Why practice questions may actually make students go backwards…

There are probably plenty of people who will say that too much homework is bad. And there are plenty others who will fiercely proclaim that there is never too much study.

But this isn’t about how much study a student does. This is about what kind of study they do. 

It’s pretty common knowledge that practice questions are the bread and butter of Maths study. I mean, what else is there? (I joke, there are stacks of other things you can do. Check out the article here if you want to see some)

My point here is that all practice questions are created equal. There are questions that are far more valuable than others. But many students lose far too much time on the easy questions. Which means that by the time that they get to the ones that hold real value, they’re burnt out. Or they’re out of time. Or, worst of all, they just don’t care anymore.

Practice questions are making my students go backwards

Believe it or not, it’s true. Especially at the higher levels. And once I started digging, I quickly figured out why.

Here’s the basic outline of a conversation I recently had during a video call with a Year 12 student who is studying Methods.

HER: I’m just not finding enough time to finish all my exercises AND revise the content from earlier in the year. 

ME: Well, how much time do you think you would need to do everything you want to do?

HER: I was thinking about spending an hour a day on Methods. 

ME:  O.o

HER: Is that too much?

ME: Definitely. How come it’s taking so long to do your exercise questions?

HER: Because every exercise huge!

ME: … have you thought about doing less?

HER (in her head, I imagine): *Did the maths tutor just tell me to do less Maths homework?*

Less is more

I did, in fact, go on to tell this student to do fewer Maths questions. But obviously, that’s not the end of the conversation. We quickly learnt that the reason exercises were taking so long was because there was a lot of time lost on what I call “pointless questions”.

Remember this quote from the first X-Men movie?

Why do ask questions to which you already know the answer?

Asking those questions is a waste of time and energy, right?

Well, answering those questions is equally pointless.

And every exercise in a Maths textbook usually has 30-40 of those questions. 

Questions that don’t actually challenge a student in any way, don’t teach them anything and provide no value. Yet, that is where 80% of a student’s time goes. Which is simply a waste. A student could gain the same value from 5 high-quality questions as they could from 50 low-quality ones.

Quality beats quantity, every time

It’s true of absolutely everything, and Maths practice questions are no exceptions. So next time your thinking about homework (whether you’re a student, parent or a teacher) have a think about what students will actually get out of the question set. With a little strategy, students can gain huge value from much less of a grind.

And before you start getting angry about how I’m encouraging laziness among students, please check out this video:

 

I’m not. I’m encouraging efficiency. Which is this day and age, is much more important than the grind.

Agree? Disagree? Send me message and let me know what you think!

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