The Ultimate Math Homework Strategy

A math textbook is broken into chapters and each chapter into sections. Each section is a different topic within the chapter. For example, suppose Chapter 1 is Lines. Then Section 1.1 might be The Equation of a Line in Slope-Intercept Form, and then Section 1.2 might be The Equation of a Line in Point-Slope Form, and Section 1.5 might be Equations of Parallel and Perpendicular Lines. In a typical math class one of these sections is presented each day and homework is assigned. Students do the assigned homework and think that is all they have to do. This is the mistake! Why? Because the questions in each section are only testing the student’s knowledge of that particular section, so by the time the class is on Section 1.5 most students have no idea what 1.1 was about. When it comes time for the test students often do poorly even though they did all their homework! They will often say things like, “I froze”, or “I can’t write tests”. The other reason for this is in the textbook everything is presented in order; if the student is working on Section 1.3, they know all of the questions are going to be what they learned in 1.3. A test however is very different. The questions are usually mixed up, and in a different format than the textbook. This means the students have to recognize what to do on these questions, which is a skill they do not learn in the homework. This I find is the hardest part for kids. They see the question and don’t know where to start.

Okay so we have identified the problem. Now what is the solution? Well it has two parts, and this is what I call The Ultimate Homework Strategy.

1. Daily Review

Everyday the student should do a few random questions from each of the previous sections (including word problems) in the chapter before beginning the current day’s homework. This will ensure the concepts are being constantly reinforced so the student will learn them.

2. Practice Tests

This is the most important. Before every unit test the student should write a practice test. Some teachers provide these for the students and others just assign review questions from the textbook. The review questions are helpful but the practice tests are way better because they look like an actual test. If students write practice tests they get used to working through tests and this reduces their anxiety significantly during the actual test. It also gets the student comfortable doing random questions from anywhere in the chapter. If the student cannot get a practice test from school, parents or even a friend of the student can make one using questions from the textbook. From my 12 years of teaching experience I have found this to be the single most helpful study tool. Students who write practice tests do better. Period.

So there you have it. Try this method if you are a student, or have your child try it if you are a parent, and you will notice an unbelievable difference!

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