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How to Make Homework Less Work

Homework is your teachers’ way of evaluating how much you understand of what’s going on in class. But it can seem overwhelming at times. Luckily, you can do a few things to make homework less work.

Create a Homework Plan

Understand the assignment. Write it down in your notebook or planner, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what’s expected. It’s much easier to take a minute to ask the teacher during or after class than to struggle to remember later that night.

If you have a lot of homework or activities, ask how long the particular homework assignment should take. That way you can budget your time.

Start right away. Just because it’s called “homework” doesn’t mean you have to do it at home. Use study periods or other extra time in your school day. The more you get done in school, the less you have to do at night.

Budget your time. If you don’t finish your homework at school, think about how much you have left and what else is going on that day. Most high-school students have between 1 and 3 hours of homework a night. If it’s a heavy homework day, you’ll need to devote more time to homework. It’s a good idea to come up with a homework schedule, especially if you’re involved in sports or activities or have an after-school job.

Watch Where You Work

When you settle down to do homework or to study, where do you do it? Parked in front of the TV? In the kitchen, with the sound of dishes being cleared and your brothers and sisters fighting?

Find a quiet place to focus. The kitchen table was OK when you were younger and homework didn’t require as much concentration. But now you’ll do best if you can find a place to get away from noise and distractions, like a bedroom or study.

Avoid studying on your bed. Sit at a desk or table that you can set your computer on and is comfortable to work at. Park your devices while you study. Just having your phone where you can see it can be a distraction. That makes homework take longer.

Get to Work

Tackle the hardest assignments first. It’s tempting to start with the easy stuff to get it out of the way. But you have the most energy and focus when you begin. Use this mental power on the subjects that are most challenging. Later, when you’re more tired, you can focus on the simpler things.

Keep moving ahead. If you get stuck, try to figure out the problem as best you can — but don’t spend too much time on it because this can mess up your homework schedule for the rest of the night. If you need to, ask an adult or older sibling for help. Or reach out to a classmate. Just don’t pick someone you’ll be up all night chatting with or you’ll never get it done!

Take breaks. Most people have short attention spans. Sitting for too long without stretching or relaxing will make you less productive than if you stop every so often. Taking a 15-minute break every hour is a good idea for most people. (If you’re really concentrating, wait until it’s a good time to stop.)

Get It Ready to Go

When your homework is done, put it in your backpack. There’s nothing worse than having a completed assignment that you can’t find the next morning. Now you’re free to hang out — without the guilt of unfinished work hanging over you.

Get Help When You Need It

Even when you pay attention in class, study for tests, and do your homework, some subjects seem too hard. You may hope that things will get easier, but most of the time that doesn’t happen.

What does happen for many people is that they work harder and harder as they fall further and further behind. There’s nothing embarrassing about asking for help. No one understands everything.

Start with your teacher or guidance counselor. Some teachers will work with students before or after school to explain things more clearly. But what if you don’t feel comfortable with your teacher? If your school is big, there may be other teachers who know the same subject. Sometimes it just helps to have someone new explain something in a different way.

Ask a classmate. If you know someone who is good at a subject, ask if you can study together. This may help, but keep in mind that people who understand a subject aren’t always good at explaining it.

Find a tutor. You’ll need to talk to an adult about this because it usually costs money to hire a tutor. Tutors come to your home or meet you someplace like the library or a tutoring center. They work with students to review and explain things taught in the classroom. This gives you the chance to ask questions and work at your own pace. Your teacher or guidance counselor can help you find a tutor if you’re interested.

8 Easy Ways to Finish Your Homework Faster

How many times have you found yourself still staring at your textbook around midnight (or later!) even when you started your homework hours earlier? Those lost hours could be explained by Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, if you give yourself all night to memorize those geometry formulas for your quiz tomorrow, you’ll inevitably find that a 30 minute task has somehow filled your entire evening.

We know that you have more homework than ever. But even with lots and lots to do, a few tweaks to your study routine could help you spend less time getting more accomplished.

Here are 8 steps to make Parkinson’s Law work to your advantage:

1. Make a list

This should be a list of everything that has to be done that evening. And we mean, everything—from re-reading notes from this morning’s history class to quizzing yourself on Spanish vocabulary.

2. Estimate the time needed for each item on your list

You can be a little ruthless here. However long you think a task will take, try shaving off 5 or 10 minutes. But, be realistic. You won’t magically become a speed reader.

3. Gather all your gear

Collect EVERYTHING you will need for the homework you are working on (like your laptop for writing assignments and pencils for problem sets). Getting up for supplies takes you off course and makes it that much harder to get back to your homework.

4. Unplug

The constant blings and beeps from your devices can make it impossible to focus on what you are working on. Switch off or silence your phones and tablets, or leave them in another room until it’s time to take a tech break.

5. Time yourself

Noting how much time something actually takes will help you estimate better and plan your next study session.

6. Stay on task

If you’re fact checking online, it can be so easy to surf on over to a completely unrelated site. A better strategy is to note what information you need to find online, and do it all at once at the end of the study session.

7. Take plenty of breaks

Most of us need a break between subjects or to break up long stretches of studying. Active breaks are a great way to keep your energy up. Tech breaks can be an awesome way to combat the fear of missing out that might strike while you are buried in your work, but they also tend to stretch much longer than originally intended. Stick to a break schedule of 10 minutes or so.

8. Reward yourself!

Finish early? If you had allocated 30 minutes for reading a biology chapter and it only took 20, you can apply those extra 10 minutes to a short break—or just move on to your next task. If you stay on track, you might breeze through your work quickly enough to catch up on some Netflix.

Our best piece of advice? Keep at it. The more you use this system, the easier it will become. You’ll be surprised by how much time you can shave off homework just by focusing and committing to a distraction-free study plan.

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The Staff of The Princeton Review

For more than 35 years, students and families have trusted The Princeton Review to help them get into their dream schools. We help students succeed in high school and beyond by giving them resources for better grades, better test scores, and stronger college applications. Follow us on Twitter: @ThePrincetonRev.