Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?

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how does homework get you better grades

Educators should be thrilled by these numbers. Pleasing a majority of parents regarding homework and having equal numbers of dissenters shouting "too much!" and "too little!" is about as good as they can hope for.

But opinions cannot tell us whether homework works; only research can, which is why my colleagues and I have conducted a combined analysis of dozens of homework studies to examine whether homework is beneficial and what amount of homework is appropriate for our children.

The homework question is best answered by comparing students who are assigned homework with students assigned no homework but who are similar in other ways. The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students' scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in 2nd grade did better on math, 3rd and 4th graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, 5th graders on social studies, 9th through 12th graders on American history, and 12th graders on Shakespeare.

Less authoritative are 12 studies that link the amount of homework to achievement, but control for lots of other factors that might influence this connection. These types of studies, often based on national samples of students, also find a positive link between time on homework and achievement.

Yet other studies simply correlate homework and achievement with no attempt to control for student differences. In 35 such studies, about 77 percent find the link between homework and achievement is positive. Most interesting, though, is these results suggest little or no relationship between homework and achievement for elementary school students.

Why might that be? Younger children have less developed study habits and are less able to tune out distractions at home. Studies also suggest that young students who are struggling in school take more time to complete homework assignments simply because these assignments are more difficult for them.

how does homework get you better grades

These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by our analysis. Practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits. Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2½ hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.

Beyond achievement, proponents of homework argue that it can have many other beneficial effects. They claim it can help students develop good study habits so they are ready to grow as their cognitive capacities mature. It can help students recognize that learning can occur at home as well as at school. Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits. And it can give parents an opportunity to see what's going on at school and let them express positive attitudes toward achievement.

Opponents of homework counter that it can also have negative effects. They argue it can lead to boredom with schoolwork, since all activities remain interesting only for so long. Homework can deny students access to leisure activities that also teach important life skills. Parents can get too involved in homework -- pressuring their child and confusing him by using different instructional techniques than the teacher.

My feeling is that homework policies should prescribe amounts of homework consistent with the research evidence, but which also give individual schools and teachers some flexibility to take into account the unique needs and circumstances of their students and families. In general, teachers should avoid either extreme.

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Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?

A conversation with a Wheelock researcher, a BU student, and a fourth-grade teacher

child doing homework

“Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives,” says Wheelock’s Janine Bempechat. “It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.” Photo by iStock/Glenn Cook Photography

Do your homework.

If only it were that simple.

Educators have debated the merits of homework since the late 19th century. In recent years, amid concerns of some parents and teachers that children are being stressed out by too much homework, things have only gotten more fraught.

“Homework is complicated,” says developmental psychologist Janine Bempechat, a Wheelock College of Education & Human Development clinical professor. The author of the essay “ The Case for (Quality) Homework—Why It Improves Learning and How Parents Can Help ” in the winter 2019 issue of Education Next , Bempechat has studied how the debate about homework is influencing teacher preparation, parent and student beliefs about learning, and school policies.

She worries especially about socioeconomically disadvantaged students from low-performing schools who, according to research by Bempechat and others, get little or no homework.

BU Today  sat down with Bempechat and Erin Bruce (Wheelock’17,’18), a new fourth-grade teacher at a suburban Boston school, and future teacher freshman Emma Ardizzone (Wheelock) to talk about what quality homework looks like, how it can help children learn, and how schools can equip teachers to design it, evaluate it, and facilitate parents’ role in it.

BU Today: Parents and educators who are against homework in elementary school say there is no research definitively linking it to academic performance for kids in the early grades. You’ve said that they’re missing the point.

Bempechat : I think teachers assign homework in elementary school as a way to help kids develop skills they’ll need when they’re older—to begin to instill a sense of responsibility and to learn planning and organizational skills. That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success. If we greatly reduce or eliminate homework in elementary school, we deprive kids and parents of opportunities to instill these important learning habits and skills.

We do know that beginning in late middle school, and continuing through high school, there is a strong and positive correlation between homework completion and academic success.

That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success.

You talk about the importance of quality homework. What is that?

Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives. It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.

Janine Bempechat

What are your concerns about homework and low-income children?

The argument that some people make—that homework “punishes the poor” because lower-income parents may not be as well-equipped as affluent parents to help their children with homework—is very troubling to me. There are no parents who don’t care about their children’s learning. Parents don’t actually have to help with homework completion in order for kids to do well. They can help in other ways—by helping children organize a study space, providing snacks, being there as a support, helping children work in groups with siblings or friends.

Isn’t the discussion about getting rid of homework happening mostly in affluent communities?

Yes, and the stories we hear of kids being stressed out from too much homework—four or five hours of homework a night—are real. That’s problematic for physical and mental health and overall well-being. But the research shows that higher-income students get a lot more homework than lower-income kids.

Teachers may not have as high expectations for lower-income children. Schools should bear responsibility for providing supports for kids to be able to get their homework done—after-school clubs, community support, peer group support. It does kids a disservice when our expectations are lower for them.

The conversation around homework is to some extent a social class and social justice issue. If we eliminate homework for all children because affluent children have too much, we’re really doing a disservice to low-income children. They need the challenge, and every student can rise to the challenge with enough supports in place.

What did you learn by studying how education schools are preparing future teachers to handle homework?

My colleague, Margarita Jimenez-Silva, at the University of California, Davis, School of Education, and I interviewed faculty members at education schools, as well as supervising teachers, to find out how students are being prepared. And it seemed that they weren’t. There didn’t seem to be any readings on the research, or conversations on what high-quality homework is and how to design it.

Erin, what kind of training did you get in handling homework?

Bruce : I had phenomenal professors at Wheelock, but homework just didn’t come up. I did lots of student teaching. I’ve been in classrooms where the teachers didn’t assign any homework, and I’ve been in rooms where they assigned hours of homework a night. But I never even considered homework as something that was my decision. I just thought it was something I’d pull out of a book and it’d be done.

I started giving homework on the first night of school this year. My first assignment was to go home and draw a picture of the room where you do your homework. I want to know if it’s at a table and if there are chairs around it and if mom’s cooking dinner while you’re doing homework.

The second night I asked them to talk to a grown-up about how are you going to be able to get your homework done during the week. The kids really enjoyed it. There’s a running joke that I’m teaching life skills.

Friday nights, I read all my kids’ responses to me on their homework from the week and it’s wonderful. They pour their hearts out. It’s like we’re having a conversation on my couch Friday night.

It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.

Bempechat : I can’t imagine that most new teachers would have the intuition Erin had in designing homework the way she did.

Ardizzone : Conversations with kids about homework, feeling you’re being listened to—that’s such a big part of wanting to do homework….I grew up in Westchester County. It was a pretty demanding school district. My junior year English teacher—I loved her—she would give us feedback, have meetings with all of us. She’d say, “If you have any questions, if you have anything you want to talk about, you can talk to me, here are my office hours.” It felt like she actually cared.

Bempechat : It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.

Ardizzone : But can’t it lead to parents being overbearing and too involved in their children’s lives as students?

Bempechat : There’s good help and there’s bad help. The bad help is what you’re describing—when parents hover inappropriately, when they micromanage, when they see their children confused and struggling and tell them what to do.

Good help is when parents recognize there’s a struggle going on and instead ask informative questions: “Where do you think you went wrong?” They give hints, or pointers, rather than saying, “You missed this,” or “You didn’t read that.”

Bruce : I hope something comes of this. I hope BU or Wheelock can think of some way to make this a more pressing issue. As a first-year teacher, it was not something I even thought about on the first day of school—until a kid raised his hand and said, “Do we have homework?” It would have been wonderful if I’d had a plan from day one.

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Senior Contributing Editor

Sara Rimer

Sara Rimer A journalist for more than three decades, Sara Rimer worked at the Miami Herald , Washington Post and, for 26 years, the New York Times , where she was the New England bureau chief, and a national reporter covering education, aging, immigration, and other social justice issues. Her stories on the death penalty’s inequities were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. Her journalism honors include Columbia University’s Meyer Berger award for in-depth human interest reporting. She holds a BA degree in American Studies from the University of Michigan. Profile

She can be reached at [email protected] .

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There are 81 comments on Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?

Insightful! The values about homework in elementary schools are well aligned with my intuition as a parent.

when i finish my work i do my homework and i sometimes forget what to do because i did not get enough sleep

same omg it does not help me it is stressful and if I have it in more than one class I hate it.

Same I think my parent wants to help me but, she doesn’t care if I get bad grades so I just try my best and my grades are great.

I think that last question about Good help from parents is not know to all parents, we do as our parents did or how we best think it can be done, so maybe coaching parents or giving them resources on how to help with homework would be very beneficial for the parent on how to help and for the teacher to have consistency and improve homework results, and of course for the child. I do see how homework helps reaffirm the knowledge obtained in the classroom, I also have the ability to see progress and it is a time I share with my kids

The answer to the headline question is a no-brainer – a more pressing problem is why there is a difference in how students from different cultures succeed. Perfect example is the student population at BU – why is there a majority population of Asian students and only about 3% black students at BU? In fact at some universities there are law suits by Asians to stop discrimination and quotas against admitting Asian students because the real truth is that as a group they are demonstrating better qualifications for admittance, while at the same time there are quotas and reduced requirements for black students to boost their portion of the student population because as a group they do more poorly in meeting admissions standards – and it is not about the Benjamins. The real problem is that in our PC society no one has the gazuntas to explore this issue as it may reveal that all people are not created equal after all. Or is it just environmental cultural differences??????

I get you have a concern about the issue but that is not even what the point of this article is about. If you have an issue please take this to the site we have and only post your opinion about the actual topic

This is not at all what the article is talking about.

This literally has nothing to do with the article brought up. You should really take your opinions somewhere else before you speak about something that doesn’t make sense.

we have the same name

so they have the same name what of it?

lol you tell her

totally agree

What does that have to do with homework, that is not what the article talks about AT ALL.

Yes, I think homework plays an important role in the development of student life. Through homework, students have to face challenges on a daily basis and they try to solve them quickly.I am an intense online tutor at 24x7homeworkhelp and I give homework to my students at that level in which they handle it easily.

More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.

You know what’s funny? I got this assignment to write an argument for homework about homework and this article was really helpful and understandable, and I also agree with this article’s point of view.

I also got the same task as you! I was looking for some good resources and I found this! I really found this article useful and easy to understand, just like you! ^^

i think that homework is the best thing that a child can have on the school because it help them with their thinking and memory.

I am a child myself and i think homework is a terrific pass time because i can’t play video games during the week. It also helps me set goals.

Homework is not harmful ,but it will if there is too much

I feel like, from a minors point of view that we shouldn’t get homework. Not only is the homework stressful, but it takes us away from relaxing and being social. For example, me and my friends was supposed to hang at the mall last week but we had to postpone it since we all had some sort of work to do. Our minds shouldn’t be focused on finishing an assignment that in realty, doesn’t matter. I completely understand that we should have homework. I have to write a paper on the unimportance of homework so thanks.

homework isn’t that bad

Are you a student? if not then i don’t really think you know how much and how severe todays homework really is

i am a student and i do not enjoy homework because i practice my sport 4 out of the five days we have school for 4 hours and that’s not even counting the commute time or the fact i still have to shower and eat dinner when i get home. its draining!

i totally agree with you. these people are such boomers

why just why

they do make a really good point, i think that there should be a limit though. hours and hours of homework can be really stressful, and the extra work isn’t making a difference to our learning, but i do believe homework should be optional and extra credit. that would make it for students to not have the leaning stress of a assignment and if you have a low grade you you can catch up.

Studies show that homework improves student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college. Research published in the High School Journal indicates that students who spent between 31 and 90 minutes each day on homework “scored about 40 points higher on the SAT-Mathematics subtest than their peers, who reported spending no time on homework each day, on average.” On both standardized tests and grades, students in classes that were assigned homework outperformed 69% of students who didn’t have homework. A majority of studies on homework’s impact – 64% in one meta-study and 72% in another – showed that take home assignments were effective at improving academic achievement. Research by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) concluded that increased homework led to better GPAs and higher probability of college attendance for high school boys. In fact, boys who attended college did more than three hours of additional homework per week in high school.

So how are your measuring student achievement? That’s the real question. The argument that doing homework is simply a tool for teaching responsibility isn’t enough for me. We can teach responsibility in a number of ways. Also the poor argument that parents don’t need to help with homework, and that students can do it on their own, is wishful thinking at best. It completely ignores neurodiverse students. Students in poverty aren’t magically going to find a space to do homework, a friend’s or siblings to help them do it, and snacks to eat. I feel like the author of this piece has never set foot in a classroom of students.

THIS. This article is pathetic coming from a university. So intellectually dishonest, refusing to address the havoc of capitalism and poverty plays on academic success in life. How can they in one sentence use poor kids in an argument and never once address that poor children have access to damn near 0 of the resources affluent kids have? Draw me a picture and let’s talk about feelings lmao what a joke is that gonna put food in their belly so they can have the calories to burn in order to use their brain to study? What about quiet their 7 other siblings that they share a single bedroom with for hours? Is it gonna force the single mom to magically be at home and at work at the same time to cook food while you study and be there to throw an encouraging word?

Also the “parents don’t need to be a parent and be able to guide their kid at all academically they just need to exist in the next room” is wild. Its one thing if a parent straight up is not equipped but to say kids can just figured it out is…. wow coming from an educator What’s next the teacher doesn’t need to teach cause the kid can just follow the packet and figure it out?

Well then get a tutor right? Oh wait you are poor only affluent kids can afford a tutor for their hours of homework a day were they on average have none of the worries a poor child does. Does this address that poor children are more likely to also suffer abuse and mental illness? Like mentioned what about kids that can’t learn or comprehend the forced standardized way? Just let em fail? These children regularly are not in “special education”(some of those are a joke in their own and full of neglect and abuse) programs cause most aren’t even acknowledged as having disabilities or disorders.

But yes all and all those pesky poor kids just aren’t being worked hard enough lol pretty sure poor children’s existence just in childhood is more work, stress, and responsibility alone than an affluent child’s entire life cycle. Love they never once talked about the quality of education in the classroom being so bad between the poor and affluent it can qualify as segregation, just basically blamed poor people for being lazy, good job capitalism for failing us once again!

why the hell?

you should feel bad for saying this, this article can be helpful for people who has to write a essay about it

This is more of a political rant than it is about homework

I know a teacher who has told his students their homework is to find something they are interested in, pursue it and then come share what they learn. The student responses are quite compelling. One girl taught herself German so she could talk to her grandfather. One boy did a research project on Nelson Mandela because the teacher had mentioned him in class. Another boy, a both on the autism spectrum, fixed his family’s computer. The list goes on. This is fourth grade. I think students are highly motivated to learn, when we step aside and encourage them.

The whole point of homework is to give the students a chance to use the material that they have been presented with in class. If they never have the opportunity to use that information, and discover that it is actually useful, it will be in one ear and out the other. As a science teacher, it is critical that the students are challenged to use the material they have been presented with, which gives them the opportunity to actually think about it rather than regurgitate “facts”. Well designed homework forces the student to think conceptually, as opposed to regurgitation, which is never a pretty sight

Wonderful discussion. and yes, homework helps in learning and building skills in students.

not true it just causes kids to stress

Homework can be both beneficial and unuseful, if you will. There are students who are gifted in all subjects in school and ones with disabilities. Why should the students who are gifted get the lucky break, whereas the people who have disabilities suffer? The people who were born with this “gift” go through school with ease whereas people with disabilities struggle with the work given to them. I speak from experience because I am one of those students: the ones with disabilities. Homework doesn’t benefit “us”, it only tears us down and put us in an abyss of confusion and stress and hopelessness because we can’t learn as fast as others. Or we can’t handle the amount of work given whereas the gifted students go through it with ease. It just brings us down and makes us feel lost; because no mater what, it feels like we are destined to fail. It feels like we weren’t “cut out” for success.

homework does help

here is the thing though, if a child is shoved in the face with a whole ton of homework that isn’t really even considered homework it is assignments, it’s not helpful. the teacher should make homework more of a fun learning experience rather than something that is dreaded

This article was wonderful, I am going to ask my teachers about extra, or at all giving homework.

I agree. Especially when you have homework before an exam. Which is distasteful as you’ll need that time to study. It doesn’t make any sense, nor does us doing homework really matters as It’s just facts thrown at us.

Homework is too severe and is just too much for students, schools need to decrease the amount of homework. When teachers assign homework they forget that the students have other classes that give them the same amount of homework each day. Students need to work on social skills and life skills.

I disagree.

Beyond achievement, proponents of homework argue that it can have many other beneficial effects. They claim it can help students develop good study habits so they are ready to grow as their cognitive capacities mature. It can help students recognize that learning can occur at home as well as at school. Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits. And it can give parents an opportunity to see what’s going on at school and let them express positive attitudes toward achievement.

Homework is helpful because homework helps us by teaching us how to learn a specific topic.

As a student myself, I can say that I have almost never gotten the full 9 hours of recommended sleep time, because of homework. (Now I’m writing an essay on it in the middle of the night D=)

I am a 10 year old kid doing a report about “Is homework good or bad” for homework before i was going to do homework is bad but the sources from this site changed my mind!

Homeowkr is god for stusenrs

I agree with hunter because homework can be so stressful especially with this whole covid thing no one has time for homework and every one just wants to get back to there normal lives it is especially stressful when you go on a 2 week vaca 3 weeks into the new school year and and then less then a week after you come back from the vaca you are out for over a month because of covid and you have no way to get the assignment done and turned in

As great as homework is said to be in the is article, I feel like the viewpoint of the students was left out. Every where I go on the internet researching about this topic it almost always has interviews from teachers, professors, and the like. However isn’t that a little biased? Of course teachers are going to be for homework, they’re not the ones that have to stay up past midnight completing the homework from not just one class, but all of them. I just feel like this site is one-sided and you should include what the students of today think of spending four hours every night completing 6-8 classes worth of work.

Are we talking about homework or practice? Those are two very different things and can result in different outcomes.

Homework is a graded assignment. I do not know of research showing the benefits of graded assignments going home.

Practice; however, can be extremely beneficial, especially if there is some sort of feedback (not a grade but feedback). That feedback can come from the teacher, another student or even an automated grading program.

As a former band director, I assigned daily practice. I never once thought it would be appropriate for me to require the students to turn in a recording of their practice for me to grade. Instead, I had in-class assignments/assessments that were graded and directly related to the practice assigned.

I would really like to read articles on “homework” that truly distinguish between the two.

oof i feel bad good luck!

thank you guys for the artical because I have to finish an assingment. yes i did cite it but just thanks

thx for the article guys.

Homework is good

I think homework is helpful AND harmful. Sometimes u can’t get sleep bc of homework but it helps u practice for school too so idk.

I agree with this Article. And does anyone know when this was published. I would like to know.

It was published FEb 19, 2019.

Studies have shown that homework improved student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college.

i think homework can help kids but at the same time not help kids

This article is so out of touch with majority of homes it would be laughable if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

There is no value to homework all it does is add stress to already stressed homes. Parents or adults magically having the time or energy to shepherd kids through homework is dome sort of 1950’s fantasy.

What lala land do these teachers live in?

Homework gives noting to the kid

Homework is Bad

homework is bad.

why do kids even have homework?

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Study: Homework Doesn’t Mean Better Grades, But Maybe Better Standardized Test Scores

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Robert H. Tai, associate professor of science education at UVA's Curry School of Education

The time students spend on math and science homework doesn’t necessarily mean better grades, but it could lead to better performance on standardized tests, a new study finds.

“When Is Homework Worth The Time?” was recently published by lead investigator Adam Maltese, assistant professor of science education at Indiana University, and co-authors Robert H. Tai, associate professor of science education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education , and Xitao Fan, dean of education at the University of Macau. Maltese is a Curry alumnus, and Fan is a former Curry faculty member.

The authors examined survey and transcript data of more than 18,000 10th-grade students to uncover explanations for academic performance. The data focused on individual classes, examining student outcomes through the transcripts from two nationwide samples collected in 1990 and 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Contrary to much published research, a regression analysis of time spent on homework and the final class grade found no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not. But the analysis found a positive association between student performance on standardized tests and the time they spent on homework.

“Our results hint that maybe homework is not being used as well as it could be,” Maltese said.

Tai said that homework assignments cannot replace good teaching.

“I believe that this finding is the end result of a chain of unfortunate educational decisions, beginning with the content coverage requirements that push too much information into too little time to learn it in the classroom,” Tai said. “The overflow typically results in more homework assignments. However, students spending more time on something that is not easy to understand or needs to be explained by a teacher does not help these students learn and, in fact, may confuse them.

“The results from this study imply that homework should be purposeful,” he added, “and that the purpose must be understood by both the teacher and the students.”

The authors suggest that factors such as class participation and attendance may mitigate the association of homework to stronger grade performance. They also indicate the types of homework assignments typically given may work better toward standardized test preparation than for retaining knowledge of class material.

Maltese said the genesis for the study was a concern about whether a traditional and ubiquitous educational practice, such as homework, is associated with students achieving at a higher level in math and science. Many media reports about education compare U.S. students unfavorably to high-achieving math and science students from across the world. The 2007 documentary film “Two Million Minutes” compared two Indiana students to students in India and China, taking particular note of how much more time the Indian and Chinese students spent on studying or completing homework.

“We’re not trying to say that all homework is bad,” Maltese said. “It’s expected that students are going to do homework. This is more of an argument that it should be quality over quantity. So in math, rather than doing the same types of problems over and over again, maybe it should involve having students analyze new types of problems or data. In science, maybe the students should write concept summaries instead of just reading a chapter and answering the questions at the end.”

This issue is particularly relevant given that the time spent on homework reported by most students translates into the equivalent of 100 to 180 50-minute class periods of extra learning time each year.

The authors conclude that given current policy initiatives to improve science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education, more evaluation is needed about how to use homework time more effectively. They suggest more research be done on the form and function of homework assignments.

“In today’s current educational environment, with all the activities taking up children’s time both in school and out of school, the purpose of each homework assignment must be clear and targeted,” Tai said. “With homework, more is not better.”

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November 20, 2012


Does homework really work?

by: Leslie Crawford | Updated: December 12, 2023

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Does homework help

You know the drill. It’s 10:15 p.m., and the cardboard-and-toothpick Golden Gate Bridge is collapsing. The pages of polynomials have been abandoned. The paper on the Battle of Waterloo seems to have frozen in time with Napoleon lingering eternally over his breakfast at Le Caillou. Then come the tears and tantrums — while we parents wonder, Does the gain merit all this pain? Is this just too much homework?

However the drama unfolds night after night, year after year, most parents hold on to the hope that homework (after soccer games, dinner, flute practice, and, oh yes, that childhood pastime of yore known as playing) advances their children academically.

But what does homework really do for kids? Is the forest’s worth of book reports and math and spelling sheets the average American student completes in their 12 years of primary schooling making a difference? Or is it just busywork?

Homework haterz

Whether or not homework helps, or even hurts, depends on who you ask. If you ask my 12-year-old son, Sam, he’ll say, “Homework doesn’t help anything. It makes kids stressed-out and tired and makes them hate school more.”

Nothing more than common kid bellyaching?

Maybe, but in the fractious field of homework studies, it’s worth noting that Sam’s sentiments nicely synopsize one side of the ivory tower debate. Books like The End of Homework , The Homework Myth , and The Case Against Homework the film Race to Nowhere , and the anguished parent essay “ My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me ” make the case that homework, by taking away precious family time and putting kids under unneeded pressure, is an ineffective way to help children become better learners and thinkers.

One Canadian couple took their homework apostasy all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. After arguing that there was no evidence that it improved academic performance, they won a ruling that exempted their two children from all homework.

So what’s the real relationship between homework and academic achievement?

How much is too much?

To answer this question, researchers have been doing their homework on homework, conducting and examining hundreds of studies. Chris Drew Ph.D., founder and editor at The Helpful Professor recently compiled multiple statistics revealing the folly of today’s after-school busy work. Does any of the data he listed below ring true for you?

• 45 percent of parents think homework is too easy for their child, primarily because it is geared to the lowest standard under the Common Core State Standards .

• 74 percent of students say homework is a source of stress , defined as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.

• Students in high-performing high schools spend an average of 3.1 hours a night on homework , even though 1 to 2 hours is the optimal duration, according to a peer-reviewed study .

Not included in the list above is the fact many kids have to abandon activities they love — like sports and clubs — because homework deprives them of the needed time to enjoy themselves with other pursuits.

Conversely, The Helpful Professor does list a few pros of homework, noting it teaches discipline and time management, and helps parents know what’s being taught in the class.

The oft-bandied rule on homework quantity — 10 minutes a night per grade (starting from between 10 to 20 minutes in first grade) — is listed on the National Education Association’s website and the National Parent Teacher Association’s website , but few schools follow this rule.

Do you think your child is doing excessive homework? Harris Cooper Ph.D., author of a meta-study on homework , recommends talking with the teacher. “Often there is a miscommunication about the goals of homework assignments,” he says. “What appears to be problematic for kids, why they are doing an assignment, can be cleared up with a conversation.” Also, Cooper suggests taking a careful look at how your child is doing the assignments. It may seem like they’re taking two hours, but maybe your child is wandering off frequently to get a snack or getting distracted.

Less is often more

If your child is dutifully doing their work but still burning the midnight oil, it’s worth intervening to make sure your child gets enough sleep. A 2012 study of 535 high school students found that proper sleep may be far more essential to brain and body development.

For elementary school-age children, Cooper’s research at Duke University shows there is no measurable academic advantage to homework. For middle-schoolers, Cooper found there is a direct correlation between homework and achievement if assignments last between one to two hours per night. After two hours, however, achievement doesn’t improve. For high schoolers, Cooper’s research suggests that two hours per night is optimal. If teens have more than two hours of homework a night, their academic success flatlines. But less is not better. The average high school student doing homework outperformed 69 percent of the students in a class with no homework.

Many schools are starting to act on this research. A Florida superintendent abolished homework in her 42,000 student district, replacing it with 20 minutes of nightly reading. She attributed her decision to “ solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students .”

More family time

A 2020 survey by Crayola Experience reports 82 percent of children complain they don’t have enough quality time with their parents. Homework deserves much of the blame. “Kids should have a chance to just be kids and do things they enjoy, particularly after spending six hours a day in school,” says Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth . “It’s absurd to insist that children must be engaged in constructive activities right up until their heads hit the pillow.”

By far, the best replacement for homework — for both parents and children — is bonding, relaxing time together.

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Strategizing resources leads to improved exam scores, according to Stanford scholars

A study from Stanford psychology scholars found that college students employing a strategic approach to the use of study resources improved their exam scores by an average of one-third of a letter grade.

Patricia Chen is lead author on a paper that shows that a psychological intervention that encouraged students to use available study resources in a strategic way made them more likely to perform better in class.

Patricia Chen is lead author on a paper that shows that a psychological intervention encouraging students to use available study resources in a strategic way made them more likely to perform better in class. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Despite access to a trove of learning resources – including textbooks, online references and homework assignments – some students routinely fall short of their performance expectations.

The solution may not be to work harder, but more strategically. That’s the key takeaway from new research led by Stanford scholars, whose study published in Psychological Science found that applying a strategic approach to studying helped college students improve their exam scores by an average of one-third of a letter grade.

Inspiration to strategize

The study was inspired by meetings that lead author Patricia Chen, a postdoctoral research fellow in Stanford’s Department of Psychology , had with less-than-enthused students after they received their exam grades. Many of these students, she noticed, lamented their poor performances despite the great deal of effort that they had put into studying. The classic complaint seemed to be, “I studied really hard, and I’m just as smart as [another student]. I don’t understand why I didn’t do well.”

In response, Chen would ask these students, “Describe to me how you studied for the exam.” From the responses, Chen gleaned the insight that many students – intelligent and willing to work hard – fall short of performing to their potential because they don’t employ a strategic approach to their learning.

“Blind effort alone, without directing that effort in an effective manner, doesn’t always get you to where you want to go,” Chen said.

Power of self-reflection

The research team, which included Desmond Ong, a Stanford doctoral student in psychology, homed in on one important aspect of strategic learning – engaging in self-reflection to identify and use resources wisely. Prior research supports the general use of metacognition, or “thinking about one’s own thinking,” as a successful means to better learning and academic performance. But, before their studies, it remained to be seen whether specifically strategizing about one’s resource use would causally improve students’ academic performance.

The researchers developed a “Strategic Resource Use” intervention that blends educational and social psychological theories. The intervention, according to the study, “prompts students to think deliberately about how to approach their learning effectively with the resources available to them.”

The intervention was administered through brief online surveys sent to college students in an introductory statistics class about one week before their exams.

Students in the control group received a business-as-usual exam reminder. Students in the intervention group received the same exam reminder and a short Strategic Resource Use exercise: They were asked to think about what they expected to be on the upcoming exam and then strategize what kinds of resources they would use to study most effectively. Following this, the students were asked to explain why each resource they chose would be useful to their learning and then describe how they planned on using their chosen resources.

In two studies, students who strategized their resource use before studying outperformed comparable classmates in the control group by an average of one-third of a letter grade in the class. In the first study, students scored an average of 3.45 percentage points higher in the class, and in the second study, the average difference was 4.65 percentage points.

Why was the intervention so effective? The researchers found that the brief intervention exercise made students more self-reflective about how they approached their learning. In turn, this metacognition enabled students to use their resources more effectively, as their self-reports showed.

“It’s not merely about using a greater number of resources for studying. The important point here is using resources more effectively,” stressed Ong.

This strategic thinking also provided students with other psychological benefits, including feelings of empowerment regarding their education. Students who had taken the intervention perceived a greater control over their learning and expressed fewer negative feelings about their upcoming exams.

Chen emphasized it is important to consider the specific class environment before implementing the Strategic Resource Use intervention. The researchers note that the intervention has been tested – and found effective – in resource-rich environments, where students have access to textbooks, lecture notes, online resources, teaching assistants and other tools. But it is still unknown how well the intervention would work in resource-scarce environments. In resource-scarce environments, said Chen, it might be better for educators to focus on providing “a basic repertoire of resources” first.

A strategy for life

Chen proposes that the principle behind Strategic Resource Use can be applied beyond academics, including parenting, losing weight or learning a new skill at work.

“Actively self-reflecting on the approaches that you are taking fosters a strategic stance that is really important in life,” she said. “Strategic thinking distinguishes between people of comparable ability and effort. This can make the difference between people who achieve and people who have the potential to achieve, but don’t.”

Chen offered one more piece of advice: “Strategize how you want to effectively direct your efforts before you pour your energy into it.”

The study, “Strategic Resource Use for Learning: A Self-Administered Intervention That Guides Self-Reflection on Effective Resource Use Enhances Academic Performance,” was also co-authored by Omar Chavez, a graduate student at the University of Texas, and Brenda Gunderson, a senior lecturer at the University of Michigan.

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Adolescent girl doing homework.

What’s the Right Amount of Homework?

Decades of research show that homework has some benefits, especially for students in middle and high school—but there are risks to assigning too much.

Many teachers and parents believe that homework helps students build study skills and review concepts learned in class. Others see homework as disruptive and unnecessary, leading to burnout and turning kids off to school. Decades of research show that the issue is more nuanced and complex than most people think: Homework is beneficial, but only to a degree. Students in high school gain the most, while younger kids benefit much less.

The National PTA and the National Education Association support the “ 10-minute homework guideline ”—a nightly 10 minutes of homework per grade level. But many teachers and parents are quick to point out that what matters is the quality of the homework assigned and how well it meets students’ needs, not the amount of time spent on it.

The guideline doesn’t account for students who may need to spend more—or less—time on assignments. In class, teachers can make adjustments to support struggling students, but at home, an assignment that takes one student 30 minutes to complete may take another twice as much time—often for reasons beyond their control. And homework can widen the achievement gap, putting students from low-income households and students with learning disabilities at a disadvantage.

However, the 10-minute guideline is useful in setting a limit: When kids spend too much time on homework, there are real consequences to consider.

Small Benefits for Elementary Students

As young children begin school, the focus should be on cultivating a love of learning, and assigning too much homework can undermine that goal. And young students often don’t have the study skills to benefit fully from homework, so it may be a poor use of time (Cooper, 1989 ; Cooper et al., 2006 ; Marzano & Pickering, 2007 ). A more effective activity may be nightly reading, especially if parents are involved. The benefits of reading are clear: If students aren’t proficient readers by the end of third grade, they’re less likely to succeed academically and graduate from high school (Fiester, 2013 ).

For second-grade teacher Jacqueline Fiorentino, the minor benefits of homework did not outweigh the potential drawback of turning young children against school at an early age, so she experimented with dropping mandatory homework. “Something surprising happened: They started doing more work at home,” Fiorentino writes . “This inspiring group of 8-year-olds used their newfound free time to explore subjects and topics of interest to them.” She encouraged her students to read at home and offered optional homework to extend classroom lessons and help them review material.

Moderate Benefits for Middle School Students

As students mature and develop the study skills necessary to delve deeply into a topic—and to retain what they learn—they also benefit more from homework. Nightly assignments can help prepare them for scholarly work, and research shows that homework can have moderate benefits for middle school students (Cooper et al., 2006 ). Recent research also shows that online math homework, which can be designed to adapt to students’ levels of understanding, can significantly boost test scores (Roschelle et al., 2016 ).

There are risks to assigning too much, however: A 2015 study found that when middle school students were assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework, their math and science test scores began to decline (Fernández-Alonso, Suárez-Álvarez, & Muñiz, 2015 ). Crossing that upper limit can drain student motivation and focus. The researchers recommend that “homework should present a certain level of challenge or difficulty, without being so challenging that it discourages effort.” Teachers should avoid low-effort, repetitive assignments, and assign homework “with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-directed learning.”

In other words, it’s the quality of homework that matters, not the quantity. Brian Sztabnik, a veteran middle and high school English teacher, suggests that teachers take a step back and ask themselves these five questions :

  • How long will it take to complete?
  • Have all learners been considered?
  • Will an assignment encourage future success?
  • Will an assignment place material in a context the classroom cannot?
  • Does an assignment offer support when a teacher is not there?

More Benefits for High School Students, but Risks as Well

By the time they reach high school, students should be well on their way to becoming independent learners, so homework does provide a boost to learning at this age, as long as it isn’t overwhelming (Cooper et al., 2006 ; Marzano & Pickering, 2007 ). When students spend too much time on homework—more than two hours each night—it takes up valuable time to rest and spend time with family and friends. A 2013 study found that high school students can experience serious mental and physical health problems, from higher stress levels to sleep deprivation, when assigned too much homework (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013 ).

Homework in high school should always relate to the lesson and be doable without any assistance, and feedback should be clear and explicit.

Teachers should also keep in mind that not all students have equal opportunities to finish their homework at home, so incomplete homework may not be a true reflection of their learning—it may be more a result of issues they face outside of school. They may be hindered by issues such as lack of a quiet space at home, resources such as a computer or broadband connectivity, or parental support (OECD, 2014 ). In such cases, giving low homework scores may be unfair.

Since the quantities of time discussed here are totals, teachers in middle and high school should be aware of how much homework other teachers are assigning. It may seem reasonable to assign 30 minutes of daily homework, but across six subjects, that’s three hours—far above a reasonable amount even for a high school senior. Psychologist Maurice Elias sees this as a common mistake: Individual teachers create homework policies that in aggregate can overwhelm students. He suggests that teachers work together to develop a school-wide homework policy and make it a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year.

Parents Play a Key Role

Homework can be a powerful tool to help parents become more involved in their child’s learning (Walker et al., 2004 ). It can provide insights into a child’s strengths and interests, and can also encourage conversations about a child’s life at school. If a parent has positive attitudes toward homework, their children are more likely to share those same values, promoting academic success.

But it’s also possible for parents to be overbearing, putting too much emphasis on test scores or grades, which can be disruptive for children (Madjar, Shklar, & Moshe, 2015 ). Parents should avoid being overly intrusive or controlling—students report feeling less motivated to learn when they don’t have enough space and autonomy to do their homework (Orkin, May, & Wolf, 2017 ; Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008 ; Silinskas & Kikas, 2017 ). So while homework can encourage parents to be more involved with their kids, it’s important to not make it a source of conflict.

clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

A deep dive into whether -- and how -- homework should be graded

how does homework get you better grades

Homework has been a source of contention since it was first assigned in U.S. public schools in the 1800s. By 1900, it had become so unpopular in some circles that an editorial by Edward Bok, the influential editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, had this headline: “A National Crime at the Feet of American Parents.”

“The child is made to study far, far beyond his physical strength, and consequently his mental good,” Bok wrote, arguing that kids under age 15 should be outside playing with friends after school and should go to sleep after dinner. Homework was banned for a while in public schools in Boston, the entire state of California and other places, and from 1900 to 1940 progressive education scholars tried to get it abolished everywhere.

They ultimately lost, but debate over the value of homework for students, especially young ones, continues today, along with a relatively new wrinkle: Should homework be graded? It’s part of a revolution in grading that has quietly been underway for years in some districts but that gained attention when more districts began looking at changing grading systems during the coronavirus pandemic.

This article looks in depth at the controversy over grading homework. It was written by Rick Wormeli, a former National Board Certified teacher in Virginia who now consults with schools and districts on classroom practice and grading systems. He is the author of “ Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, Second Edition. ”

Teachers second-guess letter grades as they search for a fairer way

By Rich Wormeli

Some school districts in our area are considering proposals to revise their policies for reporting homework completion and students’ timely adherence to deadlines so that these reports do not count in final, academic grades of subject content. A few in these communities are pushing back on this idea, declaring that such policies do not teach responsibility, with at least one observer calling the suggested policies, “dumb,” and, “a formula for disaster.” (See, Mathews, “ Abolishing grades on homework will hurt the neediest kids ,” Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2021, and his follow-up piece on the same topic on April 3, 2022). To these individuals, I offer a deeper dive, as the new policies are legitimate.

Everyone in a student’s academic life agrees that grades should be accurate reports of student proficiencies regarding what is being taught: One student’s grade in science reflects her understanding of photosynthesis, and another’s grade in Algebra reflects his skills in graphing inequalities. With accuracy like this, we can provide helpful feedback and make effective decisions regarding students’ current and future learning.

If we include reports of elements not indicative of the proficiencies we claim to report, we distort the truth about students’ learning. We are an ethical profession, however; we don’t lie to students or their parents. It makes sense, then, to remove any practice that falsifies grade reports and to do more of those things that assure truthful reporting.

With integrity paramount, we cannot conflate the report of doing things (compliance) with the reporting of learning things (mastery or proficiency), as doing so distorts the accuracy of the report of either one individually. During the years of my teaching in Loudoun and Fairfax County schools, some students demonstrated 75 percent proficiency in the previous year’s material, but the previous year’s teachers recorded an A or 100 percent on their report cards because these students completed homework on time, maintained organized notebooks, and worked collaboratively. These elements counted 25 percent of the grade. They were helpful things, of course, but they were not evidence of what teachers claim to be reporting.

Study provides rare control group review of standards-based grading craze

In addition, we do not want to give students a false sense of competence in their learning as this creates embarrassment later when they, their parents, and future teachers think students are competent, but it turns out to be a mirage. These individuals are left gawping at what others in their courses easily understand and do. This can happen when we buffer grades with elements such as “completed homework,” and adding extra points to an assignment’s score because the student brought in extra canned food for the canned food drive.

So, what does this mean for modern grading practices? It means we report elements like homework completion and timely adherence to deadlines separately from subject proficiency on the report card. We are careful not to blur the lines between reporting students’ compliance with tasks with students’ proficiency in Latin declension or proper weightlifting techniques.

Work on homework assignments is not evidence of final level of proficiency. Instead, it provides feedback and informs where we go next in instruction. No professional in any field would accept weaving in reports of their first, inexact, attempts in learning with the final report of their solid competence at the end of their learning journey and proven licensure, as it would create a false report of current proficiency. If we wouldn’t tolerate this inaccurate reporting in working world evaluations, what makes it legitimate in our schools? The grade at course’s end should be an accurate report for the subject proficiencies demonstrated at that point, not a report of the road students traveled to get there.

Consider, too, that homework assignments are used as coaching and practice tools for students as they learn content and skills. Any assessment of learning along the way such as we get when looking over students’ practice work is a one-moment-in-time progress check as students grow towards demonstrable competence. Here, we provide timely feedback, and students self-monitor their learning rather than depending exclusively on others to tell them how they are doing. As a result, students own their learning, and learned helplessness and making excuses fall away.

We don’t want to invoke self-preservation here, which happens often with adolescents. If our first steps with a topic are allowed to significantly alter the final report of our competence in that topic, we self-preserve, protect ego, and essentially give up, letting you think we can do it but that we choose not to, or were irresponsible. For many of us, it’s better you think me competent than give you proof that I’m incompetent and don’t belong. Interestingly, teachers are actually more demanding of students by maintaining students’ hope in their learning potential. Invoking self-preservation with high stakes homework, however, lets students escape the burden of their learning and growing maturity.

To provide gravitas and help educators and communities avoid deflecting on this issue, consider the many court cases speaking to this concern, with brief statements from two of them included here (taken from Guskey and Brookhart, “ What We Know about Grading ”):

  • Smith v. School City of Hobart (1993): “A federal judge rules that grade reductions for nonacademic reasons result in, “clear misrepresentation of the student’s scholastic achievement, … Misrepresentation of achievement is equally improper … and illegal whether the achievement is misrepresented by upgrading or downgrading, if either is done for reason that are irrelevant to the achievement being graded. For example, one would hardly deem acceptable an upgrading in a mathematics course for achievement on the playing field.”
  • Court[s] … have relied on grade accuracy to mean “the extent that it permits someone to estimate the extent of a student’s knowledge and skills in a given area” (Chartier, 2003, p. 41)…[I]ncluding factors such as ability, effort, improvement, or work completion in grades may not be legally defensible.”

Finally, let’s look at the research on teaching accountability and whether counting practice (homework) and penalties for late work in academic course grade teaches students self-discipline and responsibility. Consider (from Guskey’s “Five Obstacles to Grading Reform”):

[N]o research supports the idea that low grades prompt students to try harder. More often, low grades prompt students to withdraw from learning. To protect their self-images, many students regard the low grade as irrelevant or meaningless. Others may blame themselves for the low grade but feel helpless to improve (Selby & Murphy, 1992).

To those expressing concerns about teaching responsibility, I invite you to study the research and many resources on how adults cultivate such maturity in their students. Policies such as one grade lower for each day late and counting homework completion in the final performance of proficiency don’t hold up under scrutiny. Tom Schimmer, author of “ Grading from the Inside Out ,” and former teacher and principal, wrote :

One of the biggest misunderstandings of standards-based grading is that the non-achievement factors don’t matter; they do. Achievement grades are the reason students will ultimately gain entry into college; their habits of learning are the reason they will graduate from college. It is not okay for students to turn work in late. But it’s equally not okay to distort achievement levels as a result of lateness.

He also wrote that having such a factor contribute “to a student’s achievement grade would be inequitable and even unethical.”

Students are behind in math and reading. Are schools doing enough?

All of us want students to develop self-discipline, perseverance, time management, consideration for others, and to start projects the week they are assigned instead of five weeks later, the night before they are due. If we look closely, though, we find that none of the research on how to teach these skills calls for counting homework in the final academic grade or by recording unrecoverable zeros and F’s when work is not completed or not completed on time.

What we find instead are robust and practical insights for building executive function skills, fostering independence, asking students to self-monitor their own learning, building agency (voice and choice in learning), and facilitating students’ growing self-efficacy.

For example, consider these major executive function skills promoted in “ Smart, but Scattered for Teens” : response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, flexibility, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritizing, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition. Do we see anything here that would contribute positively to homework completion and student success? Yes, all of them. Let’s overtly teach these skills instead of scolding from afar in the mistaken assumption that lowering grades helps students mature.

Reporting homework separately is making sure homework “counts,” putting homework completion on its own radar, and giving it increased importance, not less. This is raising expectations, not lowering them. It’s a teacher cop-out when we assign unrecoverable zeros and F’s to work not done on the timeline we declared, as students don’t have to do it now. The message is clear here: This work is skippable and not important. If it’s worth assigning, however, it matters: It’s not busy-work, it’s not skippable. The consequence for not doing your work is giving up other activities and doing the work.

Admissions officers and military recruiters over the decades share repeatedly that they like to see work habits such as homework completion and timely adherence to deadlines reported separately for all four years of high school. This allows them to trust the academic grades as more accurate indicators of students’ real learning and to gauge the candidate’s mettle for their upcoming program. To reinforce the life lesson that hard work often results in higher achievement, report homework completion separately from academic performance and ask the student to note the correlations: higher completion rate yields higher performance, lower completion rate yields lower performance.

Also note that sometimes we get students who do little or no homework, yet they perform among the highest in the class. There is no cheating here; the students have after-school responsibilities that are simply more urgent: Taking care of aging parents or younger siblings, working after school in order to help the family pay for food and rent, or getting extra assistance in another course. When such a mismatch happens, we have to question the value of students doing those homework assignments: Did they really matter to students’ success, or were they merely busy work, making school about compliance, not learning?

Mathews, in his 2021 Post column on the subject, quotes Wakefield High School teachers’ criticism: “ [T]he Spring 2020 virtual learning experiment during the [coronavirus] pandemic taught most of us that students do not, will not, complete work if it is not for a grade,” and he repeats the statement in his April 3, 2022 , update of the controversial topic. But let’s consider the spring of 2020 when schools first closed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember the panic we were feeling? We were in free fall, wondering which end was up. Students were navigating the loss of normalcy, removal of expected rituals and experiences, fears over others seeing their home lives via Zoom, inappropriate learning conditions at home, caring for parents and grandparents, increased opioid and alcohol use in self or family, wild mood swings, dramatic changes in sleep, isolation/loneliness, going through puberty, limited access to technology/resources/food, jobless parents due to economic downturn, transportation challenges, limited skills in executive function, depression/anxiety, and were dealing with increasing biases, racism, and political hostilities.

On top of this, Arlington County educators and other teachers around the nation were on a steep learning curve, barely ahead of their students on how to make virtual instruction work. Many of us were not very effective at it; we didn’t have the tools and know-how to make learning engaging via the camera lens in spring 2020. It’s a credit to teachers and students that everyone did as well as they did. Using that time of angst with all that was happening on both sides of the camera as conclusive proof that students will only do homework when it is graded, however, doesn’t make sense: It’s a flawed understanding of proper research practices to make such a claim.

In that same April 3, 2022 update, Mathews says that providing feedback on homework, not grades is a, “a lovely image, but … is at odds with modern adolescence. The distractions of teenage life are at war with the notion that students will do better if teachers remove deadlines.” Actually, none of the standards-based learning advocates, as Mathews cited, including Joe Feldman, Emily Rickema, and Ken O’Connor, advocates for removing deadlines. Deadlines still matter, and students are taught diligently how to meet them. Punitive and distorted grade reports, however, are not the way to teach it.

Second, let’s do a deeper dive into what we know about today’s adolescents before we make such generalizations based on what a few teachers say. Adolescents do respond well to classrooms of agency, developmentally appropriate instruction, complex, demanding instruction, and hope. This means we require students to do the heavy lifting to analyze their practice work against standards of excellence and use that knowledge to inform next steps in learning while being assured that these assignments are only progress checks, not the ultimate judgment of competence. When early attempts at mastery are not used against them, and accountability comes in the form of actually learning content, adolescents flourish. No research in our profession concludes that knowingly falsifying grade reports is an effective way to help students mature and deal with the distractions of teenage life.

Let’s implement the practices that lead to student success. Coercive efforts such as counting homework completion and timeliness in an academic grade are about control, not learning or student maturation. Work completion and timeliness are deeply important virtues, of course, but conflating them with academic performance provides a false sense that students are learning and maturing. Homework completion should count 100 percent, and timeliness of assignment submissions should count 100 percent. Yes, quote me correctly, both should count 100 percent — of their own columns on the report card. They should count 0 percent, however, of the report of what students know about mitosis or coding in Python.

Accountability can be defined as entering mutual ethos with one another: I’m looking out for your success as much as you are looking out for mine. As teachers, that means we come prepared to teach diverse students substantive content and skills, and we hold ourselves accountable to powerful ethics as professionals. We study the role of homework in student learning, and we don’t undermine its positive effects by conflating what should be practice with high stakes, final designations of competence. In this, our students are well served.

Teachers say parents, laws are changing how they teach race and gender

how does homework get you better grades

Exhausted female student falls asleep at desk while studying at night

How much time should you spend studying? Our ‘Goldilocks Day’ tool helps find the best balance of good grades and  well-being

how does homework get you better grades

Senior Research Fellow, Allied Health & Human Performance, University of South Australia

how does homework get you better grades

Professor of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

Disclosure statement

Dot Dumuid is supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Fellowship GNT1162166 and by the Centre of Research Excellence in Driving Global Investment in Adolescent Health funded by NHMRC GNT1171981.

Tim Olds receives funding from the NHMRC and the ARC.

University of South Australia provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

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For students, as for all of us, life is a matter of balance, trade-offs and compromise. Studying for hours on end is unlikely to lead to best academic results. And it could have negative impacts on young people’s physical, mental and social well-being.

Our recent study found the best way for young people to spend their time was different for mental health than for physical health, and even more different for school-related outcomes. Students needed to spend more time sitting for best cognitive and academic performance, but physical activity trumped sitting time for best physical health. For best mental health, longer sleep time was most important.

It’s like a game of rock, paper, scissors with time use. So, what is the sweet spot, or as Goldilocks put it, the “just right” amount of study?

Read more: Back to school: how to help your teen get enough sleep

Using our study data for Australian children aged 11 and 12, we are developing a time-optimisation tool that allows the user to define their own mental, physical and cognitive health priorities. Once the priorities are set, the tool provides real-time updates on what the user’s estimated “Goldilocks day” looks like.

Stylised dial set between 'too little' and 'too much' to achieve 'perfect balance'.

More study improves grades, but not as much as you think

Over 30 years of research shows that students doing more homework get better grades. However, extra study doesn’t make as much difference as people think. An American study found the average grades of high school boys increased by only about 1.5 percentage points for every extra hour of homework per school night.

What these sorts of studies don’t consider is that the relationship between time spent doing homework and academic achievement is unlikely to be linear. A high school boy doing an extra ten hours of homework per school night is unlikely to improve his grades by 15 percentage points.

There is a simple explanation for this: doing an extra ten hours of homework after school would mean students couldn’t go to bed until the early hours of the morning. Even if they could manage this for one day, it would be unsustainable over a week, let alone a month. In any case, adequate sleep is probably critical for memory consolidation .

Read more: What's the point of homework?

As we all know, there are only 24 hours in a day. Students can’t devote more time to study without taking this time from other parts of their day. Excessive studying may become detrimental to learning ability when too much sleep time is lost.

Another US study found that, regardless of how long a student normally spent studying, sacrificing sleep to fit in more study led to learning problems on the following day. Among year 12s, cramming in an extra three hours of study almost doubled their academic problems. For example, students reported they “did not understand something taught in class” or “did poorly on a test, quiz or homework”.

Excessive study could also become unhelpful if it means students don’t have time to exercise. We know exercise is important for young people’s cognition , particularly their creative thinking, working memory and concentration.

On the one hand, then, more time spent studying is beneficial for grades. On the other hand, too much time spent studying is detrimental to grades.

We have to make trade-offs

Of course, how young people spend their time is not only important to their academic performance, but also to their health. Because what is the point of optimising school grades if it means compromising physical, mental and social well-being? And throwing everything at academic performance means other aspects of health will suffer.

US sleep researchers found the ideal amount of sleep for for 15-year-old boys’ mental health was 8 hours 45 minutes a night, but for the best school results it was one hour less.

Clearly, to find the “Goldilocks Zone” – the optimal balance of study, exercise and sleep – we need to think about more than just school grades and academic achievement.

Read more: 'It was the best five years of my life!' How sports programs are keeping disadvantaged teens at school

Looking for the Goldilocks Day

Based on our study findings , we realised the “Goldilocks Day” that was the best on average for all three domains of health (mental, physical and cognitive) would require compromises. Our optimisation algorithm estimated the Goldilocks Day with the best overall compromise for 11-to-12-year-olds. The breakdown was roughly:

10.5 hours of sleep

9.5 hours of sedentary behaviour (such as sitting to study, chill out, eat and watch TV)

2.5 hours of light physical activity (chores, shopping)

1.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (sport, running).

We also recognised that people – or the same people at different times — have different priorities. Around exam time, academic performance may become someone’s highest priority. They may then wish to manage their time in a way that leads to better study results, but without completely neglecting their mental or physical health.

To better explore these trade-offs, we developed our time-use optimisation tool based on Australian data . Although only an early prototype, the tool shows there is no “one size fits all” solution to how young people should be spending their time. However, we can be confident the best solutions will involve a healthy balance across multiple daily activities.

Just like we talk about the benefits of a balanced diet, we should start talking about the benefits of balanced time use. The better equipped young people and those supporting them are to find their optimal daily balance of sleep, sedentary behaviours and physical activities, the better their learning outcomes will be, without compromising their health and well-being.

  • Mental health
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  • Children's mental health
  • Children and sleep
  • Children's well-being
  • children's physical health
  • Sleep research

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Why homework doesn't seem to boost learning--and how it could.

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Some schools are eliminating homework, citing research showing it doesn’t do much to boost achievement. But maybe teachers just need to assign a different kind of homework.

In 2016, a second-grade teacher in Texas delighted her students—and at least some of their parents—by announcing she would no longer assign homework. “Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” she explained.

The following year, the superintendent of a Florida school district serving 42,000 students eliminated homework for all elementary students and replaced it with twenty minutes of nightly reading, saying she was basing her decision on “solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.”

Many other elementary schools seem to have quietly adopted similar policies. Critics have objected that even if homework doesn’t increase grades or test scores, it has other benefits, like fostering good study habits and providing parents with a window into what kids are doing in school.

Those arguments have merit, but why doesn’t homework boost academic achievement? The research cited by educators just doesn’t seem to make sense. If a child wants to learn to play the violin, it’s obvious she needs to practice at home between lessons (at least, it’s obvious to an adult). And psychologists have identified a range of strategies that help students learn, many of which seem ideally suited for homework assignments.

For example, there’s something called “ retrieval practice ,” which means trying to recall information you’ve already learned. The optimal time to engage in retrieval practice is not immediately after you’ve acquired information but after you’ve forgotten it a bit—like, perhaps, after school. A homework assignment could require students to answer questions about what was covered in class that day without consulting their notes. Research has found that retrieval practice and similar learning strategies are far more powerful than simply rereading or reviewing material.

One possible explanation for the general lack of a boost from homework is that few teachers know about this research. And most have gotten little training in how and why to assign homework. These are things that schools of education and teacher-prep programs typically don’t teach . So it’s quite possible that much of the homework teachers assign just isn’t particularly effective for many students.

Even if teachers do manage to assign effective homework, it may not show up on the measures of achievement used by researchers—for example, standardized reading test scores. Those tests are designed to measure general reading comprehension skills, not to assess how much students have learned in specific classes. Good homework assignments might have helped a student learn a lot about, say, Ancient Egypt. But if the reading passages on a test cover topics like life in the Arctic or the habits of the dormouse, that student’s test score may well not reflect what she’s learned.

The research relied on by those who oppose homework has actually found it has a modest positive effect at the middle and high school levels—just not in elementary school. But for the most part, the studies haven’t looked at whether it matters what kind of homework is assigned or whether there are different effects for different demographic student groups. Focusing on those distinctions could be illuminating.

A study that looked specifically at math homework , for example, found it boosted achievement more in elementary school than in middle school—just the opposite of the findings on homework in general. And while one study found that parental help with homework generally doesn’t boost students’ achievement—and can even have a negative effect— another concluded that economically disadvantaged students whose parents help with homework improve their performance significantly.

That seems to run counter to another frequent objection to homework, which is that it privileges kids who are already advantaged. Well-educated parents are better able to provide help, the argument goes, and it’s easier for affluent parents to provide a quiet space for kids to work in—along with a computer and internet access . While those things may be true, not assigning homework—or assigning ineffective homework—can end up privileging advantaged students even more.

Students from less educated families are most in need of the boost that effective homework can provide, because they’re less likely to acquire academic knowledge and vocabulary at home. And homework can provide a way for lower-income parents—who often don’t have time to volunteer in class or participate in parents’ organizations—to forge connections to their children’s schools. Rather than giving up on homework because of social inequities, schools could help parents support homework in ways that don’t depend on their own knowledge—for example, by recruiting others to help, as some low-income demographic groups have been able to do . Schools could also provide quiet study areas at the end of the day, and teachers could assign homework that doesn’t rely on technology.

Another argument against homework is that it causes students to feel overburdened and stressed.  While that may be true at schools serving affluent populations, students at low-performing ones often don’t get much homework at all—even in high school. One study found that lower-income ninth-graders “consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of reading per night.” And if they didn’t complete assignments, there were few consequences. I discovered this myself when trying to tutor students in writing at a high-poverty high school. After I expressed surprise that none of the kids I was working with had completed a brief writing assignment, a teacher told me, “Oh yeah—I should have told you. Our students don’t really do homework.”

If and when disadvantaged students get to college, their relative lack of study skills and good homework habits can present a serious handicap. After noticing that black and Hispanic students were failing her course in disproportionate numbers, a professor at the University of North Carolina decided to make some changes , including giving homework assignments that required students to quiz themselves without consulting their notes. Performance improved across the board, but especially for students of color and the disadvantaged. The gap between black and white students was cut in half, and the gaps between Hispanic and white students—along with that between first-generation college students and others—closed completely.

There’s no reason this kind of support should wait until students get to college. To be most effective—both in terms of instilling good study habits and building students’ knowledge—homework assignments that boost learning should start in elementary school.

Some argue that young children just need time to chill after a long day at school. But the “ten-minute rule”—recommended by homework researchers—would have first graders doing ten minutes of homework, second graders twenty minutes, and so on. That leaves plenty of time for chilling, and even brief assignments could have a significant impact if they were well-designed.

But a fundamental problem with homework at the elementary level has to do with the curriculum, which—partly because of standardized testing— has narrowed to reading and math. Social studies and science have been marginalized or eliminated, especially in schools where test scores are low. Students spend hours every week practicing supposed reading comprehension skills like “making inferences” or identifying “author’s purpose”—the kinds of skills that the tests try to measure—with little or no attention paid to content.

But as research has established, the most important component in reading comprehension is knowledge of the topic you’re reading about. Classroom time—or homework time—spent on illusory comprehension “skills” would be far better spent building knowledge of the very subjects schools have eliminated. Even if teachers try to take advantage of retrieval practice—say, by asking students to recall what they’ve learned that day about “making comparisons” or “sequence of events”—it won’t have much impact.

If we want to harness the potential power of homework—particularly for disadvantaged students—we’ll need to educate teachers about what kind of assignments actually work. But first, we’ll need to start teaching kids something substantive about the world, beginning as early as possible.

Natalie Wexler

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The Pros and Cons of Homework


Homework is a word that most students dread hearing. After hours upon hours of sitting in class , the last thing we want is more schoolwork over our precious weekends. While it’s known to be a staple of traditional schooling, homework has also become a rather divise topic. Some feel as though homework is a necessary part of school, while others believe that the time could be better invested. Should students have homework? Have a closer look into the arguments on both sides to decide for yourself.

A college student completely swamped with homework.

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Why should students have homework, 1. homework encourages practice.

Many people believe that one of the positive effects of homework is that it encourages the discipline of practice. While it may be time consuming and boring compared to other activities, repetition is needed to get better at skills. Homework helps make concepts more clear, and gives students more opportunities when starting their career .

2. Homework Gets Parents Involved

Homework can be something that gets parents involved in their children’s lives if the environment is a healthy one. A parent helping their child with homework makes them take part in their academic success, and allows for the parent to keep up with what the child is doing in school. It can also be a chance to connect together.

3. Homework Teaches Time Management

Homework is much more than just completing the assigned tasks. Homework can develop time management skills , forcing students to plan their time and make sure that all of their homework assignments are done on time. By learning to manage their time, students also practice their problem-solving skills and independent thinking. One of the positive effects of homework is that it forces decision making and compromises to be made.

4. Homework Opens A Bridge Of Communication

Homework creates a connection between the student, the teacher, the school, and the parents. It allows everyone to get to know each other better, and parents can see where their children are struggling. In the same sense, parents can also see where their children are excelling. Homework in turn can allow for a better, more targeted educational plan for the student.

5. Homework Allows For More Learning Time

Homework allows for more time to complete the learning process. School hours are not always enough time for students to really understand core concepts, and homework can counter the effects of time shortages, benefiting students in the long run, even if they can’t see it in the moment.

6. Homework Reduces Screen Time

Many students in North America spend far too many hours watching TV. If they weren’t in school, these numbers would likely increase even more. Although homework is usually undesired, it encourages better study habits and discourages spending time in front of the TV. Homework can be seen as another extracurricular activity, and many families already invest a lot of time and money in different clubs and lessons to fill up their children’s extra time. Just like extracurricular activities, homework can be fit into one’s schedule.

A female student who doesn’t want to do homework.

The Other Side: Why Homework Is Bad

1. homework encourages a sedentary lifestyle.

Should students have homework? Well, that depends on where you stand. There are arguments both for the advantages and the disadvantages of homework.

While classroom time is important, playground time is just as important. If children are given too much homework, they won’t have enough playtime, which can impact their social development and learning. Studies have found that those who get more play get better grades in school , as it can help them pay closer attention in the classroom.

Children are already sitting long hours in the classroom, and homework assignments only add to these hours. Sedentary lifestyles can be dangerous and can cause health problems such as obesity. Homework takes away from time that could be spent investing in physical activity.

2. Homework Isn’t Healthy In Every Home

While many people that think homes are a beneficial environment for children to learn, not all homes provide a healthy environment, and there may be very little investment from parents. Some parents do not provide any kind of support or homework help, and even if they would like to, due to personal barriers, they sometimes cannot. Homework can create friction between children and their parents, which is one of the reasons why homework is bad .

3. Homework Adds To An Already Full-Time Job

School is already a full-time job for students, as they generally spend over 6 hours each day in class. Students also often have extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or art that are just as important as their traditional courses. Adding on extra hours to all of these demands is a lot for children to manage, and prevents students from having extra time to themselves for a variety of creative endeavors. Homework prevents self discovery and having the time to learn new skills outside of the school system. This is one of the main disadvantages of homework.

4. Homework Has Not Been Proven To Provide Results

Endless surveys have found that homework creates a negative attitude towards school, and homework has not been found to be linked to a higher level of academic success.

The positive effects of homework have not been backed up enough. While homework may help some students improve in specific subjects, if they have outside help there is no real proof that homework makes for improvements.

It can be a challenge to really enforce the completion of homework, and students can still get decent grades without doing their homework. Extra school time does not necessarily mean better grades — quality must always come before quantity.

Accurate practice when it comes to homework simply isn’t reliable. Homework could even cause opposite effects if misunderstood, especially since the reliance is placed on the student and their parents — one of the major reasons as to why homework is bad. Many students would rather cheat in class to avoid doing their homework at home, and children often just copy off of each other or from what they read on the internet.

5. Homework Assignments Are Overdone

The general agreement is that students should not be given more than 10 minutes a day per grade level. What this means is that a first grader should be given a maximum of 10 minutes of homework, while a second grader receives 20 minutes, etc. Many students are given a lot more homework than the recommended amount, however.

On average, college students spend as much as 3 hours per night on homework . By giving too much homework, it can increase stress levels and lead to burn out. This in turn provides an opposite effect when it comes to academic success.

The pros and cons of homework are both valid, and it seems as though the question of ‘‘should students have homework?’ is not a simple, straightforward one. Parents and teachers often are found to be clashing heads, while the student is left in the middle without much say.

It’s important to understand all the advantages and disadvantages of homework, taking both perspectives into conversation to find a common ground. At the end of the day, everyone’s goal is the success of the student.

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How to Get Good Grades

Last Updated: February 6, 2024 Approved

This article was co-authored by Jennifer Kaifesh and by wikiHow staff writer, Hannah Madden . Jennifer Kaifesh is the Founder of Great Expectations College Prep, a tutoring and counseling service based in Southern California. Jennifer has over 15 years of experience managing and facilitating academic tutoring and standardized test prep as it relates to the college application process. She takes a personal approach to her tutoring, and focuses on working with students to find their specific mix of pursuits that they both enjoy and excel at. She is a graduate of Northwestern University. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 50 testimonials and 83% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 2,234,242 times.

No matter how old we are, getting good grades is a goal for many of us. Juggling homework, tests, and projects can be tough, but with a little bit of effort and dedication, you can get (and keep) your grades up. Keep reading to learn how you can stay on top of your schoolwork and put your best foot forward during class.

Get a planner.

A planner makes it easy to track homework, assignments, and due dates.

  • Every day when you get home from school, check your calendar and see what needs to be done before tomorrow, as well as what's on the horizon for the next few days. Check off what you have already done so you don’t get confused.

Participate in class.

Raise your hand to ask and answer questions.

  • If you’re an auditory learner, try recording the lectures so you can listen to them later on.
  • Your teacher will really appreciate it if you participate, especially if you’re one of the only people doing so. And if you get on their good side, they’re more likely to be lenient on you during the grading process.

Take good notes.

Write down the most relevant information during class.

  • To write notes quickly, try using shorthand instead of full sentences. For instance, if you’re in math class, shorten “geometry” to “geo” and “algebra” into “alg.”
  • Understand the 80/20 rule of studying: 80% of the test questions surround 20% of the most important concepts. If you are crammed for time figure out these core concepts by looking at past tests and study these first.

Ask your teacher for help.

Your teacher is there to answer any questions you might have.

  • Often things we're told one-on-one stick with us more than things we're just being lectured about.
  • If you’re a visual learner, try asking the teacher for handouts or study guides you can use.
  • If you’re a hands-on learner, your teacher might have suggestions for you on how you can translate your work into good study material.

Get a tutor if you need to.

You might struggle with some subjects, and that’s okay.

  • Your school might also have a tutoring center where you can go and get help from different departments.

Make a study schedule.

Try to stick...

  • Use your common sense when it comes to allotting time to specific classes. For example, Badminton needs a lot less time than the Principles of Celestial Mechanics.

Form a study group.

Studying with your friends can help you understand tough concepts.

  • This takes the information off the page and makes it fun and memorable. When you have to explain something to a friend, you think about it in a different way that can make it easier to understand.

Use memory tricks for memorization.

Mnemonic devices can help you remember tough information.

  • Associations work, too. If you're trying to remember that India used to be a British colony, picture the queen jogging laps around the Taj Mahal. When the test comes, you may not remember what you actually should remember, but you'll remember enough to jog your memory!

Study for 10 to 20 minutes every day instead of cramming.

Cramming isn’t the most effective way to retain information.

  • Try not to pull all-nighters before a test, either. If you’re tired and groggy, you won’t be able to think clearly and effectively.

Try practice tests.

They’ll help you prepare for the real thing.

  • There are tons of practice tests for big exams like the SAT or the ACT online.
  • If you have trouble finding a practice test, ask your teacher to give you one.

Take 15-minute breaks every 45 minutes.

Taking breaks gives your brain a chance to relax.

  • Make sure you do something on your break that’s actually relaxing. It will help you feel rested and ready to tackle the rest of your work.

Eat a good, healthy breakfast every day.

Studies show that breakfast can really put your best foot forward.

  • Pick a breakfast that’s both filling and nutritious. Go for oatmeal, toast, bagels, eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, or granola to fuel your mind and your body.

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  • Don't worry about competing with people around you, as they may have other goals. Just work hard and try to achieve your own goals for yourself. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • At the end of each day, summarise the information you have learnt and put it in a different book. That way, when you want to do revision, you can see the key points quickly and easily, and not focus on the less important pieces of information. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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About This Article

Jennifer Kaifesh

To get good grades, stay organized by keeping a planner with all of your assignments and upcoming tests in it. Make a study schedule for each week so you know exactly how much you should study for your classes. Make sure you take good notes and participate in class so you're more prepared for tests. Try to do your homework right after school every day so you don't procrastinate. If you feel like you're struggling with a subject, don't be afraid to ask your teacher for help or meet with a tutor. For more tips, like how to study for tests, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Does More Homework Mean Better Grades?

The right kind of homework will teach rather than bore kids.

Nov. 20, 2009— -- The Milley children of Calgary, Alberta, will never have to do homework again thanks to a unique legal contract hammered out between their parents and the school. The " differentiated homework plan " spells out the responsibilities of both parties but the bottom line is a ban on homework.

Like many parents, Tom and Shelli Milley were tired of the nightly struggles with their children over homework. "My wife was getting disgusted with the sheer volume that was coming home and I was getting frustrated with the busy work," explained Tom Milley, an attorney in Calgary. And by busy work, Milley means assignments like color-by-number pictures for a French lesson or clipping pictures out of magazines.

The Milley's have three children, Jay, now 18 and off to college, Spencer, 11 and Brittany, 10. For most of the past 10 years, the family has spent their evenings following a frenzied schedule familiar to any parent of school-age children.

The late afternoon involved after school activities, in their case speed skating and girl scouts, which was followed by a rushed dinner and then heading up to the bedroom for several hours of homework. "Like most kids they whined and cried after an hour or two…and I would always tell my wife it's really hard to teach a weeping child anything," said Milley.

Those nightly battles escalated until the Milleys said enough is enough and started to crack the books themselves -- researching studies on homework. What they found was that in many cases – especially at the elementary level – more homework does not necessarily mean better grades.

For two years, the couple argued with teachers and administrators over the homework policy at their children's school, St. Brigid Elementary School in Calgary, until finally their "homework rebellion" resulted in the "differentiated homework plan." The contract spells out the responsibilities of both the teacher and the student. Brittany and Spencer will not have work sent home, and must be graded on what they do in class. For their part, the two tweens must read daily and complete all work assigned in class. And they must practice a musical instrument at home.

Hating homework is not a new phenomenon. There are dozens of anti-homework books and Web sites devoted to denigrating the time-honored practice. On Facebook a petition to ban homework has more than a million members.

Even those whose career involves researching the effectiveness of homework can have issues with it. Harris Cooper, a professor of social psychology at Duke University, described one particularly irksome Spanish assignment that his daughter brought home which seemed to involve nothing but coloring the months of the year.

"The only thing I could figure out is that they wanted her to stare at the word October in Spanish for 15 minutes while she colored and that didn't seem to be a good use of my daughter's time," said Cooper.

But Cooper argues that even students in second grade can benefit from homework as long as it is "simple and short." A good rule of thumb, said Cooper, and one used by many school districts, is 10 minutes per night per grade. So, a Grade 1 gets 10 minutes of homework, Grade 2 gets 20 minutes of homework and so on.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to get a 4.0 gpa and better grades, by a harvard alum.

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College Admissions , Coursework/GPA


On the 4.0 scale, an unweighted 4.0 GPA means perfection. You need straight As in every class—not even one A- is allowed. In college applications, this carries a lot of weight. You're essentially telling the college, "High school classes are a cinch. I've taken a tough course load, and I'm more than prepared for what college has to throw at me."

In high school, I got a 4.0 GPA with a course load featuring 10 AP courses. I got straight As and 12 A+'s. This strong course load, along with a strong application, got me into Harvard and every college I applied to.

While it's flattering to say, "Well, Allen's just a smart guy," in reality I relied a lot more on high-level strategy and effective academic habits. These were the same strategies I applied to my undergraduate work at Harvard and that led me to graduate summa cum laude with a 3.95 GPA. This is the guide I wish I had my freshman year of high school.

Do you know how to learn effectively? Do you plan your course sequence correctly? Do you know how to structure your time so you get an A in the most efficient way possible? Do you understand how your teacher thinks and how to give your teacher what she wants?

Do you have good study habits so you're not wasting hundreds of hours of study time? Do you have self-discipline and motivation to put in all the work required to handle a challenging course load? Do you know how to use your inevitable failures to adjust course quickly and improve yourself to raise your grade?

Going deeply into these topics is the subject of this guide. I believe these high-level skills are the critical foundation to academic success— without good strategy, you could pound your head against a wall and waste thousands of hours getting nowhere.

Tragically, these strategies are rarely taught in school. Teachers will collectively spend thousands of hours teaching you from their curricula but rarely will they show you how to strategize your coursework and get better grades.

This guide contains all the advice I wish I knew but had to figure out myself the hard way. If you earnestly apply most of the concepts here, I am certain that you will have a much higher chance of academic success.

What Is a 4.0 GPA?

In this guide, the 4.0 I'm talking about is a 4.0 unweighted GPA . A 4.0 means an A or A+ in every class, with no exceptions. An A- is a 3.7 on this scale, and a single one will knock you down from a perfect GPA. Typically an A+ doesn't count as a 4.3, so you can't go above a 4.0.

Here's my official high school transcript from 2005:


In total, I took 14 AP tests and got 5s in all but two (Comparative Govt and Comp Sci AB, which doesn't exist anymore). These two also happened to be senior-year classes, meaning I was probably hit by senioritis.

I know a perfect 4.0 record like this might be intimidating if you feel you're not on track to replicating it. It shouldn't be. Again, a 4.0 isn't necessary for even top colleges like Harvard and Stanford . You can take half the number of these AP courses and still get into an Ivy League school. I know this because of my wide experience with students and from seeing a lot of resumes from Ivy League applicants when hiring for my company .

But I wanted a 4.0, so I worked for it, and I got it.

This ambition led to some stressful situations wherein I was deathly afraid of getting an A-, especially when the teacher's grading was incomprehensible. I know this can sound obsessive, and, as I'll mention below, I recommend most students avoid feeling this obsessive. But I'm just being honest and reporting my own experience for your benefit.

This guide contains every important strategy I used to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA with a tough course load. I strongly suggest you read through this entire guide. At the very least, if you already have a solid foundation, you'll pick up some tips that might improve your coursework.

But I'm hoping that I'll dramatically change how you view your learning, how you're spending your time every day, and how you're playing the entire admissions game.


But it is vital that you do the following:

  • Develop the mindset and motivation to work hard
  • Spend your limited time as effectively as possible to get the best results

That's what this guide is about.

I'm a very straightforward person, and I speak my mind. This means that some advice might rub you the wrong way. If that's the case, try to focus on the bigger picture and on the advice you do like. I don't want you to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because you think I'm a jerk. My focus is on helping you do better, and one of the best ways is to share my experiences honestly, warts and all.

I did indeed go through a lot of stress in high school and put in a ton of effort. I think I was obsessive about achievement and have a high capacity for mental pain, and I happen to love working hard. I don't think it's optimal for most students to do what I did and feel what I felt, and I'll explicitly point this out at places. So just because I describe my experience doesn't mean I always condone it for everyone.

If you're aiming for a 4.0 GPA, I'm guessing you also want to get into top schools in the country, so I'll orient this guide toward both goals. That said, I want to stress that a 4.0 is not required to get into top schools like Harvard and Princeton. You do not need perfect grades and test scores to get into the Ivy League. In fact, the average unweighted self-reported GPA of incoming students at Harvard is 3.95 . Thus, a 4.0 is really not that different from a 3.9 from the eyes of the college.

Do not freak out if you have high college goals and don't already have a perfect GPA. It's nowhere near the end of the world. I explain more about why in my guide to getting into Harvard .

The 4.0 number is not all you should aim for— the rigor of your coursework makes a big difference (this is where the concept of the weighted GPA comes in). Ideally, you'll take difficult courses and excel in them. But if you have to make a tradeoff, I'd lean toward the more difficult courses; a letter grade of a B in an AP class is better than an A in a regular class.


Despite the title of this guide, the concepts are widely applicable to GPAs in all ranges. Even if you're not aiming strictly for a 4.0, applying the advice here will get you closer to a 3.8 GPA or a 3.0 GPA or wherever you're aiming. You can use all the strategies here to improve your grades and raise your GPA. This is geared toward high school students, but for readers currently in college, the concepts apply equally to you and often even more so since you don't have as much parental structure over your work.

This guide targets high-achieving students who want to aim for academic success and push themselves to be better. As weird as it sounds, this is not the stance everyone should take. Yes, I know how stressed out students are these days about getting into college. No, I don't think everyone should feel as though they need to get into Stanford. Everyone has different academic goals, and this guide isn't for everyone.

I don't think everyone should aim for the toughest course load and perfect grades. Not enough students and families make decisions for personal happiness and are in a state of constant stress, especially if they always feel as if they're not doing enough. This can have bad long-term consequences. (In fact, applying the advice below should actually make your academic life easier because you're spending your time more effectively.)

That said, I do believe there are huge benefits to academic success. Not only does it lead to obvious benefits like better colleges and more rewarding careers, but it also trains fundamental skills that are applicable to improving the rest of your life.

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to get into a top school like Harvard, and I knew I was willing to endure the sacrifices and pain to get there. I cared deeply about my academic success and I constantly pushed myself to get better. If this sounds like you and you honestly want to get a 4.0 for good reasons, then you'll vibe strongly with my advice.

Yes, I know there are other things in life that are more important than getting into the best college. But I also know it's a valuable goal for many of you, so I'm orienting this guide toward that. When you hear me say, "Do this to improve your college application," you should read this as, "Do this if college admissions is an important goal to you."

Finally, I co-founded a company called PrepScholar . We create online SAT/ACT prep programs that adapt to you and your strengths and weaknesses . While you do not need to buy a full prep program to get a great score, I believe PrepScholar is the best SAT program available right now, especially if you find it hard to organize your prep and don't know what to study. In any case, the fact that I run a test-prep company doesn't really affect my advice below.

I hope you're still with me and that the above cleared up some concerns you had coming into this article. Now, let's get started.


What Roles Do Coursework and GPA Play in College Admissions?

To understand how colleges think, it's important to put yourself in their shoes. I explain this in more detail in my guide on getting into Harvard and the Ivy League . In short, colleges want to admit students who are going to change the world.

But how do you predict who's going to change the world when applicants are just 17-18 years old? By using their past achievement as a predictor of future achievement.

Admissions offices at colleges do a lot of research on what types of students they admit and how to predict which students are going to be most successful. Often in these studies, high school coursework has one of the strongest correlations with college grades.

The Dean of Admissions at Harvard has stated the following about the admissions process:

"We have found that the best predictors at Harvard are Advanced Placement tests and International Baccalaureate Exams, closely followed by the College Board subject tests. High school grades are next in predictive power, followed by the SAT and ACT."

The Dean of Admissions at Lawrence University , too, has commented on the importance of GPA in college admissions:

"In the majority of studies, high school grades have the strongest correlation with college grades. The SAT and ACT have the next strongest correlation, but this too is not surprising because they have a strong correlation with high school grades."

This isn't very surprising. It takes a lot of skill and effort to excel with a demanding high school course load. The qualities that bring success in high school—curiosity, motivation, hard work, good planning, time management, control of your own psychology—are likely to lead to success in both college and your career. These are all qualities I'm going to cover in this guide.

As you can see, your high school coursework is one of the most important pieces of your college application. In terms of time expenditure, it's by far where you'll be spending the most time: more than 2,000 hours per year at 180 school days * (7 hours/day in school + 4 hours of homework). This is equivalent to a full-time job!


Finally, just to beat a dead horse, here are snippets from admissions offices at top colleges on the importance of coursework in college applications:

"The high school transcript is almost always the most important document in a student's application. But it is hard to conceive of a situation in which the appearance (or absence) of any one particular class on a transcript would determine the applicant's outcome ... When the admissions committee looks at your transcript, it will not focus on whether you have taken any specific course. It will be far more interested to see that you have challenged yourself with difficult coursework, and have done well."

"There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow, but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. ... Although schools provide different opportunities, students should pursue the most demanding college-preparatory program available, consistent with each student's readiness for particular fields of study."

"We give the greatest weight to your academic transcript. The rigor of the courses you've taken, the quality of your grades and the consistency with which you've worked over four years give us the clearest indication of how well you will do at Amherst."

Claremont McKenna

"While there is no minimum GPA requirement, competitive candidates for admission pursue the most demanding coursework possible and receive strong grades. We strongly recommend taking advantage of honors and advanced placement coursework when available. Many competitive applicants often go beyond the minimum recommended program."

Once again, don't get the wrong idea. "Most rigorous secondary school curricula" does not mean "take every AP class under the sun, at the expense of sleep and your sanity."

Says Stanford on this subject,

"The students who thrive at Stanford are those who are genuinely excited about learning, not necessarily those who take every single AP or IB, Honors or Accelerated class just because it has that designation."

In essence, colleges by no means want to promote unhealthy obsession over racking up AP courses, especially if you're not interested in the material.

However, if you can ace the most advanced course load available to you and build a strong application, you're at the level that the best colleges are looking for.


What This 4.0 GPA Guide Is All About

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is not a guide in which I teach you actual math or writing content. This is a high-level strategy and planning guide meant to give you the right mindset and practices for achieving academic success.

I see this as the foundation on which you build your high school career. Just like in construction, if you have a weak foundation, your building will crumble, no matter how much effort you put into it. Build on a strong foundation, and you'll find studying far easier and more effective.

I've worked with a lot of students who see academic success purely as a content-mastery-and-brute-force problem—try hard enough to master the content and put in enough hours, and you'll do better. Unfortunately, if they're learning the wrong way or spending time on stuff that's not actually effective, they'll see quickly that their hard work is being wasted.

Here's what we'll cover in broad strokes. Each layer builds on the next and we'll go from high to low level:

Section 1: Mindset and Psychology

Section 2: overall planning and habits.

  • Section 3: Individual Class Strategies

Section 4: Subject-by-Subject Strategies

Bonus section: 4 pieces of miscellaneous advice.


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The most fundamental thing you need to control is your own psychology. You need to believe that you're capable of improving, and you need to be motivated to work hard. If you lack these two insights, you won't be able to put in the effort to achieve your goals, and you'll be crippled by small setbacks.

Let's look at exactly what you must do to get yourself in the right mindset.

#1: Have a Growth Mindset—Your Goal Is to Improve Constantly

Pop quiz. Tell me if you agree with any of these statements:

  • You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can't really do much to change it.
  • You're naturally good at some things and not others, and what you're not good at you can't do much to improve.
  • You're afraid of others knowing about your failures because of what your failures say about you.
  • You want to hide your flaws so that you're not judged a failure. You're afraid of looking dumb.
  • You often get angry when you get negative feedback about your performance.

If you strongly agree with even one of these statements, you have a critical problem with your psychology. You'll find it very hard to improve from your current situation because, deep down, you basically believe that you can't improve what you were born with. Every setback will pound you down, and you'll find it hard to make progress.

You're not alone. A lot of people, students and adults alike, believe intelligence is fixed: "People are just born smarter than others, and however smart you are now is how smart you'll be from here on out."

This is tempting to believe because your observations of the world seem to fit this idea. The smart kid at your school just always seems to ace everything without breaking a sweat, and she's always been that way. In contrast, you might have tried really hard in a class but ended up with a B. Or you might never have been good at math, so improving your math grades seems impossible.

A belief in a fixed intelligence has problems whether you believe you're smart or not. If you don't believe you're intelligent, then you've accepted that you'll never be intelligent. If you're bad at writing, you'll always just be bad at writing. People are "right-brained" or "left-brained," so of course they'll do worse in classes they're not good at!

While people definitely can have different talents, too often this kind of thinking is used to justify poor performance without thinking hard enough about how to actually improve.

Here's the trap—let's say you do poorly on something, like a math test. If you believe your talent is fixed, your excuse will be that you're bad and you'll always be bad. You won't seriously consider the fact that you can actually improve. You won't think hard about how you failed and what you need to change in order to stop failing.

(I'm using "fail" often here and it might sound intense to you. The way I think about it, if you want an A, then a B is a failure. You can't compromise this because you risk sliding into complacency and lowering your goals. So I'll continue using "fail" throughout this guide even though it usually means something far less severe than literally failing a class.)


This trap is easy to fall into because it's easier to blame something out of your control (an idea that you were born with, talent or not) than to admit that you just didn't work hard or effectively enough to meet your goal.

This isn't just relevant for low-performing students—it's a problem for high performers, too. High-achieving students often fall into a trap wherein they take failures too hard as a personal blow to their egos. They've been praised as smart from childhood and academics comes naturally to them. When they first encounter failure, they don't know how to react.

If you believe that classwork is about intelligence, and you believe your intelligence is high but fixed, then a failure in classwork will seem unsolvable. Every mistake and failed test will be a crushing blow to your ego, and you'll doubt yourself constantly and wonder if you're doing things right. I think this is partly why students who excel in high school end up floundering in college where classes are a lot more demanding and they don't have the structure of high school and parenting.


The Solution to a Fixed Mindset

The antidote to both problems is to adopt a growth mindset. This idea was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, after decades of studying learners. Here's what she says :

"In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."

In short, intelligence can be developed and trained. You can get better and smarter.

No matter how good you think you are now, your job is to get better and improve constantly. Your job is to use your experiences and failures to do better next time—not to accept your failures for what they are.

This idea comes from research. In a 2007 study , Dweck followed students transitioning from elementary school to junior high, when the material gets more challenging and the grading stricter. They wanted to see how the students' mindsets (fixed or growth) affected their math grades.

At the beginning of the project, students were surveyed to gauge their perspectives on learning and mindset. One question asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the idea that your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can't really change (just like I asked you at the beginning of this section).

Students with a growth mindset felt that hard work led to improvement. In response to a bad grade, growth-mindset students wanted to work harder or try different strategies.

In contrast, students with a fixed mindset believed that smart people didn't need to work hard to do well. When confronted with bad grades, students with fixed mindsets said they would study less in the future and attributed it to their own lack of ability.

At the start of junior high, students in both groups showed comparable math test scores. But as the math got harder, a gap appeared— students with a growth mindset showed growth in test scores, while those with a fixed mindset slumped.

Here's a model of how students with strong growth mindsets compare with those with strong fixed mindsets over a span of two years:


Imagine how this difference scales over 20 years of your life, from elementary school to college and eventually your career. The difference in the final result can be astounding.

This is why there's a recent movement for parents and teachers to stop calling kids smart . Adults think they're encouraging children with praise, but really they're promoting a fixed mindset. If you believe your success is due to intelligence and not hard work, then when you encounter failure, you'll blame your intelligence and not your lack of hard work.

Having a growth mindset is important because you will inevitably face challenges in your classwork. You will do much worse on a biology test than you expected. You'll get an essay back with a lot of red marks saying you just didn't get it.

It'll feel terrible. I'd know—despite my perfect grades, I was nowhere close to acing every single assignment and test.

But after you give yourself time to grieve, you need to analyze exactly what you did and figure out what went wrong. Your actions led to this subpar result, and you need to change your actions to improve your result.

This all starts with believing that you're capable of getting better. If you don't accept this, you'll just throw up your hands and resign yourself to your fate, which is basically like treating every class like a lottery. (Below, I'll talk more about how to use feedback to reflect on your study strategy and improve.)

The idea of a growth mindset is important throughout all of life, really. Whether you're learning how to ski or trying to build stronger friendships, the belief that you're capable of improving gives you the fuel to analyze your shortcomings objectively and actually try to improve them.

The alternative is to accept that you are now as good as you will ever be, and that whatever level you're at is how you'll stay for the rest of your life. That sounds pretty lame to me.


What Can You Do to Adopt a Growth Mindset?

If you said yes to any points in the pop quiz above, you're more likely to be operating in a fixed mindset. It's not likely you'll change this immediately since you've believed in a fixed mindset for many years.

Instead, you'll benefit from a mindset change and taking little steps in the right direction.

First, repeat after me:

  • However good you are now, you can get better if you work hard and use your time effectively.
  • Failures give you valuable feedback on how to improve. Failures are just temporary setbacks, and you'll do better in the future.
  • You can learn to be good at anything because your abilities are almost entirely up to you.

Note that this isn't saying everyone can be an Albert Einstein or a Kobe Bryant. But you can get a lot closer than you think.

After you adopt a mindset change, the important steps are to apply the concepts to your work and continue believing in them. We'll spend a lot more time below explaining how to use feedback to improve your studying.

If you'd like to read more about the growth mindset, check out this article by Dweck or her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success .

For some fun examples, here's a video of someone who learns to dance over a year with focused practice:

If a year seems like a lot of time, here's a video of a dude who learns to kickflip in a little more than five hours:

The same thing applies to coursework.

If you don't think you're naturally good at math, you can get better.

If you've never been a natural writer, you can learn to write effectively.

I'm dwelling on this point because it's so critical to breaking free from constraints that you place on yourself now. You can improve from where you are, and you can have a lifetime of growth.


#2: Be Prepared to Work Hard

We've already covered how top colleges consider coursework one of the most important pieces of college applications. These schools expect you to take a challenging course load with some of the hardest courses offered at your school (often AP or IB classes). You'll also have to do this while balancing extracurriculars, test prep, a social life, and your own sanity.

This means that your course load is going to be challenging, and your schedule will be demanding. It will take a serious amount of work to excel in every single class, and sometimes it will feel like you're just putting out new fires as fast as you can.

I probably spent at least an average of four hours a day on homework (including weekends) on projects and studying. This would increase dramatically when finals and AP exams came around.

There's no way around this. The smartest kid at your school might seem to just breeze through life and get straight As without breaking a sweat. (If she enjoys having this reputation, she might even actively foster it.)

The reality, however, is likely that this "perfect student" is busting her ass every day. She might just hide it well or doesn't really treat it like work, and so doesn't seem to be breaking a sweat. If you really enjoy learning, then working hard on schoolwork won't be nearly as painful.

If you're used to a comfortable life and schedule with many hours of free time every day, you'll probably have to start making tradeoffs in other areas of your life. If you care about highly competitive college admissions, you will need to orient your life toward that.

This usually means less personal relaxation or social time and cutting out an extracurricular that isn't adding to your application . (Again, I'm not saying you have to do this. Not every student should aim for top colleges and the most rigorous course load possible. But it's a meaningful goal and one that's important to a lot of you, so I'm just being real about what it takes.)

High school is of course four years, and so it's going to be a marathon.

It will take effective strategies to understand where to spend your limited time to get the maximum result.

It will take discipline to keep yourself focused when there are distractions everywhere.

It will take motivation to power through disappointments and setbacks.

But the rewards are worth it, and if you learn these skills, you'll be stronger in the rest of your life. We're going to talk about each of these aspects below.


#3: Find Something Deep to Drive You

For pretty much all ambitious students, high school coursework is going to be a grind. I'm not saying that learning isn't fun, but inevitably you'll have to do assignments you don't care about, sit in class listening to profoundly dull teachers, and prepare for exams that aren't fun. All of this is going to take time and mental energy to drive through the most painful parts.

Having motivation makes a big difference in how hard you work and how strongly you persist through difficulty.

It turns out that there are actually two types of motivation: extrinsic motivation (coming from outside) and intrinsic motivation (coming from within). One of them is a lot more durable than the other.

A common source of extrinsic motivation is parental pressure. If you fail a test, you're grounded. If you don't clean up your room, you have your phone taken away. More positively, if you get an A, maybe your parents buy you that pair of shoes you always wanted.

This can definitely work— but only in the short term and not reliably. While you might do your homework and stop texting for a night, ultimately it leads to frustration and resentment and won't be reliable for long periods of time.

Just remember the last time you argued with your parents about something they wanted you to do, like chores or homework. Fear of punishment can be an effective motivator, but it wears off, especially as you get older and more independent.

"Fine! Ground me, I don't care!" Sound familiar? If you rely on your parents to keep you motivated and your parents aren't around, you won't work.

In contrast, intrinsic motivation comes from within. It's something you want for yourself—screw what other people think.

You might have a dream college you want to attend.

You might want to prove your haters and doubters wrong.

You might want to compete with your nemesis and come out on top.

You might love learning things just because.

In the darkest of times, this motivation will drive you forward. When you're tired and would rather watch YouTube, the idea of getting a B will get you out of bed and keep you focused. When you get a C on your essay, the idea of failure will be unacceptable and you'll have no choice but to question where you fell short and how you can improve in the future.

Research shows that extrinsic motivation, such as rewards, are weak reinforcers in the short run and negative reinforcers in the long run .

Dig deep, find something internal you care about, and keep adding fuel to that fire.

I want to caution here that you should try to steer away from unhealthy motivations if possible. I was very competitive in high school to the point of being repugnant, and my high school atmosphere overall was pretty toxic. It's better if you can find something positive to encourage you that doesn't make you a jerk.

There's more on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation here , written for teachers.


Up to this point, we've covered really high-level mindset and psychology. I know parts of this sound like hokey motivational speech, but trust me: way more students suffer from these problems than I would like.

Even though schools rarely cover these topics, I think they're the most critical of all. If you don't believe you have the capacity to improve, each failure will cripple you mentally. If you have nothing to drive you, your work every day will be painful. You need a super solid foundation on which to build your actual learning and study habits.

With this in mind, we'll talk about about the next level: good academic practices and habits.

In order to get a 4.0 GPA, you need more than just the right mindset— you need to cultivate effective study habits. This section goes over how to plan out your study schedule so that you're on track to getting a 4.0.

#1: Plan Out Your Specific Course Sequence Early

Let's start with the basics. You need to know early on what classes you're going to take your four years in high school. This will help prepare you mentally for what's to come. Once you make sure you have all the requirements in place, you'll be able to start gathering info on classes to come—and also be able to picture the story you're building for your college applications.

You can approach your course sequence in two ways:

  • The first way is top down. How many AP classes do you want to have taken by the time you apply to college? Which ones? With this in mind, you can fill in the classes backward based on the requirements for each one.
  • The other way is bottom up. What classes have you taken already? What's the logical, ambitious progression from this point forward? This will take you from now into senior year.

Gear your expected course sequence toward your interests. You don't have to take every single hard class available. Remember what Harvard's admissions office says: "[S]tudents should pursue the most demanding college-preparatory program available, consistent with each student's readiness for particular fields of study" (bold emphasis mine).

Roughly speaking, you tend to fit into one of the following categories:

  • Math/science
  • Social sciences

This is useful for colleges to understand what you lean toward. I was a science guy and made sure to take all the major AP sciences as well as Calc BC and Stats. I still took AP English, History, and Spanish, but I didn't take AP courses for economics, psychology, and others.

If you don't know what you're interested in, you can do a general spread of the usual courses. As I suggest in my guide to getting into Harvard , I recommend thinking about what you want your application story to be and deeply exploring specific interests rather than trying to be too well rounded. (Sorry to keep linking to my Harvard guide, but it contains my best admissions advice and resonates strongly with this guide!)

This also means that you don't have to play the same game as everyone else. You do not need to take exactly as many AP courses as the top student in your school does.

Are you a writer who really wants to showcase this talent in your college application? You don't have to take AP Biology. It might be really difficult and unenjoyable for you, and it will take up hundreds of hours that are far better spent elsewhere that will strengthen your application.

For my business, I interview and hire a lot of Ivy League graduates. When I ask about AP scores, it's actually rare for someone to have taken the full gamut of AP courses, or even close to the 14 AP tests that I took. Most often it's centered around their core interests.

Don't feel pressured to do what your friends are doing or what's generally accepted as right.

Finally, make sure you really understand all the prerequisites for each of the advanced courses and plan ahead. You might have to take summer-school courses—understand how this works and anticipate any issues.

A personal example: I wanted to take AP Biology my freshman year, which meant I had to take biology as a summer course after 8th grade. This was unusual and I was only one of two freshmen to do this.

The next year I wanted to take AP Chemistry as a sophomore, which required me to take chemistry in the summer. My high school only had two available classes for chemistry, and they prioritized older students. I didn't get the placement, which meant I had to register at a high school half an hour away and drive back and forth each day (thanks, Dad).


#2: Start Getting Early Info on Future Courses

Another benefit of planning early is that you can start gathering information on courses you'll be taking in future years. This will prepare you mentally for what's to come and let you structure your life accordingly, like having the right amount of extracurriculars so you can stay afloat.

Different schools have different reputations for how courses are run. At my school, AP Biology was seen as a hazing boot camp, requiring hardcore memorization of tiny details. In contrast, AP Physics was really laid-back, even though conceptually I think it's a lot more difficult.

This might be the opposite at other schools. Being able to predict this will help you prepare your life in advance and make sure you know what you're getting into.

Also, different teachers have different reputations. One AP Biology teacher at my school was known for being excellent—he explained concepts clearly, was enthusiastic, and showed students the bigger picture. The other teacher was unanimously considered one of the worst teachers at our school. I had the latter (fun story on this later).

Even though you might not have control over which teacher you get, you'll be able to gauge how much variation there will be in your future.

How do you start doing this?

  • Get to know upperclassmen and talk to them about their experiences with classes. Everyone loves griping about school. If you have older siblings, ask them and their friends, or join a club through which you can meet upperclassmen.
  • Talk to teachers in advance. Ask honest questions about how to prepare for their classes, what the weekly workload will look like, and how intense students feel the class is. Most teachers will actually appreciate this, as long as you don't keep neurotically bugging them about it.

If you set your expectations correctly for the future, you'll be prepared to weather the storm.


#3: Be Ruthlessly Efficient With Your Time

This is probably my most important piece of advice in this section.

There is one limitation in every human's life, from Bill Gates' and Mark Zuckerberg's to yours and mine. It's the time you have per day. Everyone has only 24 hours in a day, and it's up to you to get the most out of each day.

If you're aiming for a top college, building a strong application will likely take up almost all your free time. Roughly speaking, out of 24 hours in a weekday, you have eight hours for school and transit (which are mandatory), eight hours for life outside of school, and eight hours for sleep. (And I do recommend you get sleep—more on that later.)

Of the eight hours you have outside of school, you might need four hours every day to get through your homework and another two for your extracurriculars. This gives you just two hours of free time. Weekends remove the eight hours of schooling but likely replace it with more studying, test prep, and extracurriculars.

When charted like this, it's clear that you have a strictly limited amount of time every day to get through what you need to get through.

Therefore, every hour you can spend or use more efficiently is a huge gain.

Furthermore, if you're able to save an hour every day, you'll be able to get an extra 365 hours per year. This is a massive amount of time you can use to improve your grades or make serious progress on an extracurricular.

The most driven applicants you're competing with will be focused and productive 80% or above all the time. They'll be strongly motivated to do well and often passionate about what they're doing. (Remember what we discussed regarding intrinsic motivation.)

If you're productive at only half this—or 40% of the time—you'll lose out on 3,500 hours of productivity over three years of high school. This is a staggering amount.

We'll talk more about time management below, but there are two high-level points I'd like to make now.

Time Spent on Any Activity Usually Has "Diminishing Marginal Returns"

This means that for each unit of time you put in, the extra value you generate shrinks rapidly.


This is an economics concept that applies to a lot of everyday life.

Notice how at the very beginning, a little bit of effort makes a big impact on results. After a while, each additional unit of effort barely moves the needle on output. Thus "diminishing marginal returns."

A common time drain is social time or hanging out. If you haven't seen your friends all day, then the first 10 minutes you see them are going to be super exciting. You'll share the latest news and gossip and find out more about each other's lives.

By the end of the first hour, though, you'll often run out of things to talk about. This is where awkward silences might start settling in and people start focusing on their phones.

By the end of the third hour, you're probably in a zombie-like state in which you're hanging out but not really doing anything in particular. You could have packed things up two and a half hours ago and spent the rest of that time doing something more effective.

The same goes for texting, Snapchat, Netflix, and browsing the internet, as far as your happiness is concerned. The first little bit goes a long way, but the rest of the time doesn't add all that much.

The trap here is that all these activities are pretty pleasant and pain-free compared to running a marathon or studying. Like a warm blanket in winter, they're easy to get lost in and hard to escape from. It takes real discipline and willpower to break out of that trap and do hard things like study for a test.

Surprisingly, diminishing returns applies equally to classwork. There really is a point at which studying more isn't going to raise your score and you're just obsessing for no real reason. There's a point at which spending more time polishing an essay isn't going to get you a higher grade on it.

If you're a perfectionist like I was, you might obsess over every last detail. You have to recognize when good enough is good enough, and extra units of time aren't actually adding to the quality of your work.

Surprisingly, a 4.0 isn't about perfection in every single aspect of coursework. This is really stressful and difficult. It's about doing a good enough job everywhere and getting the most for the least.


Find Opportunities for Wasted Time and Spent It on More Useful Things

With the concept of diminishing returns above in mind, you should examine where you're spending your time and question the value you get out of every extra half hour you spend on it. This really extends to all aspects of your life.

Largely speaking, your life will be include school, homework, extracurriculars, test prep, social time, and family time. Some of these will be really important to your college application, while others won't be.

If a major goal of your high school life is to get into the best college you can, then you need to structure your life around maximizing your chance of success.

There are a couple of common time sinks that don't end up contributing to your college application as much as you think they do.

Time Sink #1: Time-consuming, ineffective extracurriculars. Typically, extracurriculars will take up the most time outside of coursework. Certain activities take up a ton of time but aren't very impressive to the top colleges if you're not performing at an elite level. I'd like to single out a few common ones:

  • Playing an instrument and in an orchestra/marching band: A serious musician might practice one to two hours a day. Being in a marching band might add an hour per day on average. Over three years, this will add up to thousands of hours. If you are not a section leader of a well-known group or a national-level performer, this experience does not add significantly to your application. Sorry to be blunt. Imagine the many thousands of orchestras and marching bands in the country, all with concertmasters, drum majors, and section first chairs. If you are rank and file, you will not stand out, but you will spend a lot of time on not standing out.
  • Volunteering: Some students think that 1,000 hours of volunteering service is a lot more impressive than 200 hours. It's not—especially if you're doing something straightforward like delivering hospital samples or serving front line at a soup kitchen. You can get "credit" for volunteering with just, say, an hour per week. Again, hundreds of thousands of students volunteer across the country—it's just not that special unless you make it special .
  • Athletics: Sports practices and games are grueling and can take up to two hours on average per day. Plus, when you get home at the end of the day, you might be too tired to maintain your willpower and do your schoolwork efficiently. If you're not good enough to be recruited for your sport or earn meaningful distinctions at the state level or above, it's really not that impressive. Once again, imagine how many hundreds of thousands of varsity athletes there are across the country, and imagine how you fit into this crowd.

As you can see, the pattern is that it's easy to spend time on activities that are very common, very time-consuming, and very indistinguishable from what everyone else is doing.


Time Sink #2: Hard classes you don't need to take. As I mentioned above, you really don't need to take AP Biology if it's especially hard for you. It's easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but you don't have to play the same game. If you drop AP Biology, you might be able to take two AP courses in other subjects you like more.

If you're participating in one of these activities, dropping it can free up hundreds of hours a year. This is a massive amount of time.

Here's what you can do with this bulk of free time:

  • Get your grades up: If you historically find yourself short on time to do homework and test prep of the highest quality, you'll be able to devote more time to doing a better job in school.
  • Pursue a deep interest and make notable achievements: This is more impressive to college admissions committees than typical activities and will benefit you personally as you explore developing passions.
  • Spend that time doing things that truly make you happier: If you're really stressed out all the time, chances are you're spending time on something that's not making you happy or adding much to your college application. Dropping it will be a breath of fresh air.

A clear exception to the rule above is if you really enjoy your activity. If you really really like volleyball but only play at junior-varsity level, then keep on doing it. Happiness is important, and it's usually better to be happy and un-optimized than miserable and optimized.

In all other cases, it's just silly to do one of these activities at a mediocre level at the expense of schoolwork or other helpful things.

I know this analysis sounds pretty intense, but it's super important, and not enough students actually take a step back and evaluate why they're doing what they're doing.

It's also a really good life skill—you're never going to have more time in the day, and when you get into college and your career, getting the most out of each hour will put you ahead of most people.


So that you're not worried about becoming a robot, I admit that I'm nowhere near perfect 100% efficiency throughout my day. In high school, I spent time every day chatting online with friends and playing computer games. These were my ways of unwinding.

However, I rarely ever let this "wasted" time expand beyond an hour per day, often because I gave it to myself as a reward after finishing all my homework. (Remember diminishing marginal returns.) My parents also were pretty effective moderators of this, sometimes disconnecting our internet at night so I wouldn't stay up til 2 am chatting about stupid stuff.

Again, the most important piece of advice I have in this section is to analyze everything you're doing and decide whether it's worth it. If you spend your time correctly, like what I suggest in my guide on getting into Harvard , this will put you far ahead of most of your classmates.

#4: Know When Every Assignment Is Due and Plan, Plan, Plan

For a sane life, you need to know precisely when major tests and papers are due, and when every homework assignment is due.

You then need to plan ahead and budget enough time for each assignment. You need to notice when you're ahead or behind in your schedule for each of your classes and adjust your time so you can catch up.

This is essentially like having five parallel pipelines going on at any one time:


A Gantt chart , a common project management technique. More hardcore than you need, but used here for illustration.

If you know you need a full week to write a good essay, plan for this. Start a full week ahead of when it's due, and not any later.

If you know you need 15 hours to study for an AP Biology test, budget the time for that every day.

I suggest using Google Calendar or the iCloud Calendar for this. You can color code categories of work like homework, projects, and tests. You can also set alerts for things you tend to forget.

You want to be a machine and aim for full preparation for everything you're responsible for.

You should treat any surprises or last-minute work as a failure of planning. These increase your stress and lower the quality of your work. No last-minute homework crunch of quiz studying should be happening.

I know that all-nighters are, in rare cases, necessary, but they should not be a common occurrence. While it might be fun to bond with friends over pulling an all-nighter for a paper, take a step back and realize what that says: "I didn't plan well enough to budget enough time for this assignment, even though I've already done 20 of them. It was physically and mentally painful, and most likely lowered the quality of my work."

The better thing to do is to have that paper ready a whole day before it's due and have it so rock solid that you're sure it's going to get you an A.

Here are a few effective scheduling tips:

  • Do a regular weekly and monthly review of your schedule to plan ahead: Get your parents involved since they can help enforce your planned schedule and deadlines.
  • Prioritize your work correctly: Assignments that take up a bigger portion of a class's grade are more important. Classes that you're doing worse in need more critical attention. You should be dynamic and adjust to the circumstances. Do not just focus your attention on assignments you like more or that are easier for you.
  • Know when to cut your losses for now and move on: It's easy to get stuck in a rut and spin your wheels without making progress. Move onto something else for now and come back to the assignment later. When you come back, you'll likely have a new perspective and get unstuck.

Again, since you're going to be spending at least 100 hours per month on homework, you might as well spend an hour a month guiding where that time will be spent.


#5: Don't Prioritize Other Things Over Sleep

Now, sleep. There seems to be an epidemic of high school students regularly sleeping very late at night—say, past midnight—and having to wake up at 7 am or earlier. They then need to get triple shot espressos every few hours to make it through the day.

This sounds crazy to me.

It's universally accepted that teens should be getting eight to 10 hours of sleep every night . When I was in high school, I regularly slept from 11 pm to 7 am, without fail.

I remember this clearly because in senior year, I had to stay up till 2 am working on a group English project that we'd all procrastinated on. This stood out to me because I'd rarely ever stayed up that late.

And yet, with eight hours of sleep every day, I was still able to pack everything in. (Remember what I said above about being ruthless with effectively using your time.)

Sleep has a huge impact on your performance and happiness.

Worse, it affects you in an insidious way—you'll think more slowly and less creatively. Essentially, a vicious cycle happens: you fall asleep later, making you less efficient and making your homework take longer to do.

If you're not getting enough sleep, you need to examine where you're spending your time and be sure that every hour you're spending on something is really worth it. I would bet something does exist that you can cut out.

There's probably some combination of an intense coursework schedule, a demanding school, and intense extracurriculars that make it extra hard to carve out more time. But I'm sure at least one of two things is happening:

  • There's a lot of time spent on an activity that isn't actually worthwhile for college admissions or
  • There's ample time being wasted somewhere else (we covered both above)

I can also guess that something dumb is happening: sleeping late is now considered a badge of honor, especially at uber-competitive high schools. If you're around hardworking students, people likely brag often about getting only four hours of sleep. Pounding Red Bulls visibly is something to be proud of. They might even be tempted to share this on Instagram, timed perfectly at 3 am.


This is silly because it incentivizes the opposite of what you want—it rewards you for being inefficient, not efficient. In fact, people who do this probably waste time during the afternoon because they want to sleep late. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

You should aim for the opposite—do really well and make it look easy. (If people don't actually do this, I apologize as I'm an old man now and out of touch with you teens.)

Here are tips to get more sleep:

  • Enforce a sleep deadline every day , like 11 pm, so that you can get up by 7 am to get ready for school. Force yourself to lie in bed, not grab your phone and burrow under the covers. If you have to break this deadline, make sure you have a good reason for doing so.
  • Cut caffeine six hours before your scheduled bedtime. After that point, drinking caffeine can have serious effects on the quality of your sleep . I see people in Starbucks at 9 pm and have no idea how they sleep at night. If you need caffeine to stay awake from 5 pm to 11 pm, you're probably not getting enough sleep at night!
  • Cut the use of electronic screens on phones, tablets, and monitors before sleep. Blue light from screens disrupts your circadian rhythm by tricking your body into thinking it's daylight when it's not. You can also install software that changes the color of your screen to a warmer color. Flux is great for desktops and laptops, and Twilight for Android. iPhones offer a free Night Shift mode you can access through the Settings app.
  • If you have a habit of wasting too much time before bed (like me), then strictly enforce your deadline again.


Up to this point, we've discussed high-level strategy. This sounds like general life advice, which is appropriate given that since you're a student, school is a major part of your life.

If you want to get a 4.0 GPA, you'll need to master your life habits and psychology.

I can't repeat enough that you need a solid foundation on top of which to build your studying and classwork. If you don't have this, you'll end up like those unfortunate students who take on heavy course loads and flounder for years, getting five hours of sleep a night, feeling miserable, and not making it into their target schools.

This is a recipe for academic discontent and disillusionment. It's like trying to build a house on quicksand.

Instead, you want to build a fortress on bedrock. After reading this guide, take the time to review all the important notes and reflect on whether you feel like you're executing them well. You might even do this every semester to make sure you're on track to your 4.0.

Section 3: General Class Strategy

With the high-level stuff covered, we'll now get into the thick of it: how to get straight As in your actual classes. This section will cover general class strategies that apply to every single class you take, regardless of subject. Section 4 will then cover strategies for individual subjects like math and English.


#1: Understand How the Class Is Graded

At the beginning of the year, every teacher makes clear how the class will be graded. This varies tremendously from subject to subject and teacher to teacher, and it's important to understand where you should be spending your time to get the best results.

There are two important pieces to this:

How Are Different Components of Your Work Weighted in Your Final Grade?

Commonly, this means a distribution across homework and projects, test scores, and participation. Different teachers have different weightings. Often, science and math classes focus on tests, while English classes focus on essays and projects.

You need to prepare a strategy for each course to do well on whatever is maximized. A simple rule of thumb is that you should spend a proportional amount of time depending on how much it contributes to your grade.

If a class is 50% tests, 40% homework, and 10% participation, you should split your time for that class accordingly. In this case, you could get away with minimal class participation as long as you ace the tests and homework.

Sometimes this can be deceiving—some teachers might give little weight to homework and more to tests, for example (this is almost always the case in college courses).

But it's often difficult to do well on tests without the regular commitment to homework, so you should spend that time on homework even if it doesn't contribute to your grade.

What's the Grading Scale—Is It Curved? Or Is It Based on an Absolute Scale on Test Scores?

Curved scales are rare in high schools, likely because they lead to unwanted competition. But if your class is curved, you need to pay attention to where you're positioned in the class, rank-wise, and you need to give yourself extra wiggle room in case the curve on a test is particularly tough.

If, instead, the class is graded on an absolute scale, like 93%+ is an A and the tests aren't curved, you can focus more on your own performance. This also makes planning more predictable—if you're at an 87% and need to pull yourself up to a 93%, you can figure out what your remaining homework and test scores have to be to get an A.


#2: Learn How to Learn

Learning is a mysterious process. You probably don't remember how you learned to walk or talk. When you memorize something, you can recall that fact some time later, even though you don't really know what is actually happening in your brain.

Even at the frontier of research, the nature of how we learn is still pretty mysterious.

Regardless, there are still a couple of principles of learning that have been provably effective.

Imagine Your Knowledge as a Tree

To build a tree, first you need strong roots and a trunk—these are the foundational concepts of the subject. Then, you build the branches and the leaves—these are the smaller details you're often tested on.

If you don't have a trunk, you won't have anything for your branches to grow on. So when you learn something, really focus on the fundamental core of what you're learning—the core that underlies all the little details. (I got this analogy from Elon Musk , the well-known entrepreneur behind SpaceX and Tesla Motors.)

For an example from calculus, let's take the concept of derivatives. On a test, you'll often get a function and be asked to find the derivative of it. Different functions behave in different ways; the derivative of 2 x 2 is 4 x , but the derivative of sin( x ) is cos( x ). These often require memorization, and the details are the leaves of the tree.

The trunk of the tree is the fundamental idea behind what a derivative is: when you take a derivative of a function, what you're doing is defining the rate of change along the function. At any particular point, the rate of change is equal to the slope of the line tangent to the function at that point.


Derivatives, one of the most important concepts of calculus. If you're nowhere near taking calculus, don't worry about the details just yet.

When you understand this trunk, then every derivative formula afterward makes intuitive sense. You'll be able to absorb new formulas —new branches and leaves—much more easily since you just add them to the trunk.

But if you don't understand this trunk, you'll find yourself struggling to memorize the details piecemeal, as if you're making a shoddy quilt.

This is also true in the humanities. When you learn how to write an essay in English or history, look beyond just following the standard essay template given by your teacher. Here's what you need to understand:

  • The thesis-evidence-conclusion structure is an effective way to make an argument because you prepare the reader for what you're going to say, prove it using evidence, and then recap the important takeaway points.
  • When you cite textual evidence from a book, you need to relate it back to your thesis to make clear how the evidence supports or proves your point.
  • Transitions between paragraphs and within paragraphs help the reader piece together all your disparate points into a cohesive whole.

Once you build this trunk, the details of how to do this with actual words and phrases will come naturally. If you don't build your trunk, you'll become frustrated with following someone else's instructions without knowing why.

When you learn something, really try to ask yourself what the root of what you're learning is. Once you identify this, the details will come more naturally to you. Many teachers don't teach this way, so it's up to you to do it yourself.

Constantly Relate New Things You're Learning to Things You Already Know

When I visualize how knowledge works, I imagine a network of nodes connected to each other. Each node is a unit of information—a math formula, a concept, or a historical fact.

When two nodes are connected, I see them as related to each other. Two linked nodes might be the area of a circle and the perimeter of a circle, for example.


How I visualize my knowledge: each circle is a concept or fact, and lines connect related concepts.

Some nodes are heavily connected to each other. Some nodes hang on only by a thread.

Nodes that are weakly linked and not accessed often tend to be forgotten much more quickly. Intuitively, this makes sense: if a particular concept is related to other concepts, every time you recall one of the related concepts, you'll have a better chance of activating the related concepts. This then cements all the concepts around.

I know this is very abstract, so let's use an example. In US History, you'll learn about three core events: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and slavery abolishment, and women's suffrage.

The brute-force way to learn about these events is to memorize the facts and details for each event, as though each were in its own independent vacuum. After all, you're likely taught and tested unit by unit, so this is the natural way to learn.

But in reality, there are key themes that tie these events together:

  • Over time, the subjugated tend to earn their freedom: In the Revolutionary War, American colonists were under the dominion of the British government until they won their independence. In the Civil War, slavery was a contentious issue that eventually led to its abolition and the freedom of slaves. In regard to women's suffrage, women earned the right to vote equally as men. This trend continues to hold true today with gay marriage rights.
  • For each event, key leaders spoke for the masses and represented their will: Select examples of these include the founding fathers for the Revolutionary War, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass for the Civil War, and Susan B. Anthony for women's suffrage.
  • For each event, there was opposition that tried to maintain the status quo: This would be the British, the South, and society at large, respectively. (Both men and women opposed women's suffrage.)

I'm not a history buff so apologies for this complete simplification.

These unifying themes help you see the patterns among these important events. When you learn about Abraham Lincoln, you can relate his achievements to those of George Washington, strengthening your understanding of both.

Now, these events are clearly tremendously different from each other, but defining contrasts is just as helpful. During the Revolutionary War and the fight for women's suffrage, the main instigators were those being subjugated—the colonists and women. In contrast, in the Civil War, the action was more strongly led by white men in the Union and less so by the slaves themselves.

Defining these contrasts still develops a connection among the events, in turn leading to a stronger understanding of both. It also helps you ask interesting questions about why these events differed from each other.

You can see how altogether you're building this interconnected network of events. When you learn world history, you'll be able to fit the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the end of colonization, and other events into this framework.

This rich, multi-dimensional network-building is a stark contrast to the usual way history is taught—as a one-dimensional timeline. The one-dimensional way was how I was taught history and it made history a pretty boring collection of historical facts, which is a shame because learning could be so much more interesting and effective.

If you can focus on building a strong trunk of knowledge and connecting what you learn to what you already know, you'll be able to learn much more effectively.


#3: Understand How Teachers Think, and Give Them What They Want

If learning is your job, your teacher is your boss. Your responsibility is to follow the teacher's guidelines and give the teacher what she wants. Your performance will then determine whether you get a promotion (an A) or get fired (an F).

This can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Even though teachers might seem like imposing vanguards of knowledge, in reality they're humans, with ambitions and flaws like everyone else.

By understanding how a teacher thinks, you'll be able to customize your approach to the class to increase your chances of performing well in it. This is especially important in subjective pieces such as essay grading, group projects, and class participation.

There's a huge variation in the types of teachers you'll have. Some teachers are veterans—they've seen it all and won't put up with your whining. Others are new—they're still trying to figure it out, really want to do a good job, and crave approval from students.

Some teachers are passionate, want to connect with students, and achieve carpe diem moments daily. Others are perfunctory and just want kids to keep quiet and cause less trouble in their lives so they can go home and watch The Walking Dead .

Some teachers want lively class discussions and want to see students inspire each other. Others run class like a prison—no outbursts, or you get solitary.

The more you understand how a teacher thinks, the more you can give the teacher what she wants. This might sound sociopathic and calculating, but in reality it's a social skill you already use without thinking much about it. It's also a skill you'll be using throughout your life, from college applications to job applications and work.

Here are some general principles I've found to be true of most teachers.


Most Teachers Do, at Their Core, Care a Lot About Their Job

They chose education as their craft for a reason, usually because they like the idea of inspiring students and contributing to their growth.

They also care about the subject matter—if they teach math, they find math interesting. If they teach history, they find history interesting. Grizzled veteran teachers might be disillusioned by this because maybe their kids have historically sucked, but they're still open to being surprised and inspired by the young people they teach.

What does this suggest?

Most teachers hate students whose sole concern is getting a good grade and who make this desire clear from their questions and behavior.

Most teachers love students who sincerely care about the class material and show curiosity. They love passing on their subject matter knowledge to students, filling the jar of the student's mind.

One place this is clear is in the syllabi that teachers write for classes. You might not know that AP courses at every high school are audited by the College Board for curricular soundness, and teachers are required to submit their syllabi for approval. Here's a real example from a teacher for AP English Language:


This lesson plan is an X-ray into the thinking of the teacher; it clearly describes the meaningful skills students are expected to learn, and the teacher's enthusiasm is palpable. While this is probably an example of an above-average teacher, it illustrates how teachers who care really do understand what they're teaching and what they want students to get out of it.

If you can prove to the teacher you're learning what she wants you to learn, you'll be in amazing shape.

Most Teachers See the Students They Teach as the Future Generation of Society

You are the future, so teachers want to see admirable qualities in their students. You'll be liked if you're honest, take responsibility for your mistakes, contribute positively to the class, and work hard. You'll be disliked if you're sneaky or dishonest, disrupt the classroom, act arrogantly, or blame others for your mistakes.

Be the kind of person teachers would like to entrust the future to.


Most Teachers Already Have a Lot of Work to Do

Teaching requires a huge time commitment. After school ends, teachers have to grade homework at night and plan for the next school day. Some of them supervise extracurriculars. This can mean an effective workday of 7 am to 6 pm.

If you cause more trouble and add to the teacher's load, this will be annoying.

If, instead, you can offer ways to lighten the teacher's load and solve his problems, he'll love you.

Why does all of this actually matter?

Understanding how the teacher thinks is critical to getting good grades on assignments, tests, and participation. On a history test, does the teacher care more about the big picture or about reciting minute historical facts? In an English essay, does the teacher care about executing a standard template well, or about having a novel point of view? What skills and concepts does the teacher really want to see in this essay?

If you approach your classes from the teacher's perspective, you'll be able to customize your work to what the teacher expects. We'll talk more about this later.

Another significant way this will improve your class performance is to communicate with the teacher more reliably. Given the same issue, you can present it in a way that'll make the teacher hate you, or in a different way that'll make the teacher admire your maturity and resolve.

Let's say you didn't do well on a test. An annoying student would say something like this:

"Ms. Robinson, I got a B on this test. I studied really hard and some of the questions were unfair. You didn't tell us they were going to be on the test. Also, I've been really busy with orchestra and volunteering—other students don't have these responsibilities. Is there any way I can get my test regraded? Can I get extra credit?"

Gag. This is nails on a chalkboard for a teacher. You get anti-brownie points. Poop points. I've overheard this often during high school and even in college.

Here's a better way to approach your teacher:

"I got a B on this test, even though I spent a lot of time studying, and I wanted to see if you could help. I'm not here to ask for more points; I just want to improve for the future.

I feel like I have a problem with the way I'm studying. For example, before the test I felt really confident with this kind of question, but on the test I made this mistake and I'm not sure why. Also, I tried to be thorough in my studying, but I missed the sections that were tested in these questions.

Do you have any suggestions?"

Let's contrast the two options. In the first one, you blame the teacher and your schedule, not yourself. You put the focus on the grade rather than the learning. Finally, you try to get an unfair advantage over other students without contributing anything yourself. This type of response is pretty typical because, to be fair, your goals are really important to you and it's tempting to try to get easy points where you can. (Also, you're young and more likely to think the world revolves around you.)

The second option is a 180 on the first. You put the emphasis on improving yourself, not on the grade. You own up to your mistakes rather than blaming other people. Before the meeting, you've done your homework by reflecting on where you might have fallen short rather than expecting the teacher to fix all your problems while you sit back. You also make it an open conversation in which the teacher can use her expertise to ask questions and dig more deeply.

These kinds of interactions make a world of difference in how teachers perceive you. It's unlikely teachers will actually give you an unfair advantage in grading, but it will make your life easier. You'll be treated with more respect and understanding. Teachers will work harder to help you. In cases wherein you need more flexibility, the teacher might be more likely to accommodate you. It'll also ultimately lead to strong letters of recommendation for your college applications .

Now, I'm not talking about sycophantic brown-nosing. You should be sincere and not just act the part. Teachers have seen a lot, and it's easier than you think to detect insincerity. One common way to sniff out a fake is to ask more questions and dig a little more deeply. If you haven't actually analyzed your test, for example, when the teacher asks you how you studied and what you think your mistakes were, you'll come up short. It'll then be clear you're just mouthing words, and the teacher will lose trust in you.

Take some time to think through classes you're struggling in or teachers you don't get along with. Do you understand what the teacher's expectations are? Why aren't you meeting them, and what can you do to improve this?


#4: Develop Strong Study and Homework Habits

Over the course of high school, you'll likely spend more than 3,000 hours on schoolwork and studying.

This is a lot of time. If you can make a 10% improvement on this by spending 20 hours learning really good study strategy, it'll be well worth your time. (This is what's known as "high leverage"—you put in a little to get a lot.)

Here are a few guidelines I think every student should follow.

Study Habit 1: Focus on Effectiveness and Efficiency

When you get into the thick of high school, you start taking a lot of things for granted. Each math homework assignment will take about an hour. Studying for a history test might take eight hours. An essay all included might take 15 hours.

Rather than taking things for granted, you should be continuously evaluating whether you're spending the right amount of time on your work. How long is homework taking? Why?

What is your time distribution across all the activities that go into doing homework? Is anything less effective than you thought it was? Can you experiment with restructuring your time so that you get better results for less time? (This connects to the "being ruthless with your time spent" point above).

As an extreme question, can you cut your total time down by 50% while maintaining the same level of quality? Why or why not? I ask my employees this all the time, and while it's not usually strictly possible, it helps illuminate what things can be cut with little effect on the outcome.

By going through this analysis, you'll be able to partition your time spent into effective and ineffective components. If you can axe the ineffective parts, you'll save a lot of time without affecting the quality of your work.

At the end of this reflection, you might find that there's really nothing better you can do and you just need to keep chugging along. This can be true, but you have to be honest with yourself and give yourself enough time to give this serious consideration. You should also experiment with alternatives or improvements and reflect on whether you've improved or declined.

Remember, there's always a time-quality tradeoff curve. Get the most for the least. Avoid perfectionism. Understand how much you need to do to get a great score, and when each unit of time is no longer returning you sufficient results, spend that time elsewhere.


Study Habit 2: Put Away Your Phone, Turn Off Your Computer, Eliminate Distractions

There's homework time and there's relaxation time. Clearly compartmentalize both. Do not mix the two.

When you're doing homework, do it at 100% effort.

You're nowhere near as good at multitasking as you think you are . Focus on one thing, and then focus on another.

Recently, I went to a coffee shop and watched a college student at the table next to me try to study chemistry while using her phone. It was painful to watch: she'd read a page for two minutes, get a text, respond to it, and then browse Facebook for five minutes. Overall, it took her an hour to get through three pages.

She likely wasn't super motivated to study to begin with (hence why I started this guide with that high-level principle), but the bad study habits guarantee she's wasting her time. Not only was she getting nowhere with her studying, but she also probably wasn't enjoying texting and browsing Facebook all that much either. A lose-lose.

If you really have a problem with this, I suggest timing yourself just to see how much time you're wasting. Get a chess clock and force yourself to time yourself when you're studying and when you're using your phone.

If you need to use the computer while you work, there are browser tools such as RescueTime that track what websites you've visited and for how long. You can see how much time you're spending researching and how much time you're spending just watching YouTube.

You can also block distracting websites for a certain period of time. This way you can ensure that 6-8 pm will stay English-essay work time—not 20% English essay/80% YouTube time.


Study Habit 3: Do Homework in School If Possible

A lot of teachers have spare class time or downtime. Typically students just chat with each other until the bell rings. Use that time to do your homework you would otherwise do at night.

I remember AP Computer Science was an easy class. I'd finish assignments within 10 minutes and then work on homework the rest of the hour. In another history class, the teacher's lectures were unhelpful and I was better off just reading the chapter by myself at home. I took that time to work on other homework. (Note that some teachers get really annoyed when you do this, so be careful.)

There's also lunchtime, which is a little less than an hour. Many students sit at the lunch tables and chat until the bell rings. I banded together with a bunch of other nerd friends in the library and just did homework. Social life + homework = killing two birds with one stone.

Every day, this saved me more than two hours of time. When I got home, I'd only have a few hours of homework and studying left, which freed up room for extracurriculars and a few games of Starcraft. (This is also partly why I was able to go to sleep before 11 pm every night, even with my extracurriculars.)

Now, this isn't the coolest thing to do and you might be afraid of looking like a nerd. But if you think it's a good idea, you generally shouldn't lead your life based on what other people think about you anyway.

Study Habit 4: Learn to Deal With Procrastination

Procrastination affects pretty much everyone in multiple aspects of life. Everyone knows that feeling of how much easier it is to put off studying for a test so that you can get an extra half hour to watch Netflix. Before you know it, though, it's time to sleep and you haven't done anything.

We have an excellent guide on why procrastination happens and how to overcome it , in the context of test prep. I highly recommend reading it.

As a summary, procrastination happens when (1) you feel you're in the wrong mood to finish a task, and (2) you assume your mood will change in the near future. This can lead to a vicious cycle wherein you feel guilty for procrastinating, making it even harder to summon the energy to be productive again.


#5: Learn to Ace Tests by Understanding What's Being Tested and How

Tests typically make up the majority of how you're graded in a class. Teachers need a way to assess your knowledge in a standardized way that's hard to cheat on, and tests are the best way (or the least bad way) to do this. Learning how to prepare for tests and how to get great scores reliably is critical to getting straight As.

The most important piece to this is understanding what's being tested (the "content") and how it'll be tested (the "format"—e.g., multiple choice, essay, open-ended questions, etc.). This will directly determine what you study and how you prepare for the test.

You likely already know this intuitively—how you study for a math test is pretty different from how you study for a Spanish test. For math, you run through a lot of practice problems. For Spanish, you memorize vocab and practice grammar rules.

Once you know what you're being tested on and how, you can build your test-study strategy:

Step 1: Understand the test content and format Step 2: Define your test-prep strategy, integrating reading, practice questions, and review Step 3: Execute your study strategy Step 4: Test yourself Step 5: Improve your method and go back to Step 3

The critical piece here is Step 1: understanding what's actually on the test.

Even within the same subject, different teachers have different styles. You and your friend might be taking the same course—say, AP US History—with different teachers but have entirely different tests. Your teacher might emphasize fact memorization and have mainly multiple-choice questions gridded in through scantrons, whereas your friend's teacher might emphasize big-picture concepts and use tests consisting mainly of essays and free responses. The way you prepare for each test is thus very different.

How do you figure out the best way for you to study? Here are four helpful strategies:

Strategy 1: Ask Your Teacher for a Sample Exam From Last Year

Teachers are usually consistent in how they test from year to year, so chances are this year's tests will look a lot like last year's. In college it's common for professors to give access to previous years' exams as practice tests. Good high school teachers will do this because they don't recycle tests and want to give students fair exposure to what the test will be like.

On the other hand, bad teachers will hide previous years' tests because they are lazy, want to recycle the tests, and don't want to give resourceful students an unfair advantage.

Strategy 2: Get Exams From Last Year's Students

If you have friends or know upperclassmen who took the class with that teacher, ask if they've saved their tests. You can set up an exchange among your friends wherein you share materials from classes that others will take in the future. Lazy teachers really hate this because it forces them to write new exams each year, but that's part of their job.

Note that you should of course be careful and avoid allegations of cheating. If you're worried about this, feel free to ask your teacher how he feels about it before you try to get previous year's tests. And, of course, don't do anything dumb like plagiarizing someone's essay.


Strategy 3: Ask Your Teacher What's Going to Be on the Test and How It'll Be Tested

Don't be annoying about this. Remember what I said about giving teachers what they want. Teachers often hate the question, "Is this going to be on the test?" because they can't win. If they say no, students stop paying attention. If they say yes, students won't appreciate the greater meaning of what they're learning. Most teachers really do care about how their students are learning and get excited when they see students with a genuine love of learning.

A more palatable way of doing this is to be proactive. Prepare a high-level overview of content that you believe is on the test, and the format in which it'll be tested. Go to the teacher and ask her to take a quick look. Make it clear that you're asking because you care about doing well on the test and you want to understand the teacher's expectations.

You might even offer to save the teacher time by circulating this to your classmates so that she won't have to talk to 20 different students about what's on the test. (Remember, if you can make the teacher's life easier, she'll love it.)

If you do this earnestly and not in an obviously groveling way, the teacher will typically be more than happy to help because it's clear you care about your education.

Strategy 4: Use Every Previous Test to Infer What Future Tests Will Look Like

Even if you have zero information about the first test and you go in blind, the second test will likely look a lot like the first one. Halfway through the course, you'll be comfortable with how the teacher thinks and be able to predict the tests with high accuracy.

Story Time: My Least Favorite High School Class

The worst class I've ever taken was AP Biology my freshman year of high school. The teacher was a middle-aged man who was profoundly uninspiring.

Every day he'd turn off the lights, sit in front of the class with an overhead projector, and go line by line through the teacher notes provided by the book ( Campbell's Biology ). He would literally just read each bullet point, add a sentence or two, and move on. He had a monotone voice, and half the students treated this class as nap time (though as I suggest above, the smarter thing would've been to work on other homework during this time). Thinking about his inefficacy as a teacher is infuriating to this day.

The worst part of the class was how the tests were created. They were entirely multiple choice and often tested trivia straight from the book. There wasn't really any high-level thinking involved—the only way to do well on them was to memorize each chapter before the test.

I remember the worst question was a trivial fact from the caption of an image —I think it was the species name of a bird—that was totally irrelevant to what we needed to know for genuine understanding. He'd just decided it was a good way to test whether someone had memorized the chapter.

This struck fear into all of us. After bombing the first test, I had to change my approach. I started reading every chapter six times to memorize all the details. I'd highlight details like a madman to make sure I wasn't missing anything that might be tested. I'd create my own quizzes before reading the chapter so I could assess how well I was memorizing the details.

The key point is that I customized how I prepared to the content and the format of the test. My approach would have been totally inappropriate for another AP Biology class, but it was the right one for this class.

Going into the end of the school year, I had an A and was safe. It took a ton of work but I did it. Unfortunately, the teacher realized that because of how crappy of a job he'd done at teaching, the average grade in his class was going to be a C, and he was probably going to get a lot of hate from parents and the administration. He decided at the end of the year to administer a sample AP test that was entirely extra credit.

I was annoyed because I ended up with something like 130% in the class, which is why you see an A+ in my transcript for freshman-year AP Biology, which meant I'd studied unnecessarily hard.

The upside to this was that the actual AP test was super easy because I had literally memorized the entire textbook.


#6: View Your Job as Constant Improvement and Build Feedback Cycles for Yourself

NOTE: This is one of the most important points in this entire guide. I work with so many students who don't understand this and it's killing their potential to improve.

If something you're trying isn't giving you the results you want after a lot of trials, it's clear that you need to reexamine your strategy. If you're cutting broccoli for dinner and you chop off a piece of your finger every night, it's pretty obvious you need to change how you're using the knife (unless you love adding iron to your family's diet).

For some reason, this isn't as obvious in the context of coursework. If you get a C on a test, you might be tempted to believe that if you use the same study methods but just study twice as hard, you'll raise your grade to an A.

If the cause of your poor performance was truly a lack of time, then this can work. You can use my advice above to carve out more time for studying.

But in many cases, this is wishful thinking. It's as though you need to tunnel through a brick wall, and you're trying to get through by pounding your head against it. You're failing to make a dent, but you believe if you pound three times as hard you'll be able to get through it. There's something wrong with this strategy, and you need to understand why you've failed and how you can improve.

I think the reason this is so difficult in the context of coursework is that students don't understand the root cause of why they've failed. If you get a B on an essay, it seems tempting to think that you just need to spend more time researching and writing your essay, but really your weakness might be that you just don't understand the teacher's standards and are playing a totally different ball game.

This is why I stress the importance of the high-level concepts above. If you understand that academic success is a combination of multiple factors—motivation, time management, effective learning, understanding of class grading, teacher expectations, and the actual content—you'll be able to pinpoint your weaknesses more effectively.

If you don't understand these are important, you'll have no idea where to begin.

You should treat every evaluation as an opportunity for reflection and improvement. Remember the growth mindset we discussed above. Every disappointing homework assignment and test gives you a chance to reflect on how you failed and how you'll avoid these mistakes in the future.

We can call this the iteration cycle:


First, you obtain a measurement. This is often a grade on a homework assignment or test. If it's lower than your standards, something needs to change.

Next, you reflect on what happened. Here's a checklist of questions to ask yourself:

  • How was the assignment or test graded? What did the teacher expect?
  • What did you produce? What was your method of producing it? Try to break down the major pieces of what you did.
  • What is the difference between the expectation and what you produced?
  • Why did this discrepancy happen? What flaw in your method most strongly contributed to this failure?
  • What are you going to change about your method to prevent it from happening again?
  • When is the next time you'll be able to evaluate whether this is an improvement?

This is comprehensive and might sound tedious, but it's critical to improvement. In my experience with test prep, this is often the second-biggest barrier that prevents students from improving their test scores (the first is not putting in enough time, period).

Sometimes this analysis can be quick—you forgot to proofread your essay and your grammar mistakes got you points taken off. Clearly, next time you should dedicate time to spellchecking.

On the other extreme, after a lot of reflection you might not even know where to begin. Then you can ask the teacher for help. (Remember what I said above—if you go to the teacher with clear introspection and questions, this will show you really care about your education.)

Take notes on this reflection, especially on your plan for next time. Write this down as a commitment to yourself. The next time you have a chance for evaluation, such as a test or assignment, review these notes and implement your plan.

In the last stage of the cycle, you get your next measurement. If you improved substantially and met your goal, great work—from here on out, you just need to keep doing what you did. If you didn't improve or receded, treat your next iteration cycle even more seriously since your situation has gotten worse and you'll need to try something new to dig yourself out of the hole.

Do this for every class in every semester throughout high school. After you do it a few times it'll be second nature, and you'll do it without even thinking.

As an analogy, this is how you keep your car on the road when driving your car. You get constant visual feedback on where you are on the road. If you veer to the left, you reflect on this and turn the steering wheel to the right. You do this constantly to stay on the road.


When driving, you run constant iteration cycles to stay on the road.

When people first start learning to drive around age 14-15, they're not very accustomed to this feedback loop. They'll go nearly off the road before jerking the steering wheel back in the other direction. Then, they realize they've gone too far and jerk it too far back.

Practiced drivers make significantly smaller adjustments all the time. The next time your parents drive, watch them. You'll see them constantly make tiny adjustments left and right to stay exactly where they want to on the road. Experienced drivers do this automatically, by habit.

In your academic life, you don't want to drive 60 mph off the road. Use feedback to figure out where you are and what adjustments you need to make if you're off track.

As a side note, here's a video of teens getting distracted by their phones and shooting way off the road:

Complete failure to measure -> reflect -> improve.

I can't repeat this enough: this concept of iteration cycles is vital to your academic success.

Many students don't go through this process because they don't realize they need to or don't feel like it's important enough compared to actual studying.

In contrast, I would say this is the most important thing you should do after a test. Between every test you probably spend 20 hours in school and 20 hours on homework. Don't you think it's worth one hour examining your method and thinking about it if you're not doing well?

Don't drive 60 mph off the road.

We've covered a lot of high-level stuff so far. We've talked about the foundations of motivation and determination. We've discussed figuring out how teachers think and how to understand how you'll be tested. We've also covered good study habits and how to iterate on feedback to improve your results.

Now, let's talk about specific subjects, because how you'll treat calculus is very different from how you'll treat history.

Math and Science Classes

Math and science classes are typically the most straightforward classes because the material is very standardized. If you take AP Chemistry, the tests will most likely look like standard chemistry questions, and the labs will look like standard labs. It's the same with calculus and physics—you have a ton of practice problems to work through in your textbook, online, and in supplementary books. Unlike English-essay grading, teachers can't really get too creative or subjective here.

The good news is that you can typically predict with great accuracy how you're doing well before a test. It's easy to prepare your own practice tests, review your mistakes, and understand where your weaknesses are and how you need to improve.

The hard part about math and science is that the concepts build on each other throughout the year. In short, something you learned earlier will directly affect your ability to grasp future concepts.

In physics, for example, if you don't understand how force diagrams work, you'll struggle every step of the way through mechanics. In chemistry, if you don't understand stoichiometry and how to convert units to each other, every calculation will be difficult for you.

This doesn't apply as strongly in other subjects like history, which tends to be composed more of modular units. Even though I mentioned above that you can connect different concepts to build a strong network of knowledge, at the end of the day they don't build on each other as much. You might have flunked the section on the American Revolution, but this doesn't strongly affect how well you'll do on the Civil War section.

Essentially, what you have is exponential growth of knowledge vs linear growth:


In my experience, math and science teachers don't emphasize this enough. They treat learning linearly, but in math and science it's really exponential. If you don't get it right in the beginning and don't fix it, you're screwed for the year because the teacher has already moved on.

So if you get a bad start to a math or science class, you need to double down and repair the holes immediately. If you don't, it'll only get worse. If you start a class way in over your head, consider dropping to a lower level.

Another issue with math and science is that the material tends to be dry since it involves a lot of abstract topics that don't really affect your everyday life. Good teachers will show you how the concepts apply to everyday life. If you're learning about EM waves in physics, for example, you'll also learn how your FM radio works. If you're learning about exponential functions, a teacher might take you through a simulation of compounded interest to show how much money you can make through savings.

I once heard a story about a physics teacher who was lecturing and tossed a ball at a student. The student caught it instinctively—didn't even have to think about it. The teacher said, "What your brain just did is a kinematics calculation. You knew exactly where the ball started, how it was traveling, and where it would end up. That's exactly the point of what we're learning—to mathematically predict how traveling objects will behave." I bet that teacher is awesome because that sounds a lot more interesting than just writing a formula on a whiteboard.

If you lack inspiration in math and science, try to relate what you're learning to the real world and to what you care about. If you're a news junkie, this will help you understand articles and analyses more deeply. If you're an athlete, think about how physics works in your sport. This won't always work and can sound a bit hokey, but sometimes you might be pleasantly surprised.

English and Writing Classes

In my experience the hardest part about English classes is the essay grading. Year by year, the standards you're graded on change, and the teacher's expectations change. Some teachers want you to follow the same formula essay after essay. Others want you to have a "voice" and write with style.

I had a frustrating experience in Honors English when we had to write essays about themes of books we were reading. Most people would write something like "the theme is abandonment." My teacher would draw a big red circle around this and write, "SO WHAT?" But she never explained articulately what she meant by this, even when we asked her.

Eventually, we figured out that the theme statement was supposed to be a concept that required a sentence to explain, not just a single word. This requires you to dig a level deeper, something like "abandonment is crippling to a child's psyche and ripples throughout adulthood." But she never explained it well, and it sometimes felt as if I were helpless at the hands of a merciless tyrant.

In English classes, you have to understand the expectations of your teacher and how he will be grading essays. As I said above, use every chance you have for reflection and iteration. If the teacher lets you submit drafts for review before the final essay, take this super seriously. Give the draft your best work, and if you're confused about any of the teacher's comments, ask about them outside of class.


If you don't do well on an essay, reflect on it, prepare notes, and approach the teacher and ask earnestly where your shortcomings are and how you can improve. (Measure -> Reflect -> Improve)

There are also solid foundations to effective writing, such as writing a clear thesis, using transitions between sections, employing textual evidence to support your points, and using appropriate and effective vocabulary. How to do this well is outside the scope of this article, but these are concepts you've been taught through much of English and can see every day in writing in publications such as The New York Times , The New Yorker , and The Atlantic .

Memorization-Heavy Classes, Like History and Foreign Languages

Some classes rely more heavily on factual recall than others do. In particular, I'm thinking about history classes, for which you need to memorize historical events and figures, and foreign-language classes, for which you need to build up a wide vocabulary.

Many students use flashcards for memorization, but they'll use them ineffectively. They'll just go through the entire stack from beginning to end and repeat.

This is ineffective because you end up spending the same amount of time reviewing words you already know as you do the words you have problems with. What you need to do is bias your time toward the cards you actually struggle with.

The way I do this is what I call the waterfall method of memorization. I describe this here in the context of memorizing vocab for the SAT . You cycle through the cards you don't know much more often than the cards you already know.

For long-term retention, there's also a concept known as spaced-repetition learning that spaces out your learning optimally to increase your recall of information. The idea is that right after you learn something, you should review it quickly thereafter to secure the memory. The next time you review, it can be spaced out further, and the next one even further still. Doing this regularly will lock in knowledge in the long term.


This is in contrast to the usual method of memorization, which is to cram before a test and then forget it until you need it for the final.

Anki is a good tool that does this for you automatically. Quizlet is another popular online flashcard tool where you can upload your own flashcards or use other people's flashcards.

As I mentioned above, try to find connections between things you're learning, and look for patterns. Connect historical events to each other. See foreign-language grammar rules as fitting a pattern, and notice when rules deviate from that pattern. This will make learning more interesting and help you understand concepts better.

Group Projects

This isn't a specific class, but it's a common enough issue that it's worth discussing. You'll inevitably have group projects, which means your fate is no longer 100% in your hands.

If you have a choice of partners, try to choose people who you know will do a good job. These are people who work hard and care about their grades. Friends might not be the best option if they're dead weight and you have to end up carrying them. Make it clear to the friend that it's not personal—you just don't feel you work well together. If the friend ends up dissolving your friendship because she expects you to lift her up, and it's not because you're being a jerk about it, then the friendship probably wasn't that strong to begin with.

If you don't get a choice of partners and the teacher just assigns you a group, you'll have to make do with what you have. Teachers are rarely sympathetic to complaints about your team, and it's unlikely you'll be able to change your partners. If anything, be flattered if you get paired with weaker students—the teacher might believe you'll be a positive influence on them.

Once your group is set, focus on getting a good job done. Treat it with the same care and planning as you would your own work, and don't be afraid to take charge if there hasn't been any action. Here are some tips for dealing with group projects:

  • Write up the tasks that need to be done and split the work among group members. Ideally, you want to pair the tasks with people's natural skills and interests since this will maximize the overall quality of your project.
  • Set up a timeline for milestones your group should hit. Make sure the group agrees on the plan and understands the details.
  • Be prepared for timelines to be broken and think about what you'll do in those cases.
  • Don't be afraid to take charge if there hasn't been any action.

Don't get hung up on inequality. There's sometimes that one dude who is a complete flake and never gets his job done, and you end up having to cover his ass. Don't sweat it. Focus on the big picture: your grade.

Redistribute his work to the rest of the team and revise the plan, and once again make sure the team agrees on the overall plan. Yes, the slacker might end up with a good grade riding on your backs, but he's also probably screwed for his individual assignments and for other classes. Karma works its way.

If there was anything really frustrating about the group project, you might tell the teacher. As I've said repeatedly above, the messaging to the teacher matters a lot. The teacher does not want to hear you whine about not getting a better grade because of your team. The teacher does not want to hear excuses.

The teacher does want to know of any potential problems and ways she can improve the classroom experience.

Here's an example of a bad way to talk to your teacher about a problem with your group project:

"It's unfair we got a B because of Taylor. She was supposed to do her part of the project but dropped out halfway through and we all paid for it. She should get a C and we should get an A. I didn't even want her on our team, but we didn't have a choice. Can I get a better grade?"

And here's a better way to approach your teacher:

"I wanted to let you know how our group project went since this might be helpful for our future projects. First off, I want to say that I'm not arguing for a better grade—as a group, we all share responsibility for how we did, and we deserve our grade.

So here's the story: when we started our project, we clearly divided up the work and everyone agreed on a timeline. Halfway through at our group meeting, though, Taylor said she was busy with tennis and promised to get more work done. We were all done with our parts and trusted her, which was a mistake. We ended up finding out two days before the project was due that she still hadn't done anything. We scrambled and tried to pitch in, but we were all busy so we didn't produce our best work.

I thought I'd share this story with you for future projects in case it's helpful. You should ask for her side of the story if you're interested."

This takes a totally different approach. First, you make clear that you're not arguing for a better grade upfront —this makes the teacher less suspicious of your motives, thereby encouraging her to listen to your story more intently.

Then, you present the facts, without emotional bias, and accept responsibility for your actions. You tell the teacher why this might be useful, and you exude enough maturity to suggest that you yourself might be biased so she should hear from Taylor's perspective, too.

In the worst case, the teacher ignores you. In the best case, the teacher might reconsider giving the team a bad grade if she finds out how negligent or manipulative the disappointing student was.


Don't Ignore the Easy Classes

In middle school, when I was a chubby kid, I got a B in PE.

Yep. I didn't know this was possible at the time, either.

It turns out the PE teacher gave everyone a set of physical exams—push-ups, sit-ups, stretches, and mile-run time—tallied up your points, and then gave you a grade. I did pretty poorly on all of them and ended up with a B.

You can see how many of my above rules I failed:

  • I didn't have the motivation to do well since I didn't think I wouldn't get an A.
  • I didn't understand early on how the class was actually going to be graded.
  • Given chances for iteration cycles, I didn't reflect enough on my shortcomings and thus didn't change my method of preparing for the exams.

I freaked out and made sure I knew how PE would be graded in high school. I ran my little chubby butt off. In high school, they graded mainly on participation and attendance, so I ended up fine.

Don't let yourself miss an easy A. Understand how all of your classes are graded, even the ones that everyone thinks they'll get an A in. If you get on the bad side of your orchestra teacher, you might be surprised with your final grade.

Again, don't be a jerk about this by marching to the teacher and exclaiming, "I want to know how I can get an A in this class." Make it clear that you just want to meet the teacher's expectations and understand what exactly those are.


We've covered a lot already. Here are some last-minute pieces of advice, and then we'll wrap up with some summary points and a checklist for your academic health.

Tip 1: Get Some Objective Assistance

When you get as involved in something as coursework, it can be hard to take a step back and truly understand your shortcomings. An artist might not be the best critic of her own work.

If you have parents who care about your success and are willing to help out, send this guide to them and discuss it with them once they've read it. Talk about what parts you agree with and what skills you want to improve. Give them your goals and action plan for your high school career, each academic year, and each course. Inform them about your iteration cycles so that they can contribute new ideas about where you went wrong and how you can improve.

More importantly, don't get upset at them and accuse them of nagging when they try to help out according to the way you agreed. This just makes everyone miserable.

If your parents aren't interested in helping, find a friend who cares as much as you do about education and college, and hold each other to task. Even if you feel competitive with this friend in regard to getting into college, you'll likely lift each other to greater heights than where you would be individually.

Tip 2: Know the Trouble Signs and Act

High school can be stressful, especially if your goals are high. Not only are you preparing a strong college application, but you're also navigating the high school social scene, figuring out what you want to do in your life, and navigating your relationship with your parents. Sometimes all things come to a head, and it can be overwhelming.

Recognize trouble signs, reflect on whether they're serious problems, and act quickly if they are. Here are some important questions to ask yourself intermittently:

Are you deeply unhappy? Does every day feel like a slog to you and you're not sure why you're doing any of it? Think about the root cause of this feeling. Maybe your parents are pushing you toward a goal you don't identify with. Maybe there are conflicting aspects to your life—being better at school might mean getting ostracized socially, so you're caught in the middle. Try to reflect on this, identify any plausible root causes, and take steps to address them. (Easier said than done, I know, but you have to start somewhere.)

Are you getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night? If not, restructure your life so you get more output in less time. Chart out where your time goes every day and every week, and observe where there are possibilities for large improvements. This might mean cutting current activities and refocusing that time on something more helpful to your application.

Is one class dragging down the others? Are you spending a lot of time trying to stay afloat in one class, at the expense of your other grades? Consider dropping the course. The earlier you can detect this problem, the more easily you can avoid getting a permanent "Withdrawn" mark on your transcript. But even if it's too late to avoid this, dropping it is still preferable to failure across the board.

Finally, don't be too proud to ask for help. More people are willing to help you than you think—you just haven't asked yet. If you lack supportive parents or friends, seek help from your teachers and counselors. It might take some time and multiple tries to find someone to advocate for you, but one likely exists somewhere in your world.

If you suspect even a bit that you might have mental health concerns, seek help immediately. Again, more people are willing to help than you might think.


Tip 3: Prepare for Crunch Periods—Finals and APs

The end of each semester and academic year is typically pretty stressful. Instead of a staggered timeline, you'll get final exams in most classes all at once. Even worse, you might also have to prep separately for AP exams and the SAT / ACT .

The good news is that if you've built a strong foundation throughout the rest of the year, you're already 80% there before you study for finals. You might have forgotten some details, but the foundational tree trunks are still around. Preparing for the final is now simply a matter of loading the info into your short-term memory for recall.

If you're learning a lot of new material for a final, you're too late. Try the best you can, but next time focus on sustained effort throughout the school year.

As for AP Courses, usually getting an A in class will lead to a pretty easy 5, unless your class is really easy and A is the most common grade. Preparing for standardized tests uses the same skills and principles, no matter if it's an AP test or the SAT. I cover these principles in more detail in my guide on how to get a perfect SAT score .

Tip 4: Rinse and Repeat

High school is four years long (duh). Maintaining high performance throughout freshman to junior year requires sustained commitment, motivation, and high quality.

If you do really well on a semester, great job—take time to celebrate, but steel yourself to do it again the next semester.

The good thing is that the earlier you start building good habits, the easier it gets. If you start all of this by freshman year, senior year will be a breeze and you'll be well prepared for college.

The Grand Summary: How to Get a 4.0 GPA in High School

Notice how most of this guide has been about mindset, your personal psychology, and healthy habits. This forms an effective framework you can apply to every class and semester of school. Every important concept that got me a 4.0 GPA is written here.

Now, the hard work is actually adopting these practices and continuing to apply them through your entire high school career.

What's Next?

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Grades Have Huge Impact, But Are They Effective? 

Please try again

how does homework get you better grades

You can listen to this episode of the MindShift Podcast on Apple Podcasts ,  Google Podcasts ,  NPR One ,  Spotify ,  Stitcher  or wherever you get your podcasts.

Grades can determine so much of a child’s future – the ability to get into college, qualify for scholarships and lessen student debt, land a higher paying job that will lead to a better quality of life and accelerate social mobility. At the start of the pandemic, several school districts switched to pass/fail models, but that period of grace disappeared by fall 2020. Subsequently, students this year saw a spike in Fs and Ds as they struggled with distance learning, financial and physical security at home, mental health, work and more.

This reignited some of the debates about equitable grading , putting into question what teachers grade and the accuracy of their methods.  

“If I don’t grade it, the student won’t do it.” 

It’s a common phrase used by teachers to extrinsically motivate students to do homework, turn in assignments, show up for class and test students on their knowledge. Teachers’ ability to grade everything became even more pronounced in the 1990s due to ed tech and digital grading programs that average scores based on a 100-point scale. Some outcomes of the 100-point scale meant that getting a zero on an assignment could derail a student’s average. Also, failure is over represented on a 100-point scale, making up nearly 60 percent of the possible grades.  

how does homework get you better grades

Claim: An F, or fear of getting an F, will motivate a student to work harder. FALSE

Joe Feldman: There’s no research that F’s motivate students to do better except for a tiny slice of students. The only research that supports that F’s motivate, or that low grades motivate, is for the students who have gotten A’s historically. And when they start to get a B or a C, they scramble like mad because they don’t want to get anything lower because it implicates all aspects of the fixed mindset they have about themselves. 

But for everyone else, in all other circumstances, there is no research to support that Fs motivate. In fact, there’s research that Fs demotivate students because they know that they don’t know something. 

And in the way that we historically average performance over time, that F now is a hole that students have to dig themselves out of. And they know the math. They know that if they get a couple of F’s early, forget having high grades at the end of the term. And so what’s the point? They might as well use their energy elsewhere.

W hat we’ve got to do instead is help students understand that even if they fail early, if they get low grades early, miss things early, they can always keep learning, they can always redeem themselves with our help and support, and success is never out of reach for them. 

CLAIM: Giving some students more time – without any penalties – is unfair to those who do turn it in on time. FALSE 

Feldman: So I think there’s a couple of things underneath that. One is that if something is unfair, that suggests that there’s a competition. And I think we’ve come a long way in disabusing ourselves of the idea that grades should be a competition. Because if I’m trying to teach a class, I really shouldn’t care if I have a whole lot of kids who are successful.  

You know, we don’t want students to feel like they’re competing against each other because we know that only adds stress and demotivates students and lowers performance. And learning is not a race. Just because someone is able to learn something quicker, that doesn’t have any value in whether or not a student learned. A grade should only reflect the level of understanding a student has of the content, not the speed at which they learned.  

Claim: Students can learn without being graded on their behavior. TRUE

Feldman: We want students to learn how to manage their time and we want students to know how to work diligently and to take notes and to be a good citizen of the classroom. We can have ways of giving feedback to students and even consequences that can help them understand how to learn effectively and to learn the skills – the soft skills they’ll need for success in the professional world. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be included in the grade. We, as teachers, want students to self regulate. We want them to understand that if I didn’t take very good notes one time, I can connect not taking very good notes to having lower performance on that quiz or assessment. So now I will learn that I have to take good notes so I do well on the next test. And that’s what we want to get kids to do.

how does homework get you better grades

Claim: If I don’t grade it, the student won’t do it. FALSE

Feldman: So that is a commonly held belief based on extrinsic motivation – that the only way a student will do it is if the value that I invest in it is through the points that I use to grade it.  

I was just talking to a teacher yesterday who said, ‘I used to grade every single homework assignment because I thought that if I didn’t grade it, the students wouldn’t do it. And then I stopped including homework in the grade and I was shocked that the students kept doing it. And in fact, some students did more than before. And then when the students handed it in, I knew it was actually their work rather than copying because so many students copy each other’s homework because otherwise they lose points.’

(Note: There are plenty of students who don’t do the homework even when it counts towards their grades.)

CLAIM: Giving points for extra credit helps those who fell behind during the year. TRUE, BUT

Feldman: Oh, well, that is a “true, but.” It certainly can help them get the points that they missed out so I guess it does mathematically help them in their grade. But the problem is it renders the grade inaccurate. 

For example, I didn’t know the political causes of Reconstruction, but I brought in cake. So points are just fungible, I guess. And if I didn’t learn something there, I can just get the points over here. It doesn’t matter whether I actually learned the thing. 

So it teaches students that all you have to do is get points. You don’t actually have to learn, you just have to get points. 

It perpetuates institutional biases because the students who can do the extra credit usually require additional resources, whether that be time or money or transportation. 

You can read an excerpt of Joe Feldman’s book “ Grading for Equity ” on MindShift and check out his website .

So When a Teacher Reimagines Grading, What Happens to Students? 

The disruptions caused by the pandemic gave teachers, students and families deep insights into some of the inequities in learning. The spike in Ds and Fs in school districts across the country, especially for high school students, has a lot of people thinking about what’s important to learning. Experts at the start of the pandemic called for cutting down curriculum clutter and focusing on relationships. But these practices shouldn’t be just a reaction to a pandemic. 

how does homework get you better grades

In order to better assess his students, Syrie changed how he graded. Instead of being the sole distributor of points, he asked students to self-assess their work and tell him what grade they deserved. And if their grades were unsatisfactory, students could revise their work, demonstrate what they learned and improve their grade. But for Syrie, this also meant changing how he teaches because teaching and grading go hand in hand.

“I no longer have the power to motivate kids with points,” said Syrie, who teaches at Cheney High School in Spokane County, Washington.  

He had to create meaningful learning tasks that would help students on assessments. These tasks weren’t graded, but students would have to find the value in doing the work in order to feel better prepared for the assessments. He said transitioning to this model had its challenges because some students wouldn’t see the value of the tasks until after stumbling on the first assessment. “And then they started to realize, like, wait a minute, [this learning task] is putting things in place for us so by the time we get to the assessment, we’re prepared for the assessment,” he said. 

This model of learning and grading was a major adjustment for students who were used to programming all their efforts on the expectations of a teacher. Instead, students had to reflect more upon their own efforts and abilities. 

“We had a full conversation about our grades and why we believed we deserved the one we chose, and that was something I literally never experienced before,” said Lauren Hinrichs, who was Syrie’s student three years ago when he started to implement these changes. “I think we always saw the teacher-student relationship as a parent-child relationship. Or, as a student, I always viewed the teachers as someone above me, never as a fellow human, always kind of that other more significant figure,” she said. The new system allowed her to see her teacher and herself differently. “Instead, it’s kind of a human-to-human [relationship], eye-to-eye.”

Not being graded on everything meant feeling more open to learning and engaging more deeply with peers as a community, even for students like Lauren who take high-pressure courses. “It allowed me to ‘chill out’ in the best way possible. And you know what? That motivated me even more to get my schoolwork done.”  

The feedback process was an important part of Syrie’s class – for grades, assignments, revisions – and opinions were not exclusive to the teacher; students were active participants, too. Throughout the year, students gave feedback to one another on class presentations, which helped build camaraderie among students.

how does homework get you better grades

During the first five minutes of each class, students did check-ins sharing things that made them smile (like having a great snack) or frown (a personal setback). Hinrichs said getting to know each other this way helped build greater community among her classmates, but also, helped understand inequities in the classroom. Just because teens show up in the same space every day doesn’t mean they know about each others’ joys and struggles outside of school. But getting to know each other through smiles and frowns created the space to do that. 

“There are 15-year-olds out there working night shifts or working right after school to provide for their family. And they don’t have time to do three hours of homework for a project,” she said. These check-ins helped students who were not in each other’s worlds connect in ways they wouldn’t in a typical classroom. She said the sense of community helped the students learn in ways she hadn’t in any other class. 

“I’ve never been able to take five minutes to engage with my fellow students. It was constantly work, work, work, work, work,” she said. Getting to know other students helped her see how inequitable school can be and she felt fortunate to have the time after school to do homework in other classes. But the smiles and frowns activity helped her see what her classmates were going through no matter what their peer groups were.  

how does homework get you better grades

“We were all so close. And to be honest, I would have never gotten to know some of those kids the way I did in Syrie’s class had it not been for the few minutes he took every day to spend with us and spend to connect one another,” Hinrichs said. 

You can read more about Monte Syrie’s journey with grading on his Project180 site.

Subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you won’t miss a single episode. You can listen on Apple Podcasts , Google Podcasts , NPR One , Spotify , Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  

Should Kids Get Homework?

Homework gives elementary students a way to practice concepts, but too much can be harmful, experts say.

Mother helping son with homework at home

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Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful.

How much homework students should get has long been a source of debate among parents and educators. In recent years, some districts have even implemented no-homework policies, as students juggle sports, music and other activities after school.

Parents of elementary school students, in particular, have argued that after-school hours should be spent with family or playing outside rather than completing assignments. And there is little research to show that homework improves academic achievement for elementary students.

But some experts say there's value in homework, even for younger students. When done well, it can help students practice core concepts and develop study habits and time management skills. The key to effective homework, they say, is keeping assignments related to classroom learning, and tailoring the amount by age: Many experts suggest no homework for kindergartners, and little to none in first and second grade.

Value of Homework

Homework provides a chance to solidify what is being taught in the classroom that day, week or unit. Practice matters, says Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University 's Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

"There really is no other domain of human ability where anybody would say you don't need to practice," she adds. "We have children practicing piano and we have children going to sports practice several days a week after school. You name the domain of ability and practice is in there."

Homework is also the place where schools and families most frequently intersect.

"The children are bringing things from the school into the home," says Paula S. Fass, professor emerita of history at the University of California—Berkeley and the author of "The End of American Childhood." "Before the pandemic, (homework) was the only real sense that parents had to what was going on in schools."

Harris Cooper, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of "The Battle Over Homework," examined more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and found that — when designed properly — homework can lead to greater student success. Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary.

"Every child should be doing homework, but the amount and type that they're doing should be appropriate for their developmental level," he says. "For teachers, it's a balancing act. Doing away with homework completely is not in the best interest of children and families. But overburdening families with homework is also not in the child's or a family's best interest."

Negative Homework Assignments

Not all homework for elementary students involves completing a worksheet. Assignments can be fun, says Cooper, like having students visit educational locations, keep statistics on their favorite sports teams, read for pleasure or even help their parents grocery shop. The point is to show students that activities done outside of school can relate to subjects learned in the classroom.

But assignments that are just busy work, that force students to learn new concepts at home, or that are overly time-consuming can be counterproductive, experts say.

Homework that's just busy work.

Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful, experts say. Assignments that look more like busy work – projects or worksheets that don't require teacher feedback and aren't related to topics learned in the classroom – can be frustrating for students and create burdens for families.

"The mental health piece has definitely played a role here over the last couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is frustrate students with busy work or homework that makes no sense," says Dave Steckler, principal of Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota.

Homework on material that kids haven't learned yet.

With the pressure to cover all topics on standardized tests and limited time during the school day, some teachers assign homework that has not yet been taught in the classroom.

Not only does this create stress, but it also causes equity challenges. Some parents speak languages other than English or work several jobs, and they aren't able to help teach their children new concepts.

" It just becomes agony for both parents and the kids to get through this worksheet, and the goal becomes getting to the bottom of (the) worksheet with answers filled in without any understanding of what any of it matters for," says professor Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois—Chicago .

Homework that's overly time-consuming.

The standard homework guideline recommended by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association is the "10-minute rule" – 10 minutes of nightly homework per grade level. A fourth grader, for instance, would receive a total of 40 minutes of homework per night.

But this does not always happen, especially since not every student learns the same. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that primary school children actually received three times the recommended amount of homework — and that family stress increased along with the homework load.

Young children can only remain attentive for short periods, so large amounts of homework, especially lengthy projects, can negatively affect students' views on school. Some individual long-term projects – like having to build a replica city, for example – typically become an assignment for parents rather than students, Fass says.

"It's one thing to assign a project like that in which several kids are working on it together," she adds. "In (that) case, the kids do normally work on it. It's another to send it home to the families, where it becomes a burden and doesn't really accomplish very much."

Private vs. Public Schools

Do private schools assign more homework than public schools? There's little research on the issue, but experts say private school parents may be more accepting of homework, seeing it as a sign of academic rigor.

Of course, not all private schools are the same – some focus on college preparation and traditional academics, while others stress alternative approaches to education.

"I think in the academically oriented private schools, there's more support for homework from parents," says Gerald K. LeTendre, chair of educational administration at Pennsylvania State University—University Park . "I don't know if there's any research to show there's more homework, but it's less of a contentious issue."

How to Address Homework Overload

First, assess if the workload takes as long as it appears. Sometimes children may start working on a homework assignment, wander away and come back later, Cooper says.

"Parents don't see it, but they know that their child has started doing their homework four hours ago and still not done it," he adds. "They don't see that there are those four hours where their child was doing lots of other things. So the homework assignment itself actually is not four hours long. It's the way the child is approaching it."

But if homework is becoming stressful or workload is excessive, experts suggest parents first approach the teacher, followed by a school administrator.

"Many times, we can solve a lot of issues by having conversations," Steckler says, including by "sitting down, talking about the amount of homework, and what's appropriate and not appropriate."

Study Tips for High School Students

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The 5 Burning Questions for Districts on Grading Reforms

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Districts around the country have weighed new approaches to grading, some motivated by concerns about achievement and student motivation following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Education Week recently reported, districts like Clark County, Nev., have enacted grading policies that de-emphasize formative assignments, like homework; give students multiple chances to redo work; and establish clear rubrics to determine when students have mastered an academic concept.

But those changes don’t come without big questions. Here are five things districts ask about grading.

1. Are grades consistent among schools and classrooms?

Variations in teachers’ grading approaches can lead two students to earn different grades if they learn in different schools in the same district—or even different classrooms in the same school—even if those students have similar levels of content mastery, grading reform advocates argue.

Among those variables:

  • How much extra credit does a teacher offer?
  • How much do teachers penalize students for late work?
  • Do teachers grade “behaviors,” like participation in discussions or showing up to class with the appropriate materials? Do they penalize misbehavior, like distracting peers?
  • Can students retake tests or resubmit assignments?

Those differing approaches can also lead to equity concerns. For example, a teacher may view one student as more distracting than another because of that teacher’s own internal biases, said Joe Feldman, a former teacher, principal, and educational consultant whose book, Grading for Equity , has influenced districts around the country.

Districts have tackled these differences by setting more centralized policies about things like extra credit and late work. Some, like Clark County, have adopted “equitable grading” policies that seek to “separate behavior from grades” by banning grades for incremental homework, allowing students to submit work after deadline, and providing opportunities for students to retake tests or resubmit assignments to demonstrate content understanding.

However, some critics of such policies say they can remove a key motivational tool for students. Researchers at the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote in a Feb. 28 brief that schools should take a middle-ground approach by adopting guidelines that more clearly outline what subjective measures like classroom participation should look like, rather than removing those elements from grades altogether.

2. Should schools switch grading scales?

Some districts have adopted new grading scales in hopes of keeping students motivated and more accurately reflecting what they know.

Their argument: Under the traditional A-F grading system, students who get several F’s on early assignments may essentially check out or disengage from class because it is mathematically more difficult for them to recover and raise their overall grade.

That’s why some districts have raised their minimum grade to 50 percent so that the 10-percent grade bands for A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s hold equal mathematical weight.

how does homework get you better grades

Critics argue that such a change makes student grades less accurate. In some districts with revised grading scales, even missing assignments are graded at 50 percent, rather than the 0 percent teachers would log under a traditional grading scale.

Some districts have sought to replace the A-F scale entirely, rather than re-engineering it by raising the minimum score. The Des Moines, Iowa, district is among those that use a 1-4, standards-referenced grading scale to indicate whether students have demonstrated mastery of learning standards. For secondary students, for example, a grade of “1" indicates the goal has not been met, a “2" grade indicates some progress, “3" grade means a student has met all of the goals related to a specific content standard, and a “4" grade means the student has demonstrated mastery beyond that standard.

3. Do district policies contribute to grade inflation?

Some researchers have sounded the alarm that changes to grading systems may contribute to grade inflation , especially if those changes are not well thought out or well executed.

A November analysis of Washington state students’ standardized test scores and grades issued from 2011 to 2022 found spikes in A’s in the spring of 2020, when many schools quickly adopted more lenient grading practices as they shifted to remote learning early in the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, A’s and B’s correlated with scoring in a lower percentile on state tests, meaning they were less predictive of student achievement, found the study by the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research. That pattern has continued, particularly in math, even as the rate of high grades started to decline in the 2021-22 school year.

4. Do parents understand what grades mean?

When districts switch grading policies, they need to ensure parents and educators are on the same page about what grades represent, how grading scales work, and the rationale behind changes, said Susan Brookhart, an education professor emerita at Duquesne University who has followed grading debates for decades.

It’s not enough to say a new grading scale promotes equity; administrators must also explain how it does so, she said. Parents also need to understand whether grades represent the cumulative result of the assignments a student has completed or their current level of content mastery.

Brookhart highlighted websites created by districts like Clark County and Des Moines that clearly explain the rationale and timelines for policy changes and answers to frequently asked questions.

5. Are teachers on board with grading changes?

A new policy alone is not enough to bring about change in a district, Brookhart said. Teachers must also be prepared to change how they approach grading, and they must buy into new district policies, she said.

It can take four or five years to make an effective transition to a new grading system, and most of that work should be done before the policy shift is enacted, Brookhart said. Districts should hold teacher discussion groups, test out models in pilot classrooms and schools, and be open to feedback, she said.

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FactChecking Biden’s State of the Union

His speech included misleading claims on inflation, crime, clean energy investments, wages and other subjects.

By Robert Farley , D'Angelo Gore , Saranac Hale Spencer , Catalina Jaramillo , Kate Yandell , Jessica McDonald , Alan Jaffe , Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson

Posted on March 8, 2024

Para leer en español, vea esta traducción de Google Translate.

In his final State of the Union address prior to the November general election, President Joe Biden focused on Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, the economy, reproductive rights, prescription drug costs and border security. Biden also criticized many of the policies of “my predecessor” — without naming former President Donald Trump. But he sometimes stretched the facts or left out important context.

  • Biden boasted that under his leadership “wages keep going up.” But over the entirety of Biden’s presidency, wages are down when adjusted for inflation.
  • Biden claimed that the more recent U.S. inflation rate of about 3% is the “lowest in the world!” But several nations reported lower rates than the U.S. in December.
  • He again claimed to have “cut the federal deficit by over one trillion dollars” — although declining deficits have mostly been the result of expiring emergency pandemic spending.
  • Biden said he had created a “record” 15 million new jobs. His 14.8 million new jobs is a record for any president in the first three years, but it’s not the highest job growth rate that any president has achieved in that period of time.
  • He suggested that “many” of the new jobs in U.S. semiconductor factories will be “paying $100,000 a year and don’t require a college degree.” But an industry trade group previously reported that only workers with bachelor’s or graduate degrees make that much.
  • Biden said that, “My policies have attracted $650 billion in private sector investment in clean energy [and] advanced manufacturing.” Those are announcements about intentions to invest, not actual investments.
  • Biden highlighted recent decreases in murder and violent crime rates, but neglected to mention that they are still coming down from their pandemic peak.
  • Biden omitted context of a Trump comment following an Iowa school shooting.
  • The president said billionaires pay an average federal tax rate of only 8.2%, but that’s a White House calculation that includes earnings on unsold stock as income.
  • Biden said that because of the Affordable Care Act, over 100 million people can no longer be denied health insurance due to preexisting conditions. But pre-ACA, employer plans covered many of those people and couldn’t deny policies.
  • Biden said he was “cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030.” That’s the U.S. goal, relative to 2005 emissions, but studies suggest current policies will not reduce emissions by that much.

Biden spoke to Congress on March 7.

Biden boasted that “wages keep going up, inflation keeps coming down.” But over the entirety of Biden’s presidency, wages are down when adjusted for inflation.

Average weekly earnings for rank-and-file workers  went up 14.8%  during Biden’s first three years in office, according to monthly figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But inflation ate up all that gain and more. “Real” weekly earnings, which are adjusted for inflation and measured in dollars valued at their average level in 1982-84, actually  declined 3.1%  since Biden took office.

The inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings of  production and nonsupervisory workers — who make up 81% of  all employees in the private sector — and the inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings of all employees have both been on the rise for the last year and a half, with real weekly earnings rising 1.5% since hitting the low point under Biden in June 2022.

Inflation has also moderated greatly since hitting a peak increase of 9% for the 12 months ending in June 2022, the biggest such increase in over 40 years. The unadjusted Consumer Price Index rose 3.1% in the 12 months ending in January, the most recent figure available, and as Biden said, it has been trending down.

But looking at the entire three years of Biden’s presidency so far, the  Consumer Price Index  has risen a total of 18%.

Biden claimed that inflation in the U.S. “has dropped from 9% to 3% – the lowest in the world!”

The year-over-year inflation rate was 3.1% in January, down from 9% in June 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that’s still higher than the 1.4% rate when Biden took office.

Furthermore, the current U.S. inflation rate is not the lowest of any country.

how does homework get you better grades

December data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that Italy — a member of the G7, a group of seven of the world’s most advanced economies — had a lower year-over-year inflation rate than the U.S. While the U.S. inflation rate was 3.3% for the 12 months ending that month, Italy’s was 0.6%.

Other countries with “advanced economies,” as defined by the International Monetary Fund, and millions of residents, including Denmark (0.7%), Lithuania (1.2%), Belgium (1.4%) and South Korea (3.2%), also had lower inflation rates than the U.S., as of December.

Even by the White House’s own calculations , which adjust for differences in how countries calculate inflation, Biden’s claim was inexact.

In a Jan. 11 post on the social media platform called X, the White House Council of Economic Advisers wrote that, as of November, the latest month with complete G7 data, “both core & headline U.S. inflation were among the lowest in the G7” — not the lowest.

That’s because Italy had a lower headline inflation rate than the U.S., according to the CEA’s post. Supporting documentation provided by the White House shows that Italy’s rate was 0.5% and the U.S. rate was almost 2.5%.

Headline inflation – unlike core inflation – factors in food and energy prices.

Biden continues to misleadingly claim, as he did during his address, that’s he’s “already cut the federal deficit by over $1 trillion dollars.”

Budget deficits have declined from the record spending gap of $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020, the last full fiscal cycle before Biden took office. In FY 2021, the deficit was about $2.8 trillion; in FY 2022, it was almost $1.4 trillion; and in FY 2023, which ended Sept. 30, it was roughly $1.7 trillion.

But as we’ve explained several times , the primary reason that deficits went down by about $350 billion in Biden’s first year, and by another $1.3 trillion in his second, is because of emergency COVID-19 funding that expired in those years.

Budget experts said that if not for more pandemic and infrastructure spending championed by Biden, deficits would have been even lower than they were in fiscal 2021 and 2022.

As of February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that under current law, the deficit would fall to $1.6 trillion in fiscal 2024, rise to $1.8 trillion in fiscal 2025, then return to $1.6 trillion in fiscal 2027. “Thereafter, deficits steadily mount, reaching $2.6 trillion in 2034,” the CBO said.

‘Record’ Jobs

As he has done in recent speeches , Biden boasted that he has created a “record” 15 million new jobs in his first three years in office. He frequently adds on the campaign trail that that’s more than any president had created in three years or in the first four-year term .

“Fifteen million new jobs in just three years – a record, a record!” he said on Thursday night, right after saying “our economy is literally the envy of the world.”

He’s right on the new jobs — to a point.

Since Biden took office, the U.S. economy added 14.8 million jobs (not quite 15 million) — which is a record number of jobs, at least since 1939, for any president in his first three or four years in office, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data that go back to January 1939.

But Biden isn’t accounting for population and job growth. Other presidents have seen a greater percentage increase.

The 14.8 million additional jobs under Biden represent a growth rate of 10.3%, as measured from January 2021, when Biden took office, through January 2024, the latest month for which data are available from the BLS. While impressive, the 10.3% growth rate isn’t as high as under some past presidents when there were fewer jobs.

In President Jimmy Carter’s only four years in office, from January 1977 to January 1981, the U.S. added 10.3 million jobs. That’s an increase of 12.8%. In Carter’s first three years, the U.S. added 10.1 million jobs, or 12.5%.

In President Lyndon Johnson’s only full term in office, from January 1965 to January 1969, the U.S. economy added 9.9 million jobs — a 16.5% job growth. In the first three years of that term, from January 1965 to January 1968, the U.S. added 7.2 million jobs, which was an increase of 12.1%.

In President Bill Clinton’s first term, from January 1993 through January 1997, the U.S. added 11.6 million jobs, an increase of 10.5%. That’s a slightly higher rate of job growth than in Biden’s first three years. But in Clinton’s first three years, the number of jobs increased by 7.8%, which is smaller.

However, the U.S. added a total of 22.9 million jobs in Clinton’s two terms, an increase of 20.9%, from 109.8 million jobs in January 1993 to 132.7 million in January 2001. It remains to be seen if job growth continues at such a pace under Biden in a second term, if he wins reelection.

Semiconductor Jobs

On multiple occasions , Biden has left the misleading impression that new jobs in U.S. semiconductor factories would pay above $100,000 annually for those without a college degree.

During his speech, he said: “Private companies are now investing billions of dollars to build new chip factories here in America, creating tens of thousands of jobs. Many of those jobs paying $100,000 a year and don’t require a college degree.”

In a 2021 report , the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, and Oxford Economics found that 277,000 people worked in the industry with an average salary of $170,000 in 2020. While the report said industry workers “consistently earn more than the U.S. average at all education attainment levels,” it noted that “average wages vary based on educational attainment.”

But only those with a bachelor’s degree ($120,000) or a graduate degree (over $160,000) had wages that topped six figures. Workers with a high school education or less could expect to earn a little more than $40,000. Those with at least some college experience could make $60,000, while earning an associate’s degree could increase that to $70,000.

According to the report, only 20% of semiconductor workers at the time had not attended college. Conversely, 56% of workers had a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

Clean Energy/Advanced Manufacturing Jobs

Biden boasted that, “My policies have attracted $650 billion in private sector investment in clean energy, advanced manufacturing, creating tens of thousands of jobs here in America.” But those are announcements about intentions to invest, not actual investments.

The policies Biden is referring to are mainly the CHIPS Act , which includes $39 billion to fund manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and $11 billion for semiconductor research and development, the Inflation Reduction Act , which includes an estimated $369 billion to combat climate change while also investing in “energy security,” the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan , and the  bipartisan infrastructure law , which included  $550 billion  in new infrastructure spending.

The claim about the amount of private sector investment in clean energy and manufacturing that those policies have created is based on a White House tabulation of public announcements about investments, or as a White House press release puts it, “commitments to invest.”

“These are announced plans for investments,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin , president of the center-right American Action Forum, told us in a phone interview. “They may take years to happen, or they may not happen at all.”

“He makes it seem like the investments have happened already or that they are happening this year, and they are not,” Holtz-Eakin said. “They may not come to fruition. Market conditions change.”

And, he said, while $650 billion sounds like a lot of investment, with gross capital stock in the U.S. over $69 trillion, even if that amount were invested this year, “it wouldn’t exactly transform the economy.”

Biden highlighted the continued drop in murder and violent crime rates since he took office, but he left out some important context.

“Last year the murder rate showed the sharpest decrease in history,” Biden said. “Violent crime fell to one of its the lowest levels in more than 50 years.”

It’s true that there has been a sharp decline in murder and homicide rates recently.

The number of homicides was 10% lower in 2023 than in 2022, according to a January report from the Council on Criminal Justice, which gathered data from 32 participating cities.

And, as we’ve written before , a November report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association showed a 10.7% decline in the number of murders from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2023, compared with the same time period in 2022, in 69 large U.S. cities.

Similarly, violent crime has also gone down, according to the most recent data released by the FBI, and the Council on Criminal Justice report found that there were “3% fewer reported aggravated assaults in 2023 than in 2022 and 7% fewer gun assaults in 11 reporting cities. Reported carjacking incidents fell by 5% in 10 reporting cities but robberies and domestic violence incidents each rose 2%.”

But in both cases, the homicide and violent crime rates are higher than they were in 2019 — the year before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

While it’s unclear exactly why, there was a sharp increase in homicide and violent crime during the pandemic that may have been broadly due to the wide availability of guns and the insecurity brought on by the pandemic, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.

While Biden was correct in pointing out a recent decrease in murder and violent crime, he didn’t account for the preceding increase during the pandemic.

Trump’s ‘Get Over It’ Comment

While speaking about the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and other gun violence, Biden said, “Meanwhile, my predecessor told the NRA he’s proud he did nothing on guns when he was president. After another school shooting in Iowa recently, he said — when asked what to do about it — he said, ‘Just get over it.’”

But Biden omitted much of what Trump said after the Jan. 4 shooting at Perry High School in Iowa, where a 17-year-old student killed a sixth-grader and injured four other students and the principal.

The following day, at a campaign rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, Trump offered his “support and deepest sympathies” to the victims of the school shooting. “We’re really with you as much as anybody can be. It’s a very terrible thing that happened. It’s just terrible to see that happening,” Trump said. “That’s just horrible. It’s so surprising to see it here.”

He added, “But we have to get over it. We have to move forward. But to the relatives, and to all of the people who are devastated right now, to the point they can’t breathe, they can’t live, we are with you all the way.”

Taxes Paid by Billionaires

As he  has said  many times  before , Biden claimed that billionaires pay an average federal tax rate of 8.2%, less than the rate paid by “a teacher, a sanitation worker, or a nurse.” But that’s not the average rate in the current tax system; it’s a White House calculation that factors in earnings on unsold stock as income.

When looking only at income, the top-earning taxpayers, on average, pay higher tax rates than those in the income groups below them, as  we’ve explained . Biden’s point — which he doesn’t make clear — is that the current tax system does not tax earnings on assets, such as stock, until that asset is sold, at which point they are subject to capital gains taxes. Until stocks and assets are sold, any earnings are referred to as “unrealized” gains.

The president has used the 8% figure to argue that wealthy households, those worth over $100 million,  should pay  a  25% minimum tax , as calculated on both standard income and unrealized investment income combined.

The problem with the current system, the White House has said, is that unrealized gains could go untaxed forever if wealthy people hold on to them and pass them on to heirs when they die. 

Under what’s called  stepped-up basis , the value of an asset is adjusted to the fair market value at the time of the inheritance. This wipes out any taxes on the unrealized gains that accumulated from the time the investor bought the asset and the time it was inherited.

When we wrote about this last year,  Erica York , a senior economist and research manager at the Tax Foundation, explained that wealthy households can also borrow money against the assets they own “to consume their wealth without paying tax.” After the family member passes away, the assets can go to heirs, who won’t have to pay taxes on the unrealized gains. York referred to the strategy as “buy, borrow, die.”

Biden’s brief talking point leaves the misleading impression that billionaires are only paying 8% on average in federal taxes under the current tax system.

Preexisting Conditions

Biden said that because of the Affordable Care Act, “over 100 million of you can no longer be denied health insurance because of preexisting conditions,” claiming that Trump wants to repeal the ACA and take away this protection.

The 100 million figure is  an estimate  of how many Americans not on Medicare or Medicaid have preexisting conditions. But if the ACA were eliminated, only those buying their own plans on the individual, or nongroup, market would immediately  be at risk  of being denied insurance.

The ACA instituted sweeping protections for those with preexisting conditions, prohibiting insurers in all markets from denying coverage or charging more based on health status. Those protections were most important for the individual market. Even before the ACA, employer plans couldn’t deny issuing a policy — and could only decline coverage for some preexisting conditions for a limited period if a new employee had a lapse in coverage.

We last wrote about this issue in December, when Biden said “over 100 million people” had protections for their preexisting conditions “only” because of the ACA, a figure he also used during the 2020 campaign.

Again, those with employer plans did have protections before the ACA. The law’s broad protections would benefit people who lost their jobs or retired early and found themselves seeking insurance on the individual market. As of 2022, 20 million people, or about  6.3%  of the U.S. population, got coverage on the individual market.

As for Trump, he has said he wants to get rid of the law, posting on social media in November that Republicans “should never give up” on terminating the ACA. Trump said he was “seriously looking at alternatives,” but he hasn’t provided a plan. And he never released one while he was president, either.

Given what Trump has backed in the past, he may well support a plan that wouldn’t be as comprehensive as the ACA and would lead to an increase in the uninsured and fewer protections for those with health conditions. But Biden makes the assumption Trump wouldn’t replace the ACA with anything at all.

Carbon Emissions

In one of his few, short references to climate change in the speech, Biden said, “I’m cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

Biden is likely referring to the  emissions target  for heat-trapping greenhouse gases his administration set for the U.S. in April 2021 as part of rejoining the  Paris Agreement , the international accord that ideally aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — and from which Trump had officially  withdrawn  the country in 2019. The goal under Biden is to reduce American emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

The Biden administration has made substantial progress in meeting the goal, most notably with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s signature climate legislation that  includes   investments  in clean energy. But as we’ve  written , when the president has previously claimed the U.S. is “on track” to achieve its Paris goal, estimates suggest existing policies will not quite get the country all the way there.

“Based on Congressional action and currently finalized regulations, we are not on track to meet 50-52% below 2005 by 2030,”  Jesse Jenkins , who leads the Princeton Zero carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization Laboratory, told us in an email last April. Jenkins said then it was possible “the gap could be closed” once certain rules are finalized and others are proposed. The Biden administration, however, has recently announced or is reportedly planning changes that some say would weaken rules related to  vehicle  and  gas power plant  emissions.

In a  January update , the research firm Rhodium Group estimated that under current policy, the U.S. will cut emissions 29% to 42% below 2005 levels in 2030.

A recent  analysis  by Carbon Brief, a U.K.-based climate-focused website, similarly projected that if Biden were reelected, the U.S. would get to a 43% reduction. That’s much higher than a second term for Trump — who, assuming he would undo Biden’s policies, would cut emissions by just 28% — but also still not to the full halfway mark.

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“ FACT SHEET: President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies .” White House. 22 Apr 2021.

“ The Paris Agreement .” United Nations Climate Change. Accessed 8 Mar 2024.

Pompeo, Michael R. “ On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement .” Press release. U.S. Department of State. 4 Nov 2019.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ Warming Beyond 1.5 C Harmful, But Not a Point of No Return, as Biden Claims  .” 27 Apr 2023.

Davenport, Coral. “ Biden Administration Is Said to Slow Early Stage of Shift to Electric Cars .” New York Times. 17 Feb 2024.

Friedman, Lisa. “ E.P.A. to Exempt Existing Gas Plants From Tough New Rules, for Now .” New York Times. 29 Feb 2024.

Kolus, Hannah et al. “ Pathways to Net-Zero: US Emissions Beyond 2030 .” Rhodium Group. 23 Jan 2024.

Evans, Simon and Verner Viisainen. “ Analysis: Trump election win could add 4bn tonnes to US emissions by 2030 .” Carbon Brief. 6 Mar 2024.

Robertson, Lori. “ Biden’s Tax Rate Comparison for Billionaires and Schoolteachers .” Updated 16 Mar 2023.

Biden, Joe (@POTUS). “ A billionaire minimum tax of just 25% would raise $440 billion over the next 10 years. Imagine what we could do if we just made billionaires pay their taxes like everyone else .” X. 30 Nov 2023.

Tax Foundation. “ Step-Up In Basis .” Accessed 7 Mar 2024.

Lopez, Ernesto and Bobby Boxerman. “ Crime Trends in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2023 Update .” Council on Criminal Justice. Jan 2024.

Kiely, Eugene et al. “ Biden’s Numbers, January 2024 Update .” 25 Jan 2024.

Major Cities Chiefs Association.  Violent Crime Survey — National Totals, January 1 to September 30, 2023, and 2022 . Accessed 22 Jan 2024.

Major Cities Chiefs Association.  Violent Crime Survey — National Totals, January 1 to December 31, 2020, and 2019 . Accessed 22 Jan 2024.

Grawert, Ames and Noah Kim. “ Myths and Realities: Understanding Recent Trends in Violent Crime .” Brennan Center for Justice. Updated 9 May 2023.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Consumer price indices. All items, percentage change on the same period of the previous year . Accessed 7 Mar 2024.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. All items in U.S. city average, all urban consumers, seasonally adjusted . Accessed 7 Mar 2024.

Council of Economic Advisers (@WhiteHouseCEA). “ Measured on an apples-to-apples HICP basis to allow global comparisons, both core & headline U.S. inflation were among the lowest in the G7 in November, the latest month with complete G7 data .” X. 11 Jan 2024.

Congressional Budget Office. The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2024 to 2034 . 7 Feb 2024.

Robertson, Lori. “ Biden’s Misleading Talking Point on $100K No-Degree Jobs .” 26 Oct 2023.

Semiconductor Industry Association and Oxford Economics. “ Chipping In: The Positive Impact of the Semiconductor Industry on the American Workforce and How Federal Industry Incentives Will Increase Domestic Jobs .” May 2021.

“ Remarks by President Biden at a Campaign Event | Henderson, NV .” The White House. 4 Feb 2024. 

“ Remarks by President Biden at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting .” The White House. 23 Feb 2024. 

“ Remarks by President Biden at a Campaign Event | Las Vegas, NV. ” The White House. 4 Feb 2024.

“ Remarks by President Biden During Greet with MGM Resorts Management and Culinary Leaders | Las Vegas, NV .” The White House. 5 Feb 2024.

“ Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject .” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 8 Mar 2024.

C-SPAN. “Former President Trump Holds Rally in Sioux Center, Iowa.” 5 Jan 2024.

Eller, Donnelle. “Trump sends ‘deepest sympathies’ over Perry school shooting: ‘But we have to get over it.’” Des Moines Register. Updated 8 Jan 2024.

Savage, Charlie. “Trump Administration imposes Ban on Bump Stocks.” New York Times. 18 Dec 2018.

Tumin, Remy, Victor Mather and Leah McBride Mensching. “Sixth Grader Killed and Five Others Injured in Iowa School Shooting.” New York Times. 4 Jan 2024.

Avalere. “ Repeal of ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Could Affect Health Security of Over 100 Million People .” Press release. 23 Oct 2018.

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“ Pre-Existing Conditions .” Department of Health and Human Services website. Updated 17 Mar 2022.

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Fact-Checking Biden’s 2024 State of the Union Address

Here’s a look at how some of President Biden’s claims and those of the senator who delivered the Republican response, Katie Britt, stacked up.

By The New York Times

  • Share full article

An overhead view of the House, with President Biden speaking to a packed chamber.

President Biden delivered his third State of the Union address on Thursday, arguing that life in the United States had improved on his watch — a message that effectively served as a campaign message as he faces off against his predecessor and rival, Donald J. Trump.

Republicans offered their own take, with Senator Katie Britt of Alabama giving a rebuttal that argued that the country was worsening under Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden’s address largely consisted of political messages and factual statements, but some of his comments warranted additional context. Ms. Britt also made some misleading statements.

Here’s a fact check.

Angelo Fichera

Angelo Fichera

“15 million new jobs in just three years — a record.”

— President Biden

This needs context.

Mr. Biden is correct that from January 2021 to January 2024, the United States added nearly 14.8 million jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data .

That is a growth of about 10 percent in three years. However, it is worth noting that Mr. Biden came to office as jobs were beginning to return after huge losses during the coronavirus pandemic. Total jobs are now about 3.5 percent higher than the prepandemic peak in February 2020. About half of the 22 million jobs lost in 2020 had returned by the start of the Biden administration.

“In fact, my policies have attracted $650 billion in private sector investment, in clean energy, advanced manufacturing, creating tens of thousands of jobs here in America!”

This figure is a White House estimate of private investments made in various industries during the Biden administration. Officials calculate it by looking at public announcements of investments — not necessarily dollars spent — across industries targeted by Mr. Biden’s legislative accomplishments. Those include the CHIPS and Science Act , Inflation Reduction Act and $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law .


Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman

“I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

Mr. Biden has a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the United States roughly in half by 2030. But it is not at all clear the policies he has put in place will get the country there.

The Inflation Reduction Act, Mr. Biden’s landmark climate law that invests $370 billion in clean energy, helps put the country on track to cut emissions by about 40 percent. But some big things still need to happen to realize those cuts, like changes to permitting to help build more transmission to connect clean energy to the grid.

Meanwhile, some of Mr. Biden’s big climate regulations on things like automobiles and power plant emissions are undergoing changes, making it even more difficult to reach that 2030 goal.

“We’ve already cut the federal deficit over a trillion dollars.”

Under Mr. Biden’s watch, the federal deficit dropped to $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2022 from $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2021 — but much of that reduction was attributed to the expiration of coronavirus relief spending. The deficit then rose in 2023, to about $1.7 trillion.

And the deficit actually grew larger than the official numbers suggest: When adjusting for a student-loan forgiveness program that was factored into the numbers, but then struck down by the Supreme Court, the deficit in 2022 was actually closer to $1 trillion and $2 trillion in 2023.

The deficit remains higher than it was before the coronavirus pandemic. In fiscal year 2019, the deficit was about $984 billion and lower in years prior. And the national debt has grown to about $34.4 trillion today, from about $27.8 trillion in January 2021.

“You know, there are 1,000 billionaires in America. You know what the average federal tax is for these billionaires? They are making great sacrifices: 8.2 percent. That’s far less than the vast majority of Americans’ pay.”

This is misleading..

Mr. Biden was referring to a White House study, released in 2021 , that used a “more comprehensive measure of income” than is currently assessed. But it is not technically the tax rate paid under existing federal law.

The report in question included gains made in unsold stocks, which are not taxed until the asset is sold. It estimated the average federal income tax rate paid by the 400 wealthiest families in the United States to be 8.2 percent.

Under the law now, the top 1 percent of earners in the United States are currently estimated to pay an average federal income tax rate of more than 20 percent, according to an analysis by the Treasury Department in November.

The White House has argued its report presents a more accurate view of the tax rate paid by the wealthy.

“Many of my friends on the other side of the aisle want to put Social Security on the chopping block.”

Republicans are not currently calling for cuts to Social Security, though some have in the past suggested changes , such as having the program be brought up for regular renewal rather than treated as mandatory spending. Many have distanced themselves from that concept.

Mr. Biden also could have been referring to a budget put forward last year by a large conservative group on Capitol Hill, the Republican Study Committee.

That plan, light on details, called for “modest changes” to the Social Security for people who are “not near retirement” — including benefit formula adjustments and shifting the retirement age for future recipients “to account for increases in life expectancy.”

But it did not outline specific figures and emphasized that it would not affect benefits “for any senior in or near retirement.”

It’s unclear whether such a proposal would gain enough support among Republican lawmakers to pass. Former President Donald J. Trump said in a video address last year that “under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security.” (He, like Mr. Biden, has also not put forward a clear plan for keeping the program solvent.)

The Republican Study Committee, for its part, said in its budget that not addressing the program’s finances will lead to cuts. Social Security’s main trust fund is currently projected to be depleted in 2033, meaning the program would then be able to pay only about three-quarters of total scheduled benefits.

“From our small towns to America’s most iconic city streets, life is getting more and more dangerous.”

— Senator Katie Britt of Alabama

Recent federal data does not support the notion that crime is on the rise. The F.B.I. ’s annual crime report for 2022 showed that murders in the United States dropped just over 6 percent compared with the year earlier and, overall, violent crime also dipped. Available F.B.I. data for the first three quarters of 2023 shows that homicides were on track to drop significantly , among declines in other categories of violent and property crime.

The Republican Party wants “families to grow. It’s why we strongly support continued nationwide access to in vitro fertilization.”

Republican lawmakers, like Ms. Britt, have largely said they support I.V.F. treatments after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children, prompting some facilities in the state to halt or restrict the treatments. But many have also suggested the issue should be left to state legislatures, rather than be pursued through federal legislation.

Asked on “CBS Mornings” whether discarding embryos should be considered murder, Speaker Mike Johnson said that while he supports I.V.F. , state legislatures — not Congress — should handle the issue. (Alabama lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday to protect I.V.F. providers from civil and criminal liability.)

One Republican senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, recently blocked a quick passage of a bill proposed by Democrats to protect access to I.V.F. and other fertility treatments nationwide. Ms. Hyde-Smith said she supported access to the treatment but argued that the bill was a “vast overreach that is full of poison pills that go way too far.”

Before the ruling in Alabama, Republicans had in recent years put forward legislation that would recognize a fertilized egg as a person entitled to equal protections under the 14th Amendment. If signed into law, it could restrict I.V.F. treatments.


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  9. Studying more strategically equals improved exam scores

    I don't understand why I didn't do well." In response, Chen would ask these students, "Describe to me how you studied for the exam." From the responses, Chen gleaned the insight that ...

  10. How to Do Homework: 15 Expert Tips and Tricks

    You finish one episode, then decide to watch another even though you've got SAT studying to do. It's just more fun to watch people make scones. D. Start the episode, but only catch bits and pieces of it because you're reading Twitter, cleaning out your backpack, and eating a snack at the same time. 5.

  11. What's the Right Amount of Homework?

    The National PTA and the National Education Association support the " 10-minute homework guideline "—a nightly 10 minutes of homework per grade level. But many teachers and parents are quick to point out that what matters is the quality of the homework assigned and how well it meets students' needs, not the amount of time spent on it.

  12. Should we really be grading homework?

    In that same April 3, 2022 update, Mathews says that providing feedback on homework, not grades is a, "a lovely image, but … is at odds with modern adolescence. The distractions of teenage ...

  13. How much time should you spend studying? Our 'Goldilocks Day' tool

    More study improves grades, but not as much as you think Over 30 years of research shows that students doing more homework get better grades. However, extra study doesn't make as much difference ...

  14. Why Homework Doesn't Seem To Boost Learning--And How It Could

    The research cited by educators just doesn't seem to make sense. If a child wants to learn to play the violin, it's obvious she needs to practice at home between lessons (at least, it's ...

  15. The Pros and Cons: Should Students Have Homework?

    It can be a challenge to really enforce the completion of homework, and students can still get decent grades without doing their homework. Extra school time does not necessarily mean better grades — quality must always come before quantity. Accurate practice when it comes to homework simply isn't reliable.

  16. Homework Pros and Cons

    Homework does not help younger students, and may not help high school students. We've known for a while that homework does not help elementary students. A 2006 study found that "homework had no association with achievement gains" when measured by standardized tests results or grades. [ 7]

  17. 12 Ways to Get Good Grades

    No matter how old we are, getting good grades is a goal for many of us. Juggling homework, tests, and projects can be tough, but with a little bit of effort and dedication, you can get (and keep) your grades up. Keep reading to learn how you can stay on top of your schoolwork and put your best foot forward during class. 1.

  18. Should We Get Rid of Homework?

    That takes homework and the acknowledgment that sometimes a student can get a question wrong and, with proper instruction, eventually get it right. Students, read the entire article, then tell us ...

  19. Does More Homework Mean Better Grades?

    What they found was that in many cases - especially at the elementary level - more homework does not necessarily mean better grades. For two years, the couple argued with teachers and ...

  20. How to Get a 4.0 GPA and Better Grades, By a Harvard Alum

    Enforce a sleep deadline every day, like 11 pm, so that you can get up by 7 am to get ready for school. Force yourself to lie in bed, not grab your phone and burrow under the covers. If you have to break this deadline, make sure you have a good reason for doing so. Cut caffeine six hours before your scheduled bedtime.

  21. Grades Have Huge Impact, But Are They Effective?

    Grades can determine so much of a child's future - the ability to get into college, qualify for scholarships and lessen student debt, land a higher paying job that will lead to a better quality of life and accelerate social mobility. At the start of the pandemic, several school districts switched to pass/fail models, but that period of ...

  22. Should Kids Get Homework?

    Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary. "Every child should be doing homework, but the ...

  23. How to Do Homework Fast and Get Better Grades in High School

    5. Don't Rely on Family and Friends. This can also be interpreted as, don't cheat. Help with homework is one thing but directly copying a classmate's homework, even if it doesn't count for a grade, is definitely cheating. It is said that you only hurt yourself when you cheat and this is totally true.

  24. The 5 Burning Questions for Districts on Grading Reforms

    Critics argue that such a change makes student grades less accurate. In some districts with revised grading scales, even missing assignments are graded at 50 percent, rather than the 0 percent ...

  25. FactChecking Biden's State of the Union

    President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 7 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chip Somodevilla ...

  26. Fact-Checking Biden's 2024 State of the Union Address

    President Biden delivered his third State of the Union address on Thursday, arguing that life in the United States had improved on his watch — a message that effectively served as a campaign ...