How Much Test Prep Homework Is TOO MUCH Test Prep Homework?

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My first day shadowing a guru tutor, I learned his secret, "the more homework, the better." At the time, I assumed he knew what he was talking about. He did not.

Intuitively, a "more is better" homework policy seems to be best practice. But is that actually true? 


First of all, assigning homework means reviewing homework. Sure, you could assign homework and then never bring it up again, but that's a little like throwing homework into a wishing well — and equally effective.

Homework is meant to facilitate a cycle of learning, whereby the student answers questions to indicate which concepts he does or does not understand. Then the tutor reviews the homework, provides additional instruction as necessary, before introducing the next set of concepts. If the tutor never reviews the homework, then the cycle stalls out, and no progress can be made. 

Reviewing homework is important. It's got to be done. But reviewing homework during sessions comes at the cost of covering new material during sessions. This trade-off is what's known as an opportunity cost. It cannot be avoided, but there are ways to reduce the opportunity cost.  

First, the tutor could assign less homework. Second, the tutor could somehow find a way to review homework between sessions, avoiding the overlap between reviewing old material and introducing new material. Option one isn't really a solution at all, which just leaves option two. So how can tutors provide feedback and support between sessions?

That's one of the questions we set out to answer when we began building our 100% custom branded test prep system for tutors. Our system enables students to enter their answers online, receive instant feedback, and watch video solutions for every problem on every assignment. And after watching a video solution, students have the option to flag that problem for review at the next session.

These tools reduce the amount of time that tutors must spend reviewing the previous week's assignments, thereby lessening the opportunity cost of assigning homework. Lower opportunity cost means more opportunities to help students improve. And that means greater score increases.

With these features implemented and the instructional opportunity cost of homework removed, we found that more homework is indeed better — but only if two criteria are first met:

First, the homework must be reviewed efficiently. If you're reviewing week-old homework during your live tutoring sessions, then more homework is almost certainly not better.

Second, the homework must be focused on the student's areas of greatest potential improvement. If you're assigning sections of full-length tests, then you're not making good use of your student's time.    

This is the insight that I hope you'll take away from this blog post: we cannot define the ideal amount of homework without first taking into account the quality of the homework and the manner in which you review it with the student.

I hope readers won't find that answer unsatisfactory. I realize that it's considered poor form to offer nothing more than "it depends" in response to a question posed in the headline. However, rather than provide you with a simple answer like "two hours a night," I'm suggesting that many tutors are using the wrong metrics when it comes to homework.

Parents do this all the time. They discuss everything in terms of hours of homework. However, in light of everything I've pointed out in this post, you should be able to see that hours of homework is not necessarily a meaningful metric the world of ACT or SAT tutoring.

To put it another way, homework is like sunscreen: the ingredients and method of application are far more important than the quantity applied. So what is the SPF of the homework you've been assigning?  Are you sending home SPF-4 tanning oil or SPF-70? This is to say, are you assigning entire sections of real SAT tests when students would get more benefit from highly focused practice problems?   

To help tutors maximize the efficiency of the homework they assign, we developed our custom quiz generator. This tool enables tutors to create custom-tailored worksheets from our huge and growing database of test prep questions. Just choose the subject, difficulty range, and which concepts you want to feature on the homework. Then select a due date, and click assign. 

These custom SAT & ACT quizzes can be printed or taken online. Either way, students complete the assignment by punching in their answers online and watching video solutions for all the problems they missed. This system provides students with all the feedback and support they need between sessions, so reviewing homework never gets in the way of the hard work you do during sessions. 

Anyway, that's how we've made it easier for test prep tutors to assign the optimal amount of homework. What have you tried? If you'd like to learn more about our system, sign up for a free software demo here

How do you decide how much homework to assign? And how do you decide what to assign? Leave your thoughts in the comments section and don't forget to subscribe!

In other news, we've been working on more FREE tools for independent tutors, tutoring companies, and test prep professionals. Be sure to subscribe to ensure that you get access as soon as they're released!

Speaking of free tools for tutors, we've nearly finished our next Ebook: How to Generate and Convert Leads by Hosting Free Practice SAT Tests


Click the link, and you'll receive a FREE ADVANCE COPY of the FULL Ebook as soon as it's available! And as a bonus, you'll reveive immediate access to an exclusive FREE SAMPLE of the Ebook as soon as you sign up. In this sample, we cover everything you need to proctor the test correctly. We also discuss a number of ways to set expectations among parents and students with regard to the next steps. These actions may seem like details, but they're critical to increasing conversion rates during score/sales consultations, so please click the link and take advantage of this FREE resource for tutors!

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