This is a guest post by Robbie.

It’s the night before your homework assignment is due. Honestly, work is the last thing you want to do right now. But you know it has to get done, so you sit down and just bang it out. It’s not pretty, but at least you get the points, right?

Stop right there. This describes pretty much every student at one time or another, but if this sounds all too familiar then it’s time to make a change. Homework, like time in class, is a hugely important part of the learning process. And if you’re shortchanging yourself on your homework then you’re going to pay for it later when the test comes around, I guarantee it.

Luckily, there are ways to get a lot out of homework without spending countless hours every night studying. So if you want to learn the material, prevent cramming before an exam, and just generally reduce your school-related stress, here’s a quick list of some of the things you should be focusing on when you sit down at your desk:

Get rid of distractions

It’s easy to fall into the habit of turning on the TV, texting, or checking your Facebook tab every 5 minutes, but these little distractions actually have an enormous impact on your ability to focus and absorb information. If your brain has to keep switching back and forth between work and play, it’s going to take a whole lot longer to get things done. Try putting your phone away and going somewhere quiet where you can concentrate on your work.

Don’t stay up

Most people don’t start their homework until after the sun goes down, and may still be doing work late into the night. If you’re tired, you’re not going to be productive, so get an early start and get to bed at a reasonable time. To shake things up, try doing some work in the morning.

Focus like a test

Everybody always says practice makes perfect, so why not apply that to your homework routine? Instead of waiting until the days before the final to take practice tests, treat each homework assignment like a mini-exam. That means trying to figure out problems on your own instead of going straight to your notes or the book. Remember, copying a problem and plugging in new numbers does not help you learn!

Study group…maybe

A study group is a great tool for learning, especially when you need a concept explained but don’t want to ask the teaching staff. However, there is a huge difference between a study group and a social group, and unfortunately they often get mixed up. So if you find that the group is just not focusing, bite the bullet and find a new group or do the work yourself.

Reflect on your work

This one is important and it’s something that very few people do! Take a few extra minutes (no more than 10) after you finish an assignment and make sure you could do the whole thing again without help. If you can’t, something went wrong!

These are a few easy tips guaranteed to improve your retention and reduce stress. The most important thing to keep in mind is that that homework is valuable and important, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. So the next time you’re getting down to work try to build these habits, and you’re sure to see a difference in your grades!

Robbie Fluegge is currently a sophomore studying Applied Mathematics at Harvard University, and has worked as a tutor and cancer lab assistant for several years. He also works as a management consultant for Argopoint LLC at www.argopoint.com, a consulting firm based in Boston. He hopes that he can help his fellow students excel in their classes!

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