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The Optimal Approach to Homework

Failing to plan is planning to fail, right? Well, same goes for homework. Without a solid plan to approach homework, you may as well prepare for the worst.

In a recent session with a student, we reviewed the optimal approach to homework. This particular student has 5 subjects and about 2-3 hours of homework a night. With so much to manage we discussed a three step approach that has yielded fantastic results. Here is the approach:

1) Use a Planner: the planner I recommend may be a bit old school but it is very useful. The days of the week are listed across the top with the subjects along the side in a basic table format. Students input the assignment that is due on a particular day in that particular subject. Even if nothing is due on a given day in a subject, I usually recommend putting in an “extra” task like reading ahead, doing some background research on the web or reviewing notes. This reinforces the idea that consistent activity in a subject will yield better comprehension. Note: electronic planners are fine for this as well but pen and paper has been most successful for my students.

2) Prioritize Tasks: once all tasks are outlined in the planner, I coach the student to spend the first 10 minutes of study time ranking the tasks. If a test is slated for the next day, that might get a 1. An ongoing project might get a 2 and so on. Anything “extra” would be a 5. I’ve also had students color code their planners so that red boxes are “hot” and require immediate attention, yellow boxes are “warm” and need to be done soon while green boxes are “cold” and can be postponed. This approach allows students to create a map for their study sessions.

3) Tackle Each Task at the Right Time: this step is key since productivity can vary with timing. For example, some students are very productive right after school. The juices are still flowing and comprehension is easy. Other students need some down time right after school and maybe their most productive time is in the evening. I recommend that students tackle their most important tasks at their most productive time. Tasks with less importance can be handled at less productive times.

Homework planning is not rocket science. However, a little common sense about organization and planning will go a long way.

The key is to follow a plan and adjust when necessary. Without a plan you may as well be rowing without a paddle. After all, if you fail to plan….oh, you know the rest.

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