Today’s guest post on homework is from Robbie Fluegge, a Harvard University sophomore.
We’ve all been there. It’s already late at night and you haven’t started your homework assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your friend said it took them a couple hours, but you’re not worried. You know that you can get it done. All that matters is that you finish it, right?
This is a mindset all too common among us students: thinking that the goal of homework is to just get it done as quickly as possible so that we can turn it in and get the points. But let’s take a step back for a second and try to think about why we’re actually doing homework in the first place. Is it supposed to be a mindless repetition of problems with no purpose other than to make your life miserable?
I think we can all agree that’s not the case. Homework is a learning device, just like lectures or office hours. It’s been given in order to help us better understand and apply the material we’ve been learning in class. I can guarantee that it was assigned because your professor actually thought it was important that you learn how to do these problems (remember, more homework assigned means more work for the teaching staff to grade it too). And trust me, you might be able to get through the year putting a minimal amount of effort into homework, but once that final comes around you better be ready to study until your brain falls out because you didn’t learn the material during the year.
“Sure,” you might say, “but homework is homework. How can I do it differently than I’m already doing it?” So here’s a couple of tips that I’ve learned for doing your homework the right way. And the beautiful thing is that if you really commit to it, it won’t take that much more time than you’re spending right now.
1. Start Early
Nobody learns very well when they’re exhausted. Try to at least start your homework before it gets dark. In fact, if you make a conscious effort to do this you’ll probably be more awake and more productive, so you may actually be able to cut down on the total number of hours you spend working.
2. Get rid of distractions
Silence your cell phone, close your Facebook tab, and go somewhere quiet. The more distractions there are, the less effectively you’re going to internalize whatever you’re trying to learn. Same as before, this can make homework take way less time!
3. Work it out
For math or science, don’t go straight to example problems or similar exercises on the internet. Copying and plugging in new numbers is NOT the same thing as doing it yourself. If you never practice figuring out a problem on your own, how can you expect to be able to do it on an exam? I can’t stress this enough. If you are really stuck, try to look up the concepts instead of problems.
4. Find the right study group…or not at all
Study groups are great. They let everybody learn from each other and tease out confusing concepts together. But if your study group is also your social hour, find another place to do homework. Friends can be the worst causes of procrastination, so realize when your group is not being productive and either steer it back on course or get out of there.
5. Take breaks
Not even the best students can focus for hours on end without breaking concentration. If your assignment is taking longer than an hour or so, give your brain a little 5 minute break every half hour to keep you sharp.
6. Review and reflect
Most importantly, you should spend a little bit of time reviewing what you did and reflecting on what you learned. If you did a lot of reading, try to summarize the main points in your head. If it was a problem set, think about what kinds of problems you learned how to do and how they relate to your current topic. Reflecting helps our brains process information and store it in long term memory. If you look back at your homework and realize that you couldn’t do it again without help, you did something wrong!
These tips don’t add a lot of time to your homework routine, but if you make them a habit you will see huge improvements in your grades and huge decreases in stress. Put in the work during homework, and when that final comes around you have nothing to worry about!
Robbie Fluegge is currently a sophomore studying Applied Mathematics at Harvard University, and has worked as a tutor and cancer lab assistant for several years. He also works as a management consultant for Argopoint LLC, a consulting firm based in Boston. He hopes that he can help his fellow students excel in their classes!