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I was frustrated with an assignment the teacher handed out. I had called the teacher over to ask a bunch of questions about the problems on the assignment. I asked clarifying question after clarifying question. Eventually the teacher just told me “You’re thinking about it too much.”

I like to joke about this but at the moment I lost faith in school. These days I understand the bad advice teachers regularly give.

Despite that, there is a lot of wisdom to this comment when you’re discussing the average school assignment. As much as I think it’s a bit of an insult to wisdom in general, this idea can be taken as advice to get through most of school.

Most assignments should be taken at face value. When you can interpret a question in multiple different ways, it generally doesn’t matter which way you end up interpreting it. If you’re having trouble picking then it’s safe to pick the most stupidly simple answer you can possibly think of. 99% of the time, whatever answer you pick will get you credit. (If it doesn’t, just mentioning your interpretation can generally buy the points right back.)

Teachers are human beings too. They don’t want to spend their Saturdays making perfect logically consistent assignments for their students to breeze through. They have other things they’d rather be worrying about. Even the teachers that are willing to put in the time still have to be highly skilled at asking good questions to succeed at this.

(Anyone that’s ever tried to design a good test with the intention of testing knowledge understands this is a painful process at times.)

This is part of life. You’ll run into these problems consistently if you’re reading too much into getting things perfect. People are rarely as precise as they should be when giving directions. (Even if they are, a good percentage of people will still fail to interpret them right anyway.) Mistakes happen on both ends.

Taking assignments at face value is usually the best choice. If you’re really stuck between two interpretations of the question then you could always answer both.

Digging too deep is just going to frustrate you because there rarely is all that much depth of thought put into these problems. Most of what you need to do well in school can be simplified into something like 101 School Hacks For Better Grades & A Better Life.

So… in life I wildly disagree with this but, in school, don’t think too much about it.

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives and follow along. Also, be sure to read the books in the sidebar to learn more.

“You’re Thinking About It Too Much”

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