Prioritizing homework: What to do first?

“What’s the best way to prioritize homework?” 
“Should I do the easiest assignments first?  Or the hardest ones?”
 
I’ve heard from a number of parents and students recently who have been wondering how to prioritize homework.
 
It’s sometimes hard to know whether starting with easier or harder assignments is better, because there are benefits to both approaches…
 
Starting with the easiest assignments…
  • Reduces the risk of procrastination
  • Gives students a quick ‘win’ so they feel encouraged to continue
  • Gets some assignments checked off the list quickly, so there are fewer things to think about 

Starting with the hardest assignments…
  • Enables students to tackle their most difficult work when their focus & energy level are highest
  • Gets the most challenging work out of the way, so the rest of the homework feels easier & more enjoyable
  • Prioritizes work that is a large percentage of students’ grade, and/or the classes where they need the most improvement
 
Since there are pros and cons to each approach, how do you know which one to choose?
 
For the majority of my students, I actually recommend using a blend of the two approaches. 
 
What I like it do is…
  1. Start with an EASY assignment
  2. Tackle a CHALLENGING assignment
  3. Take a short break
…then repeat until the work is finished!
 
Here is a diagram of what this cycle would look like visually: 
Blog 092515
Within the list of easy and hard assignments, it is also a good idea to rank them in order of importance.
For example: 
  • Hard Assignments — My AP history reading and English essay are both due tomorrow.  The English essay is worth a lot of points, whereas the reading is not being graded, so I should start with my essay.  If I didn’t have time to finish my reading, I have some extra time this weekend when I could catch up.
  • Easy Assignments — Both my math and Spanish problems are quick & easy to do…but I have a lower grade in math right now, so it will be better for me to start with that one.
Alternating easy & challenging assignments has a number of benefits…
  • Students don’t resist starting their work as much, because they know they’re starting with something that is easy and enjoyable
  • They get an immediate sense of accomplishment by getting the easy assignment out of the way and checked off their list
  • They are starting their challenging assignments earlier in the afternoon, rather than saving them until late in the evening when they’re tired and unfocused
  • They get rewarded with a break every time they complete a challenging assignment
  • The most important work is being done first, so if they run out of time to finish everything at least the most important work is done
Priorities List for Business plans or Life Goals
 
 
For most students, this approach works quite well, as long as they are taking study breaks that increase their energy rather than draining it, and working efficiently on the challenging assignments. Check this article out for more tips
 
 
 
 
 
To help with implementing this idea, I’ve included a printable PDF checklist students can print out and use to plan their work in the afternoons!
 
Click here to download your copy: Daily Homework Priorities
 
I hope this strategy is helpful for you!  If you try it out at home, please post a comment on the blog below or email me at maggie@creatingpositivefutures.com to let me know how it goes!
 
 
 
 
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About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit http://creatingpositivefutures.com/contact or email support@creatingpositivefutures.com

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