The Most Amazing Education Advice I Ever Received

How self-reflection can help you learn more than you might expect.

It always amazes me how the life experiences we go through can teach us far more than might have been expected from the intended lesson.

In my second year at Western University, I considered registering for “Psychology of Language” with Dr. Allan Paivio. I studied the end-of-year student ratings of professors when selecting prospective ones, and I saw that Dr. Paivio was highly rated. Back in the day, I interviewed potential professors before deciding if I would take their course. One question I always asked was what they expected from their students. Dr. Paivio’s response was the shortest I had ever received: “Perfection!” That challenge inspired me to take his course.


More than a third of the course mark came from replicating seven well-known experiments and then writing up our results using the scientific method. Each paper was worth 5 percent, totalling 35 percent of the total course marks. Imagine my concern and dread when I received 46 percent on my first paper.

I devoted 24 hours to that first paper. All that effort to achieve less than 50 percent. How could I improve my performance and get higher marks?

My plan of attack was to immediately meet with the teacher’s assistant, who knew Dr. Paivio’s expectations and who evaluated and marked all of our papers. She shared with me that these research papers should take no more than eight hours to write and complete. What could I do to lessen the time I spent researching and writing? How was I supposed to get a higher percentage mark and do less work? It made little sense.

First, she asked me how I approached writing the paper. That’s when she revealed the most amazing education advice I have ever received. It has stood the test of time for the rest of my life since then in so many areas of my work.

The advice she gave me was: After every experiment, go home and think for half an hour about why I personally felt the experiment worked or did not work. What were the reasons I thought the experiment failed or succeeded? The goal was to find your own personal eureka moment. With this meditative self-reflection done, you then would search the research articles. Your purpose was to find academic evidence that supported your thoughts and rationale for the experimental outcome.

Previously, my paper had referred to just standard research accompanying the initial experiment. It was not original thinking. It was not mine but rather regurgitated facts and findings from the past.


Taking time out to think and ponder first before you write was an eye-opening and unusual experience for me. The meditative opportunity caused me to think deeper. I asked my own questions in my mind and not those of other academic researchers.

Thinking and reflecting first generated inspiration that was exciting. I remember running to the university library after my “aha” moment to find research references that supported my hypotheses. The result was an 86 percent mark on my second paper. For my third and all subsequent papers, I obtained in the mid- to high 80s for all of my marks.

My classmates were going through the exact same experience I had. They had low initial marks on that first paper. Many students asked me how I achieved above 80 percent on my second paper. I told them to go home first, find a quiet place, and think for at least 30 minutes before writing. Many scoffed at the idea until they saw the consistency with which I achieved similar high-scoring results on each paper.

This eureka meditative strategy was earth-shattering for me. It changed my performance in my “Psychology of Language” course, and I passed it with flying colors. Stopping to think first has affected my approach for all future idea generation and learning to deal with work and life. In a nutshell, it puts you in the learning seat charging full steam ahead.

The key was asking my own questions in my mind instead of just regurgitating past research.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at: or visit: