Is Homework Always Useful?
By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer
Many parents believe that homework is essential for learning, and I do not dispute that. Therefore, they expect teachers in school to give their children homework. Plenty of them. And when they send their children to testprep classes like SAT and ACT, they also expect their tutors to give them homework. The more the merrier. I will not comment on homework from school in this column here because I am afraid I will hurt the feelings of many teachers and parents, but is homework really necessary and useful for testprep classes?
In my previous columns, I have touched on the topic of whether practice at home (homework) is always effective. But I will reiterate my views briefly here again: homework is effective if it is based on knowledge that the students have learned. Before doing homework, we have to make sure that the students have already acquired the necessary knowledge (concepts and techniques) before they go into practice (homework) so that they can develop and hone the necessary skills. If done correctly, practice will make perfect. If not, practice will only lead to frustration. Practising before learning is like putting the cart before the horse. It will go nowhere.
Secondly, a lot of schools and parents see homework as part of the students’ grade. That means the purpose of homework is no longer for practice, but to get a better grade. Therefore, they don’t care whether their children can benefit from the homework, as long as they are completed and everything is correct. This attitude is prevalent in schools, but parents also bring it to testprep. Previously, I have a student who didn’t know how to do her homework and her father basically did everything for her. This defeats the purpose of doing homework, because the students did not learn anything but the teacher thinks that the students have mastered all the necessary knowledge and skills. The time of reckoning will come when the students go to take the test and end up with a very low score, which is contrary to what is shown by their homework.
Thirdly, parents need to ask this question: Doesn’t my child have enough homework from school already? Do I really want testprep tutors to give them more homework? My view on this is very simple: students today are already over-worked and under-slept. I think most parents can agree to that. If they can have an extra hour, would you rather they spent the extra hour sleeping or doing more homework? (Please don’t give them the choice of an extra hour of video games.) I, as a parent, would always choose an extra hour of rest and relaxation.
Therefore, in testprep classes, my approach is always let them learn, review, and practice the knowledge and skills in class first. After they have mastered all these reasonably well, then they will be ready to take on more practice that they can do at home before the test. This practice is most effective because it lets them link all the knowledge that they have learned and put them into practice. I am not against homework, but I am definitely against mindlessly putting more and more burdens onto our children. We only have so much time in life, not an hour more. Let’s use it wisely for the benefit of our children.
Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
- Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
- Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
- Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
- Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary
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