How to Handle Homework in College

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No, you won’t be escaping homework once you get into college. While most portrayals of college and university educational experiences involve lectures, thesis writing, and sitting on the grass with a racially diverse set of friends, there’s actually more to it.

Although not as glamorous or exciting, homework still exists even in college. And like your high school homework, it’s not optional. So, whether or not your professor practices grading on a curve or any other method to determine your course grade, here’s how to handle your homework.

It’s Not “Homework” Like You’d Imagine

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You might think homework doesn’t exist in college because you don’t see college students lugging around workbooks and answering them at home. Homework still exists even during post-secondary education, but the type of homework you receive is different.

Readings and Assigned Books

This is applicable to students of all majors and minors. Expect that your professor will ask you to read either whole books, articles, or short clips of readings before they discuss in the following lecture. While high school teachers have already done this in the past, it is much more difficult in college.

For example, try to remember how required reading worked in high school. Let’s say you were instructed to read Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and you’ll have a month before lectures begin. You buy the book, read the first few chapters (or in Inferno’s case, cantos) and then put off reading for a few weeks until you remember the night before lectures begin and quickly skim through SparkNotes summary of the book. Fast forward to the actual lecture, and the first few weeks will be spent going through the book again for those who didn’t read the book. So, even someone did not read the book, they will still understand the gist of it because the first few lectures will be used to go over every part.

In college, however, this will be much stricter. You’ll receive a shorter time frame to read and understand the material. When lectures begin, you won’t be asked questions like “Who is Dante’s companion?” or “What was written on the doorway to hell?” because it is a simple question that wastes your professor’s and everyone who has presumably read it. Instead, you’ll be given questions like “What does the contrapasso in the vestibule represent and how does it show Dante’s emotions towards those who remained neutral over the corruption of Boniface VIII?”

Expect that your professor won’t be asking for a summary or simple questions to lead the discussion through a quick run-through of the book because it is expected that you should have read it beforehand. This example is just one of the ways your professor will consider readings to be a form of “homework.” This is not limited to novels and books, but also chapters, case digests, and other forms of reading material.

And while you can’t be marked for failing to read your reading materials, your lack of participation in the discussion can clearly reflect whether or not you read the material. And failure to read most of the reading assignments could lead to you failing the class from lack of understanding of the material.

Essay Assignments

One of the more common types of college homework, you’ll be asked to write an essay or reflection paper on a certain topic. Your professor may ask for short one- or two-page essays due on the next meeting, or longer essays that can take one to a few weeks to complete. This is more common for general courses and for majors whose degree programs fall under Liberal Arts, Education, Business, and Social Sciences.

Math Assignments

For courses under science, mathematics, engineering, technology, and the like, homework requires other forms than essay writing. You may be given problem sets similar to the ones you receive in high school-level math homework. But instead of 10 or 20 problem sets, you only receive around 5. This is usually due to two reasons: either each set has one problem set but multiple questions, or it only has one question that is particularly difficult. If you’re taking a STEM-related program expect to have more homework like this and fewer essays.

Lab Reports

For science majors who will have more laboratory-based classes than classroom-based learning, you may be required to work on your reports and other laboratory requirements outside of laboratory time. While your professor might not strictly call this homework, it’s the very essence of homework. You’ll be asked to write and submit records, observations, reports, and anything your professor will require.

Homework Tips

  • Develop a Time Management Strategy. Portrayals of college students burning the midnight oil to finish a paper is not always accurate. If you’re the type of student who isn’t very active in extra-curricular activities, you have more time to balance all your college courses’ homework and get everything done while still getting enough hours of sleep. Depending on your schedule, you might not have enough time to sleep in, but at least it’ll be enough time to get enough sleep, which can improve your emotional and cognitive health. If you have plenty of courses that have homework, extra-curricular activities, and a part-time job to pay for a part of college, you might need to sacrifice a few hours or cut time for yourself and your social life. It all depends on how you manage your time.
  • Don’t Delay; Do What You Can Today. Let’s say you’re given an assignment during a Monday, and it isn’t due until Friday next week. Depending on your working style, you can either do it as soon as you have enough free time to get it done, or you can work on it bit by bit until the given deadline. Whichever style you prefer, what’s important is that you pick a way that works for you and avoid getting work done at the last minute.

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