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Studying vs Homework:
8 Things Your Child (and You) Should Know

by Mackenzie Cooper

The terms ‘studying’ and ‘doing homework’ are often used synonymously. Especially in upper level education, they both mean essentially the same thing -- learning and preparing for school done outside of class time. But there are some important differences in what they mean to your child and how they should be approached.

  1. Homework is material assigned by a teacher with a specific due date. It’s about reinforcing knowledge and integrating key skills. Homework is a supplement to class material and is often a part of your child’s grade. Homework is a way for the student to begin learning at their own pace while involving their parents in the process if desired.

  2. Homework often involves a lot of repetition, a common tenet of formal education systems. As one of my high school teachers used to say as he went over a key concept of the class for the tenth time that quarter, "repetition is good". (College classes are often a shock to freshman, in that they may present material just a single time, and expect the students to learn it). Homework typically repeats what your child learned in school to help reinforce concepts. Repetitive exercises are often the best way to learn new vocabulary words or to utilize a new math idea.

  3. For some kids, this repetition amounts to a lot of busy work. I don’t deny the effectiveness of homework assignments. But pile on an hour of Spanish homework that involves copying and translating sentences, an hour of math homework that’s just using the same new concept over and over again, and half an hour of copying dates out of a history book for a worksheet, and many students feel uninspired and unmotivated. It's important to let your student know that the focus should be on learning, not on getting 100% on homework.

  4. Studying refers to time students set aside to go over key concepts from class and make sure their knowledge is complete. It is going over class material to ensure complete understanding. Studying is about learning on your own time, without the specific guidance of a teacher. Some teachers will provide students with study guides, but sometimes it is important that they also create their own study guides. The initiative involved in taking control of their own study patterns will help them become independent learners, preparing them for college and beyond.

  5. Studying includes techniques such as re-reading unclear sections in the textbook, making flashcards, and taking notes on the textbook or on class notes. It involves a commitment to actually learning the key concepts that some homework assignments overlook. The easiest way I've found to study for any type of test is to take notes on the textbook and my notes from class. I end up re-reading the whole section of the textbook I'm studying as well as my notes and have a new set of condensed, cleaner notes with the most important information readily accessible. Flashcards are also useful for new vocabulary.

  6. Encourage your child to study every day in short bursts, not just for the whole day before a test. If students commit to spending fifteen minutes going over the day's lesson in their hardest class, it will be a chance to truly understand the material. They will easily figure out what they understand and where they need assistance, which will allow you and their teacher to better help them learn. It will also tend to alleviate any pre-test stressing.

  7. Help your student create their own study guides. These can be composed of lists of important dates, equations, concepts, or vocabulary. They may be more detailed, with key example problems and questions copied out of a textbook or class notes in a way that makes sense to your child. They should not hesitate to ask their teachers what important concepts they should focus on when studying. Though the teacher may not provide a comprehensive list or a worksheet to prepare for the test, they may indicate key concepts which will be covered, providing a starting point for the sometimes daunting task of studying.

  8. Prioritize. Do the most important things first! This will help your child not just with schoolwork but later in life. In the case of too much homework and a test, your child may want to spend time completing homework instead of studying. The sense of accomplishment gained from completing a homework assignment isn’t as clearly attained when studying, so many students are tempted to invest their time on what they know they can finish. Help set a schedule that can include an hour of studying followed by a ten minute break. Set endpoints to make studying easier. In many cases, it is possible that one late homework assignment is less important than learning the material for a test, both in terms of the grade, and the student's comprehension.

Studying goes above and beyond what the teacher provides for the student. It necessitates self-starting. Your student should understand that what the teacher assigns, while good for reinforcing and expanding knowledge, is not enough for most students to fully prepare for tests. Every student has different strengths and weaknesses. Each student should identify their own weaknesses, with your help or a teacher's, and use this knowledge to focus their efforts and energy when it comes time to study. This tactic will also help them understand the difference between studying and doing homework, as well as the value of spending their own time outside of school and homework, studying.

About the author

Mackenzie Cooper received an AB in English at Stanford University. Her best memories from high school are from her water polo team, her calculus study group, and working on the school newspaper. In college, she's been involved in peer tutoring, student government and the student-run newspaper and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She likes writing (especially fiction), swimming, cooking, and travel.

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