know your strengths and weaknesses. You know if the task is hard or easy.

If it’s hard, then maybe re-reading a few pages from your course book (even though you weren’t told to do so) might be a good idea.


In this case, the extra reading would make the task easier (and quicker) to do. So you invest time and effort at the beginning to save it (and get a better result) at the end.

If it’s easy, then by simply doing minimum, you’re not going to learn much more and your teacher won’t see how much you know either.


So perhaps by doing a little bit more (such as adding a diagram or a few interesting factoids) you’ll learn a bit more and give the teacher reason to give you a better grade come assessment time.

Whether you call it thinking for yourself, taking the initiative or being proactive, it’s an important ability you should develop.

It’s not only useful for learning stuff better, it’s also important for impressing future employers or running your own business.


So start thinking for yourself, think ‘out of the box’ every time you are given an assignment.

For example, you’ve been asked to write a 500-word review of a film you’ve recently seen. Your teacher has suggested you break it up into an introduction, body and summary.


But if you thought for a moment, you might decide to divide the body into ‘best bits’, ‘worse bits’ and ‘surprises’. Or, if you prefer, ‘characters’, ‘conflicts’ and ‘resolutions’.


Whatever you use is going to make the task clearer, more structured and easier to do which means doing it in less time and getting higher marks.

So the next time your teacher explains an activity or sets you homework, take a moment to think and ask yourself these questions:

✓ What is the objective of this task?

✓ What hasn’t my teacher said that might be useful?

✓ How could I do the task better?

By taking a few moments to think and do something you’re not specifically told to do, you can avoid problems, save time/effort and do the task better.

Don’t sit around waiting to get spoon-fed – you’re not at primary school any more.


Think for yourself and start making things happen so you can start learning stuff better.

Tip 2: Don’t wait to be told what to do. Start thinking for yourself.



For more study tips all together in a convenient little book, see… 23 Tips To Learn Stuff Better

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