Charlie is a perfect example of a smart young man who needed the best homework tips to cut his study time in half.
He is a smart young man but he wasn’t always showing it in school. When I first met him, he was in the middle of eighth grade, taking one of my study skills classes. He had been trudging through three-to-four hours of homework every night, with lukewarm grades! His mom was concerned because homework was “stressing him out” and was the source of many family arguments
Within a few short weeks, however, Charlie learned study skills and the best homework tips that helped him cut his homework time to less than one hour every night…and improved his grades!
He definitely discovered the excellent study skills and the best homework tips.
I asked Charlie to share the best homework tips and top three study skills that made the most difference for him. This is what he shared several months later:
1. Get organized! “I didn’t realize how much time I wasted looking for things,” explained Charlie. “My notes, homework assignments, folders, textbooks…I spent so much time digging through my book bag for things. Many times, I had to ask my dad to drive me back to school because I forgot stuff in my locker. He was never happy with that, it took a lot of time and he always wondered whether I’d ever learn the best homework tips.”
To help Charlie get organized, we condensed his 14 different folders and notebooks down to ONE binder. It was instantly easier for him to track papers, assignments, and notes because everything went in one place. This also reduced the volume of his supplies by 60%, which instantly resulted in a more organized book bag and locker. Just doing this one simple thing helped him know he was on his way to learning the best homework tips.
We also talked about his locker routine so he was less likely to forget things at school. Charlie recalled, “You pointed out that every time I’m at my locker, I’m in a rush. I’m rushing to class, to lunch, to the bus…no matter when I’m at my locker, it’s always a rush. So, I had to figure out how to get what I needed quickly. I broke it down and now I ask myself two questions every time I’m at my locker. This keeps me focused and helps me get everything I need.”
2. Power down! “I really didn’t like it when you first suggested that we turn off all of the electronics,” said Charlie, “but this was huge for me. When you said that electronics will always control us unless we learn to control them, I decided to take the advice one night. I turned off my cell phone, the TV, and the computer.
I couldn’t believe how fast I got my homework done and this was one of the best homework tips ever!”
Charlie’s experience is something I am hearing more and more in my study skills classes over the last several years. “I always figured that the TV, cell phone, and stuff helped make homework less boring,” he said. “Now I realize it is the other way around. When everything is off, I can concentrate better, get my homework done faster, and then have more free time to do that stuff later.”
3. Think of homework as a study guide! “I used to do homework just to get it done. I didn’t think much about it. But now, I think about homework differently. You called it ‘active learning’ and I am starting to see what that means. I don’t just hunt for answers, I try to think about what I am doing and make connections to anything I can; something my teacher said in class or sometimes, I’ll think of connections to something that is completely different.
“I also use the key question you shared: ‘How can this homework assignment help me study for the next test?’ It’s simple, but it keeps me thinking more about my homework, instead of just trying to get it done. When I’m really thinking about what I am doing, I get it done faster.
And, I’m getting better grades because I know I have the best homework tips to help me!”
Schools Do Not Teach How To Learn
Charlie is like many of the students I work with in my study skills classes; he found great success from applying these best homework tips strategies to the process of learning and doing homework!
Study skills –which are really strategic learning skills- are not taught in schools. The national and state standards that teachers have to teach are ALL content. There is absolutely no focus on teaching students how to learn. Charlie was floundering because he had no system for success. Once he learned a system of good study skills plus the best homework tips, however, he was unstoppable!
Every student can benefit from learning study skills; “good” students are thrilled to learn how to get those good grades in less time. “Struggling” students are thrilled to learn that there is a reason why they are struggling (no one taught them how to study) and that there are actually study skills that work!
But, what if there is more to the problem? How do you know if your child needs additional help?
Identifying Homework Problems
Follow the ten-minute rule. Many research studies confirm that “ten minutes per grade level” is the optimal amount of homework. For example, a first-grader should be expected to do ten minutes of homework each night, a sixth-grader up to 60 minutes, and a 12th-grader up to 120 minutes.
With good study skills, this amount of homework time can actually be cut in half, but these time limits are a good benchmark for what is reasonable at each grade level. During this time, homework should be completed with minimal support from you as the parent. If this is routinely NOT the case for your child, then something is not right.
If that is the case, determine the root of the problem; is it your child or the homework? If your child is struggling to complete homework within the “ten minute” guideline, he may simply need to get organized and learn a few strategic study skills plus the best homework tips like Charlie did.
However, pay attention for signs of a health problem or more serious learning challenge; if your child is having a hard time sitting still, needs things repeated several times, is squinting excessively, or simply isn’t “getting it” despite several attempts, these may be signs that something more than just study skills are needed.
Talk to your child’s teacher and pediatrician right away. Keep notes on your observations and stick to your guns! If there is a learning challenge, you may be met with some resistance along the way, but your persistence and friendly cooperation with teachers and doctors will be the key to getting proper help for your child. Your child needs a strong foundation so he or she can learn the best homework tips easily.
Do not be quick to judge these challenges as “laziness.” Laziness is rare in students! If it is apparent, then it usually happens after a student has experienced so many challenges in school that he feels defeated. In fact, when I hear a parent or teacher say things like “He’s lazy,” “She’s just not trying,” or “If she would just try harder,” it triggers a strong warning in my mind that there is likely something else going on. Usually, there is.
Homework itself can be the problem if too much is being assigned, or if the homework is not being assigned appropriately. Homework should only be a review of content covered in class. The purpose is to provide practice, not instruction! If your child is complaining that he “never learned this in school,” that may be true.
In these cases, arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) and politely explain your concerns. Most of the time, teachers are simply not aware of these problems because they typically don’t get feedback; most families just suffer in silence and don’t communicate appropriately. Obviously, you must use your judgment to determine how far to push homework issues with teachers, but you should not be suffering in silence!
Conclusion About The Best Homework Tips
Homework is a major source of stress and frustration for manhy students and their families, but it doesn’t have to be. When homework struggles require strong intervention, look for the cues and trust your instincts.
However, 90% of the time a few good study skills are all you need to make a world of difference with the best homework tips.
Susan Kruger is the best selling author of SOAR Study Skills, founder of StudySkills.com and an expert on the best homework tips.
I was a competitive swimmer as a freshman in university.
I would get up at 4:30 am for practice at 5:30 AM. Then I’d bike to the station and take the 1.5-hour train to school, try to stay awake in class, then bus back to the pool in the afternoon for evening practice.
I would clock in about 20 hours of training in total every week.
Somewhere along the way I found the time to study and I ended up finishing my freshman year with a 3.8 GPA.
By my sophomore and junior years, I had retired from swimming so although it would seem like I had more time on my hands, they were disasters by comparison.
In fact, I struggled with getting up for 8 AM classes, getting all of my schoolwork done and just keeping up with readings.
If you struggle with getting all your homework done as much as I did, you’ll appreciate Ted’s story.
Ted was a high performer who was also interested in a lot of different things: naturalism, boxing, body-building and dance. And yet, Ted excelled at Harvard: during his freshman year, he took seven courses and ended up with honour grades in five of them.
Basically, Ted’s the guy you know who goes to every party, rocks the dance floor till the sun comes up, and still gets straight A’s in every class.
Ted could do this mainly because of his work-hard-play-hard work ethic: he resolved to focus solely on his work during study sessions, so that he could let loose when he was done for the day.
This strategy served him pretty well – he brought it with him even as he graduated from Harvard, went on to public service, and rose to become one of the most famous presidents the US ever had – Theodore Roosevelt.
Cal Newport in his book Deep Work tells us more about TR’s work habits:
Roosevelt would begin his scheduling by considering the eight hours from eight thirty a.m. to four thirty p.m. He would then remove the time spent in recitation and classes, his athletic training (which was once a day), and lunch. The fragments that remained were then considered time dedicated exclusively to studying. As noted, these fragments didn’t usually add up to a large number of total hours, but he would get the most out of them by working only on schoolwork during these periods, and doing so with a blistering intensity.
In essence, TR worked harder and smarter on his homework – not longer. And by the end of this post, you’ll be able to do that, too.
Let’s get into it.
This is a test-taking strategy from Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers – and it carries over perfectly to homework problems.
Here’s how you do it:
- Scan your assignment to identify some of the harder problems, then start in on those.
- If you’re stuck after a minute or two, disengage and jump over to an easier problem. After finishing a few of those, you can come back to the harder problem – and you’ll often find that it’s easier to solve than it was before.
This technique works because of the fact that your brain functions in two distinct ways of thinking: focused mode and diffused mode.
Focused-mode is when you directly concentrate on a problem and try to work through it logically.
By contrast, Oakley says that,
“Diffused-mode thinking is what happens when you relax your attention and just let your mind wander. This relaxation can allow different areas of the brain to hook up and return valuable insights… Diffuse-mode insights often flow from preliminary thinking that’s been done in the focused mode.”
What that means is that to solve difficult problems, you need both modes of thinking.
First, you need to work through as much as you can to “prime the pump” with focused thinking, before letting your mind relax and let diffused thinking do its thing.
By using your technique, you’re allowing more parts of your brain to fire and help you solve a problem.
Record All Details of Sample Problems in Class
To be able to study well and feel confident, you have to have complete notes. There’s just no getting around that.
But what if your professor is the type who rambles or talks too fast?
Here are a couple of tips to help you take notes:
1. Record the problem and the answer first, before you write down the solution.
The sample problems from class are the best way to make sure that you’re covering the right material when you’re studying for exams.
This helps facilitate your studying after class because even if you don’t know exactly how to do the problem, you can always work backward from the answer. And if you get stuck, you can always get help from Google, YouTube or a friend.
This note-taking technique work especially well if you’re falling behind during the lecture because your teacher talks as fast as Kendrick Lamar raps the bridge for DNA.
2. Annotate like you’re going to teach someone else.
Ask yourself, “If I had to study this lesson from scratch with only my notes to refer to, what information would I need?”
Every little piece of information helps when you’re working through a problem and x suddenly seems to have morphed into a ninja turtle, somewhere between steps 1 and 2.
Finally, you can also check out this comprehensive video for the best ways to take better notes faster.
Do Homework at School
Here’s something your teachers never told you: homework isn’t actually supposed to be done at home.
In fact, the best time to do your homework is when you’ve just come from class and the material is still fresh in your head.
By doing your homework ASAP, you’re able to work through the problems faster, by reinforcing the concepts to yourself.
Similar to how Theodore Roosevelt worked intensely between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, either schedule a big gap in your day, or just stay on campus to finish homework before going home.
Looking back on my own story, I realized that when I stopped swimming, I had become far too lax with my time and, in effect, spent more time in low-intensity, ineffective studying. I also realized that having such a rigorous training schedule forced me to focus harder during the little time I had to study between practice and classes.
So to sum up, in class, use the problem-answer-solution framework to take good notes, even if your teacher talks really fast. This way you capture all the example problems you need to study.
Then, use the Hard-Start-then-Jump-to-Easy technique to call on all the parts of your brain to help you solve homework problems.
And finally, by doing your homework in school, you’re taking less time to study overall because you’re doing it with more intensity and intention.