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Too Much Homework? Here’s What To Do

too much homework

Whatever their age , most students complain that they have too much homework.

But is that really the case?

Over the last 20 years as a teacher, I’ve heard all sorts of excuses about why homework hasn’t been done.

In years gone by, a household pet was often blamed for eating it. Now it’s the ubiquitous ‘faulty printer’ that seems to prevent homework coming in on time. :)

Of course, there are also plenty of valid reasons for not getting it done.

Sometimes there genuinely is too much homework to do in the time allocated.

Many students struggle to do what’s asked of them for want of somewhere quiet to work, or because they have too many other commitments that can’t be avoided.

But it’s also true that virtually everyone could reduce the stress associated with homework by applying some simple time management skills.

What 'Too Much Homework' Really Means

Each time we get given work to do with a deadline, our ability to manage time is tested. This can take many forms, but the bottom line is simply that...

Work didn’t get done because other things took priority.

Something else was more important, more appealing or just plain easier to do. Homework gets left until, all of a sudden, there is too much to do in not enough time.

The good news is that time management skills can always be learnt and improved. There are plenty of tips and techniques for  overcoming procrastination  on this site, but the following ideas may also be helpful if you feel you have too much homework.

7 Tips For Coping With Too Much Homework

1. Accept it

The starting point for dealing with too much homework is to accept responsibility for getting it done. It’s yours to do, and yours alone.

Let’s be honest. For most people, homework is a chore. Until there’s a massive change in attitudes towards home learning, it’s here to stay.

With that in mind, the best thing is to adopt a positive ‘get it done’ attitude. If you accept that it has to be done (rather than the consequences of not doing it), you only have to decide when and how to do it.

2. Write it down

This may seem an obvious point, but writing down exactly what you have to do and when you have to do it for is an important step to take for getting organized with homework.

Use a simple planner and keep it open at the current page you’re using so that you can remind yourself what you need to do.

3. C reate a workspace

Not everyone has somewhere to work. If you do, how easy is it to use?

Whether it’s a kitchen table or a place in your own room, you’ll do more if you've got somewhere that you can use regularly. You’ll do even better if you tidy up a messy desk .

Make sure you’ve got everything that you need to hand so you can find it quickly when you want it. Get into the habit of putting things back after you’ve used them.

4. Do it the day after you get it

This is a great way to stay on top of your work. The temptation is to leave things until the last minute because that’s when doing it really matters.

Unfortunately, that’s also when it is most stressful, and there’s no margin for error.

Next time you get given a project, assignment or piece of work, start it on the day after you get it. You don’t have to finish it; just do as much as you feel like doing.

Whatever you don’t get done, you carry on with the next day.

This ‘little and often’ approach has three benefits:

  • You have a day to ‘relax’ before you start it
  • You do it without feeling overwhelmed because you can stop whenever you feel like it.
  • More work will get done before the day it’s due to be handed in

5. Think 80-20 - don’t do it too well

The 80-20 rule states that, in life, we get 80% of our results from 20% of what we do.

This is really useful if you feel you have too much homework. Why? Well, it could be that you are doing some things too well.

Obviously some things are either done or they’re not. But often, it’s easy to spend too long on something just with very little to show for your efforts.

I’m not saying that you should produce poor quality work. But do be aware of perfectionism. Try to get better at knowing when your absolute best effort really is necessary, and when good enough is good enough.

6. Reduce your resistance to doing it

Sometimes, ‘too much homework’ means " I’ve left it too late, and now I’ve got too much to do ".

This can be avoided if you start it the day after you get it. And the best way to do that? Make it as easy as you need to.

Can’t face all of it? Time box half an hour. Or 10 minutes. Even 2 minutes if that’s all you can cope with.

How much you do is less important than the fact that you actually do something.

7. When you do it, give it 100% attention

Phones, friends and social media will stretch out the time you spend working. We all have to be aware of wasting time online , so the less you do it, the quicker you can complete your work.

The amount of homework you have varies from week to week, but the tips above may just be the answer. If so, you’ll have learned some valuable skills and turned too much homework into a manageable amount.

Having said that, it can get to the point at which you feel that there really is too much to do, and not just at the moment. If and when you reach the point at which, despite your best efforts, you consistently feel you have too much homework, tell someone.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved, and it’s true. Talking to someone will help. Talking to someone who is in a position to help you do something about it is even better.

In terms of getting things done, developing good study habits can make a massive difference, but sometimes there’s just too much to do. This can be a real problem unless you tell someone, so don’t keep it inside -- get some support.

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5 Tips for Dealing with “Too Much” Homework

5 Tips for Dealing with “Too Much" Homework

In the case of unreasonable “commitments,” you’re procrastinating doing your homework, but of course, there are people who genuinely are overwhelmed by their homework. With that in mind, how do you manage your time to get it all done? The following are five tips for any student (current or prospective) who’s struggling with getting their workload completed on time.

1. Don’t be a perfectionist

There’s an old principle of Pareto’s that’s been adapted to business (specifically management) called the 80-20 rule. The idea is that 80% of your results, come from 20% of your efforts. Think about that. When you tackle an assignment for school, are you trying to make everything perfect? Remember that you’re a student, no one is expecting you to be perfect, you’re in school to get better; you’re supposed to be a work in progress.

As a result, what may feel like “too much” homework, might really be you tackling assignments “too well.” For instance, there’s a reason “speed reading” is a skill that’s encouraged. A textbook is not a work of literature where every sentence means something, it’s okay to skim or, in some cases, skip whole paragraphs – the last paragraph just recaps what you read anyway.

Moreover, many schools or classes curve their grades. So an 80% could be a 100% in your class.

2. Do your homework as soon as it’s assigned to you

Due to the nature of college schedules, students often have classes MWF and different classes on Tuesday and Thursday. As a result, they do their MWF homework on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in preparation for the following day. Rather than do that. Do your Monday homework, Monday; Tuesday homework, Tuesday; Wednesday homework, Wednesday and so on.

The reason for this is manifold. First of all, the class and the assignment are fresh in your mind – this is especially critical for anything math related to those who are less math-minded. So do the assignment after the class. Chances are, it’ll be much easier to complete.

The second reason is because if you have a question about Monday’s homework and you’re working on it on Monday night, then guess what? You can contact your professor (or a friend) Tuesday for help or clarification. Whereas if you’re completing Monday’s homework on a Tuesday night, you’re out of luck. This can assuage a lot of the stress that comes from too much homework.

This flows into the third reason which is that, rather than having a chunk of homework to do the day before its due, you’re doing a little at a time frequently. This is a basic time management tactic where, if you finish tasks as they’re assigned instead of letting them pile up, you avoid that mental blockade of feeling like there’s “too much” for you to do in the finite amount of time given.

3. Eliminate distractions

All too often, students sit down to do homework and then receive a text, and then another, and then hop on Facebook, and then comment on something, and then take a break. Before they’re aware of it, hours have passed.

The best way to overcome this is to create a workspace. Traditionally, many students go to the library, but there’s no reason you cannot create your own workspace elsewhere. Maybe head to a coffee shop, fold up the backseats of your car, or develop a space in your room for you to specifically to focus on your homework.

If you give your homework 100% of your attention, it’ll pass by more quickly. Regardless of whether you’re writing a paper or working on a math equation, it’s harder to complete any portion of it with interruptions. If you stop writing mid-sentence to answer a text, then you may wonder where you were taking that trail of thought; if you stop a math problem midway through, then you’ll end up going back over the equation, redoing your work, to figure it out.

Eliminating distractions can save you a great deal of time, so find your space.

4. Track your time

Really track it. There are plenty of free sites and apps that will monitor your time. If you can’t (or don’t) eliminate all your distractions, then start clocking where your time is going. Chances are, you’ll be able to cut something that’s draining your hours, out of your schedule.

This is the nature of the internet, social media sites, and games on your phone, usually you use them in micromoments; moments that too small or too insignificant to really be eating up your time, but they do. All too often, students find themselves wondering “where did the time go?” and have difficulty actually placing how much time was spent where or doing what. Time yourself and, more importantly, reserve time to do your homework or reading.

The other benefit of this is that once you start tracking your time, you’ll be able to quantify the problem and manage your time more appropriately. For instance, if a particular class averages 45 minutes of homework, then you know how much time is required to budget into your schedule. Meanwhile, if another class is regularly exceeding three hours, then you may want to consider a tutor or discussing the issue with your professor directly.

5. Accept homework

Homework is a responsibility; it’s a chore. And in the same way that many people don’t take out the trash until it needs to be taken out; many people don’t start homework until it needs to be finished. This is a problem of attitude towards homework more than anything else.

It’s what makes many students feel like there’s “too much” homework, when in actuality, they feel that way because they put off doing it until they absolutely need to do it. As a result, try to change your mode of thinking. Instead of thinking about the volume of reading and writing, accept that it needs to get done. This way, you’re less concerned with the consequences of not doing homework, and more willing to actually get it done.

Hopefully, these five tips will help you in your academic career. Time management is not an easy skill to learn, but once you’ve established it in your life, it will help immensely.

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i've got too much homework

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  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Reporting verbs

English Grammar Exercises for B2

1. Change the sentences into reported speech. Use the reporting verbs in the box and a that clause.

1   ‘I’ve got too much homework!’

       He complained that ……………………………………………

2   ‘I got up early because I had a lot of work to do.’


3   ‘My sister’s going to have a baby.’

4   ‘I won’t tell anyone your secret.’

5   ‘I broke the vase in the living room.’


1   (He complained that) he had too much homework

2   He explained that he had got up early because he had had a lot of work to do.

3   He announced that his sister was going to have a baby.

4   He promised that he wouldn’t tell anyone my secret.

5   He admitted that he had broken the vase in the living room.

2. Decide which verb (a-c) does not fit in each sentence.

1   The manager ……… that we finish work early.

       a   proposed      b    suggested      c    told

2   George ……… to us that he had found a new job.

       a   added      b    explained      c    announced

3   My uncle ……… me to accompany him to New York.

       a    invited      b    asked      c   warned

4   Henry ……… taking the bus into town.

       a    advised      b    agreed      c   suggested

5   Harry ……… writing the anonymous email.

       a    admitted      b    refused      c    apologised for

6   The head teacher ……… us to wait outside her office.

      a    instructed      b    agreed      c    asked

2 a   3 c   4 b   5 b   6 b

3. Complete the sentences with a preposition, if necessary, and the infinitive or -ing form of the verbs in the box.

1   David offered ……………………… me with the housework.

2   Mandy requested that I ……………………… nobody about her decision to resign from her job.

3   Martha denied ……………………… money from the till.

4   Sean accused me ……………………… to him.

5   Hayden insisted ……………………… for my cinema ticket, even though he was almost broke.

6   My parents forbade me ……………………… to the music festival.

7   Chris agreed ……………………… me a lift into town.

8   The lifeguard warned us not ……………………… near the rocks.

9   We congratulated Beth ……………………… all her exams.

1 to help   2 tell   3 stealing   4 of lying   5 on paying

6 to go   7 to give   8 to swim   9 on passing

4. Report the sentences using the verbs in the box. Sometimes more than one answer is possible, but you should use each verb only once.

1   ‘Go to your room this instant,’ my dad said to me.


2   ‘Don’t forget to phone me this evening,’ Sarah said to Clare.

3   ‘It wasn’t me who ate all the biscuits,’ said Owen.

4   ‘I won’t lend you my pink jacket,’ said Amy to Sandra.

5   ‘Kate must apologise to Andrew,’ said Mum.

6   ‘Why don’t we go and see a film?’ said Dave.

7   ‘I’m sorry I lost my temper,’ said Robert.


1   My dad ordered me to go to my room that instant.

2   Sarah reminded Clare to phone her that evening.

3   Owen denied eating all the biscuits. / Owen denied that he had eaten all the biscuits.

4   Amy refused to lend Sandra her pink jacket.

5   Mum demanded that Kate apologise to Andrew.

6   Dave suggested that we (should) go and see a film.

7   Robert apologised for losing his temper.

Write sentences about things that have happened to you. Use the verbs below.

congratulate      encourage      offer      recommend      warn

1   My mum congratulated me on ……………………………………

2   ……………………………………………………

3   ……………………………………………………

4   ……………………………………………………

5   ……………………………………………………

6   ……………………………………………………

Related Posts

  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Unreal past and had better
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Emphasis
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Mixed conditionals
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Criticising past actions
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Relative clauses

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  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Negative structures
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – use to and would
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Infinitives and -ing forms
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Passive: advanced structures
  • English Grammar Exercises for B2 – Passive: all forms

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i've got too much homework

How To Deal With A Lot Of Homework? 8 Tips

i've got too much homework

Written by:

Max Stevens

Max Stevens


Deadlines can be an incredibly stress-inducing thing. With each passing day, the homework deadlines grow ever closer.

But your work output doesn’t seem to keep pace until finally, in a fit of frantic desperation, you complete the majority of the task in the last 3 hours before it’s due. You’re not alone.

We have no firm figures but based upon our own rather hasty research directly before writing this piece. The percentage of people in the world who habitually procrastinate to some degree equals approximately 99.9999999%.

We don’t know who that .0000001 is, but we’re reasonably sure we wouldn’t enjoy their company.

1. Examples Of Procrastinators

Some famous habitual procrastinators include the likes of French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. Or, American author Herman Melville, and British author Douglas Adams.

Of course, based on their creative output, one would assume that each of these people found ways of meeting their deadlines, and you’d be right.

Victor Hugo used the popular focusing technique of being stripped naked in his study by a servant, who was given strict orders not to return with the clothing until a pre-arranged hour. Melville had his wife chain him to his desk in order to finish Moby Dick.

Douglas Adams regularly required publishers to lock him in rooms and stand guard, glowering menacingly until he produced a manuscript. Alright, then.

Let’s explore a few less extreme ways to cope with an impending deadline.

2. Take Smaller Bites If You Have Too Much Homework

Anyone who’s ever attempted to shed a few unwanted pounds has probably heard or read the advice to take smaller bites, chew your food thoroughly, etc., etc.… This is excellent advice in both weight loss and in the avoidance of procrastination (albeit for very different reasons).

One of the biggest triggers of procrastination is making the crippling mistake of thinking of whatever project you’re working on as one gigantic, hulking menace glaring at you from a distance. He’s probably also holding a large club with spikes coming out of it (although that may just be us).

Divide the overall workload into smaller, more manageable bites. Say, for example, that you’re writing an article listing and detailing the top 20 universities in the UK.

The assignment is to write a total of 10,000 words. Returning briefly to our diet analogy, that initially seems roughly equivalent to being asked to consume an entire roasted goose in one sitting (but without the irresistible allure of the roasted goose).

Following the principle of the smaller bite, however, you’re able to say to yourself, “I don’t have to spill out 10,000 brilliant words onto the page all at once. I’ve got 20 universities to write about. That’s 500 words apiece. Let’s tackle that first one and then worry about the next.”

Taken even further, you realise that each university will have sub-sections of approximately 100 words each. “100 words is nothing!” you exclaim.

And so, you’re able to jump into your project with much less trepidation and despair.

3. Break The Task Up

Of course, breaking the task into smaller pieces is fine for getting you past that stumbling block of the blank page. But you should be aware of one possible pitfall: If you break things down too far, you might decide the project is so easy that you can wait a week or two to get started.

This is bad. A necessary addendum to the “Take Smaller Bites” technique is the “Make Smaller Deadlines” technique. With each sub-step you identify, you should also set a sub-deadline to keep you on track toward completing the entire project.

This is especially important when the overall deadline is further off into the hazy future. The farther out the deadline is, the easier it is to convince yourself to wait another day. Or two. Or twelve.

Smaller bites work well, but if you don’t pair them with smaller deadlines, you’ll likely end up facing the entire project in one go just as you feared you would from the beginning.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Fail

One of the biggest reasons for procrastination is not laziness  but perfectionism . Thomas Edison is a famous American inventor and originator of the electric light bulb and other modern conveniences. He famously refused to accept that he had  failed 10,000 times , opting instead to assert that he’d  found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.

It’s a valid point. From inventors to scientists to actors in rehearsals, brilliant discoveries and stunning performances can’t just spring fully-formed out of nothingness. They’re invariably the result of working through countless failures on the way toward eventual success.

Suppose you’re putting off starting a project because it’s just not the perfect time or because it might not be good enough. Well, you’re right. There is no ideal time, and your first (and second, and third…) try probably won’t be good enough. But you have to allow yourself the freedom to make those initial failures if you ever aspire to succeed truly.

If you’re writing an essay , a poem, or a novel, get something on the page. Sit down now and scribble down an initial list of required tasks if you’re planning an event. That first page may well end up in the trash, and that initial list will no doubt be incomplete.

But that “failure” will lead you to the next try and the next until perched upon a tower of failures, you finally grasp the elusive fruit of success. It’s in the doing that you’ll find success, not in waiting for the perfect time to begin.

5. Eliminate Distractions

Easier said than done these days is the task of eliminating distractions during the time you’ve committed to working. From phone calls to emails to texts to Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat and on and on and on, it seems the world today is nothing but distractions (or that work is just a distraction from the far more interesting buzzing phone in our pocket).

When it comes to time management, procrastination can be the anti-hero that you really don’t want in a time like this. The trick is to find a way to remove yourself from those things.

The first step is to identify the worst offenders. Is it the TikTok notifications popping up simultaneously on your phone and computer screen? The email or texts making your phone chime every 30 seconds? Or, simply the outside world as viewed through the window in front of your desk? Most likely, it’s a combination of some of these and a few other things we haven’t mentioned.

Once you’ve identified the problem, the actions you take are entirely up to you. Is signing out of TikTok enough, or do you need the nuclear option of deactivating the account? Will turning off the phone suffice, or will you need to have a friend or family member keep it for you? Can you close the blind or move your desk? Or must you board up the window? Be honest with yourself. Only you know the extents to which you need to resort to finish your homework.

…To yourself. Only to yourself.

When dealing with a deadline of any sort, it’s usually an excellent idea to set a personal deadline in advance of the actual due date. In other words, lie to yourself about when it’s due. The benefits of this approach are apparent. If your project is due in 3 weeks, and you give yourself 2 weeks, that gives you an entire week to address any unexpected issues that may arise. For example, a part of the homework assignment might be more complex than you initially anticipated.

Of course, this only works if you’re particularly good at lying to yourself. Some can’t ignore the actual due date, so they end up skipping a day of work here and there because they know they’ve got an extra week to get it done. If you’re not gullible enough to believe your own lies, the only option is to add some urgency to your earlier deadline. Have a trusted friend or family member change your social media passwords and only reveal them once you’ve met the deadline.

Give your debit card to your mom and live off only a small daily allowance until the deadline is met. Be creative, but make it something that will motivate you. You’ll thank yourself when you’ve finished your project a week early, and you can relax while everyone else is still sweating it out.

7. Prioritise the most important or difficult tasks first

You may be asking yourself how you can do this – and the simple answer to that is to create an Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a time management skills tool that can help students prioritise difficult assignments by tackling them first.

The Eisenhower Matrix, or the Urgent-Important Matrix, can help prioritise tasks based on their urgency and importance. It may feel like a chore, but use these steps to give you a head start before you complete all your work:

  • Write a list of your homework tasks.
  • Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants, labelling each one as “Urgent and Important,” “Important but Not Urgent,” “Urgent but Not Important,” and “Not Urgent or Important.”
  • Place each homework task into the appropriate quadrant based on its level of urgency and importance.
  • Start with the “Urgent and Important” tasks and work on them first. These are the homework projects that are due soon and are critical to your grades.
  • Next, move on to the “Important but Not Urgent” tasks. These are assignments that are important to your long-term success but do not have a pressing deadline.
  • Next, the “Urgent but Not Important” assignments. These are tasks that may be due soon but are not critical to your success.
  • Finally, the bottom of the pile is “Not Urgent or Important” tasks. These tasks are neither critical nor time-sensitive.

Using this matrix will help you to prioritise your homework and ensure that you are focusing on the most important tasks first.

8. Manage Your Time To Avoid Burnout

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that involves breaking work into 25-minute intervals called “Pomodoros” followed by short breaks. During each interval, focus solely on completing a specific task , and then take a short break before starting another Pomodoro.

Repeat this cycle until you have completed all of your homework tasks. Ultimately, this technique helps to increase productivity and prevent burnout by giving your brain regular breaks even though you’re getting too much homework.

9. Seek help when needed, such as from a teacher or tutor.

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of homework you have as a secondary school student? Fear not, my friend. One strategy to conquer this mountain of assignments is to seek help when needed. But how do you do that?

  • Identify the problem: what specifically is causing you to have too much homework? Is it a lack of understanding of the material, difficulty with time management, or something else? Knowing the problem will help you to better communicate it to your teacher or tutor.
  • Ask the teacher: your first point of contact should be your teacher. Explain your situation and ask for help. Your teacher may be able to provide you with additional resources or offer to provide extra help during class or after the school day.
  • Seek a tutor: If you are still struggling after talking to your teacher, consider seeking help from a tutor. Tutors can provide one-on-one help, can work with you at your own pace and help you with exam preparation .
  • Utilise school resources: Many schools have resources such as a homework club or study groups that can help you to manage your workload. Take advantage of these resources if they are available to you.

10. Run Away (haha!)

Sometimes all that’s needed to jumpstart your initiative and get you headed in the right direction is a simple change of venue. There are many resources on the internet to help you choose or arrange your workspace so as to maximise productivity.

One thing to keep in mind is that many productivity experts frown on combining your workspace with your sleeping space. The theory is that combining the two harms both your work and your sleep by confusing your brain as to exactly what the room is meant to be for.

Of course, as a student, your sleeping space may be the only workspace you’ve got. But if you do find your work or rest to be suffering, it might be worth it to move your work sessions to a friend’s room, the library, or another suitable space and save your room for relaxation.

It’s also good to remember that, just because your workspace of choice has been the most inspiring and focused place to get things done in the past, things can change. If your workspace no longer does the job, don’t waste too much time figuring out why. It may just be time for you to find someplace new.

What to do instead of homework?

Whether your homework is complete, or if you’re just managing your time and taking a break, then these 10 activities can keep you active without sitting in front of the TV:

  • Exercise or go for a walk: it actually helps to boost your energy levels and improve your focus on your homework.
  • Read a book: a great way to relax and unwind while also improving your vocabulary and concentration for future essay writing.
  • Meditate or practice yoga: Mindfulness practices can help to reduce stress, and improve focus and other health benefits.
  • Organise your space: Organising your workspace space can help to reduce stress and increase productivity.
  • Take a nap: A short nap can help to refresh your mind and improve your focus, and who doesn’t love a quick nap?
  • Use a study app for students to increase their productivity while keeping you on your phone
  • Spend time with friends or family
  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Listen to music or an audiobook
  • Write in a journal or diary about how your day is going
  • Volunteer in your community

Can Too Much Homework Be Negative To A Student?

Yes, too much homework can be negative for students as it can lead to anxiety and stress due to them feeling overwhelmed. But it depends on the student, their level of understanding, and their individual needs. However, let’s say you’re spending more than 2 hours on homework every night, then that may be ‘too much’.

This can also contribute to sleep deprivation, problems with friends and family and a lack of motivation to learn more.

What is Homework Anxiety?

Homework anxiety is a type of anxiety that can occur in students when they are assigned homework. It is characterised by feelings of stress, worry, and pressure in relation to completing homework assignments. Symptoms of homework anxiety can include procrastination, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.

What Causes Homework Anxiety?

For some students, it may be due to a lack of understanding of the material or difficulty with time management. For others, it may be related to perfectionism or fear of failure. Additionally, students who experience homework anxiety may also have underlying anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder or OCD.

Do You Feel More Confident To Do Your Homework?

Procrastination is a very common ailment. One that has afflicted most of us at one time or another, but there are ways to keep yourself on track. These six tips are just a few things to consider if you find yourself consistently clamouring to finish your work at the last minute. There are many other resources on the web if you find that these don’t work out for you.

Now, get to work (and good luck).

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Do kids have too much homework.

Across the United States, parents, teachers and administrators alike are rethinking their approach to after-school assignments

LynNell Hancock

Student with homework

Homework horror stories are as timeworn as school bullies and cafeteria mystery meat. But as high-stakes testing pressures have mounted over the past decade—and global rankings for America’s schools have declined—homework has come under new scrutiny.

Diane Lowrie says she fled an Ocean County, New Jersey, school district three years ago when she realized her first grader’s homework load was nearly crushing him. Reading logs, repetitive math worksheets, and regular social studies reports turned their living room into an anguished battleground. “Tears were shed, every night,” says Lowrie, 47, an environmental educator, who tried to convince school district administrators that the work was not only numbing, but harmful. “Iain started to hate school, to hate learning, and he was only 6 years old,” she told me in a recent interview.

A 2003 Brookings Institution study suggests that Iain’s experience may be typical of a few children in pressure-cooker schools, but it’s not a widespread problem. Still, a 2004 University of Michigan survey of 2,900 six- to seventeen-year-old children found that time spent each week on homework had increased from 2 hours 38 minutes to 3 hours 58 minutes since 1981. And in his 2001 and 2006 reviews of academic studies of homework outcomes, Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, found little correlation between the amount of homework and academic achievement in elementary school (though higher in middle school and high school). Cooper supports the influential ten-minute homework rule, which recommends adding ten daily minutes of homework per grade beginning in first grade, up to a maximum of two hours. Some districts have added no homework on weekends to the formula.

The question of how much homework is enough is widely debated and was a focus of the 2009 documentary Race to Nowhere , a galvanizing cri de coeur about the struggles of kids in high-performing schools. “I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to go in the backyard and just run around,” a teenage girl laments in the film. “I’ve gone through bouts of depression” from too much homework, another confesses. A bewildered-looking third girl says: “I would spend six hours a night on my homework.”

The results of international tests give the homework skeptics ammunition. David Baker and Gerald LeTendre, professors of education at Penn State, found that in countries with the most successful school systems, like Japan, teachers give small amounts homework, while teachers in those with the lowest scores, such as Greece and Iran, give a lot. (Of course the quality of the assignment and the teacher’s use of it also matter.) The United States falls somewhere in the middle—average amounts of homework and average test results. Finnish teachers tend to give minimal amounts of homework throughout all the grades; the New York Times reported Finnish high-school kids averaged only one-half hour a night.

Sara Bennett, a Brooklyn criminal attorney and mother of two, began a second career as an anti-homework activist when her first-grade son brought home homework only a parent could complete. The 2006 book she co-wrote, The Case Against Homework , is credited with propelling a nationwide parent movement calling for time limits on homework.

Last year, the affluent village of Ridgewood, New Jersey, was shaken by two young suicides, causing school officials to look for ways they could ease kids’ anxieties. Anthony Orsini, principal of Ridgewood’s Benjamin Franklin Middle School, eliminated homework for elective courses and set up an online system that lets families know how long many homework assignments should take. “We have a high-powered district,” says Orsini. “The pressures are palpable on these students to succeed. My community is not ready to eliminate homework altogether.”

The trend, instead, is to lessen the quantity while improving the quality of homework by using it to complement classroom work, says Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at University of Missouri at St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs (2009). Cynthia Schneider, principal of World Journalism Preparatory school in Queens for 570 sixth through twelfth graders, plans to encourage all students to read for pleasure every night, then write a thoughtful response. There are also initiatives to “decriminalize” not finishing homework assignments.

As for Diane Lowrie, who left Ocean County because of too much homework, she says Iain, now 10 and heading for fifth grade in Roosevelt, New Jersey, is less stressed out. He recently spent 40 hours working on a book report and diorama about the Battle of Yorktown. “But,” says his mother, “it was his idea and he enjoyed it.”

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