How to balance the competing demands of homework and revision

Through the autumn and spring term every year, many students and parents ask me how to balance homework and revision. Students in years 11 and 13 find the competing demands of homework and revision particularly difficult to cope with in the build-up to mock exams.

In this blog post, I'm going to explain how you should achieve this tricky balance, with the long-term aim of achieving your academic best.

How to balance homework and revision

What's the point of homework?

There are three key reasons that homework is set. They are to:

  • Promote independent learning
  • Extend and deepen learning
  • Learn what there isn't time to cover in class

It may also be necessary to complete coursework style tasks and revision tasks may also be set as homework.

What's more important, homework or revision?

The answer to this question depends on which point in the school year you're asking it.

Broadly, homework is far more important than revision at the beginning of a school year – because you're still learning new stuff and part of the purpose of homework is to reinforce this learning, or, in some cases, to teach yourself something for the first time. However, at the end of the school year, in the build up to exams, revision is far more important than homework.

You should see the balance shift between homework and revision over the course of the year – and by the time you get to February half-term or Easter, often most of the homework tasks you're set will actually be revision tasks.

You can find out more about what you can expect at different points of the school year in my Ultimate Guide to the Academic Year.

The order of priority for revision and homework and other study tasks

Ordinarily, the order of priority goes like this:

  1. Homework
  2. Revision
  3. Further reading or other supercurricular activities to deepen your knowledge.

If there is also a piece of coursework or NEA to throw into the mix, this should be given a high priority. Your teachers for the subject that you've got coursework for should be making allowances for how much time this is taking you by setting you fewer, or no, conventional homework tasks.

If homework's more important, what should you do about revision?

Revision is best done little and often. So, the best thing to do is fit your revision around the edges of your homework in the best way that you can.

In The Extraordinaries Club, I teach students how to create a weekly routine. At GCSE, for students studying 10 subjects, this will mean they should be doing 15 hours of study time each week.

Within those 15 hours, students should be doing homework until it's all done. They can then use the remainder of their 15 hours to do revision.

This may just look like five minutes of revision per day (but it's amazing how this mounts up over months), or even 30 minutes per day.

Create a strategic plan for your revision

Fitting your revision around your homework doesn't sound very strategic, does it? But, if you spend a couple of hours creating a strategic plan for your revision, this is actually quite an easy thing to do.

In my Revision Kickstarter Workshops, I guide students through:

  • Getting a list of everything they need to know for each subject they're studying
  • Prioritising the things on that list so they're focused on revising the topics that will make the most difference to their overall grade
  • Working out which revision techniques work best for them so that they don't waste their precious revision time on revision techniques that don't work
  • How to make the five-minute revision challenge work for them
  • Using past papers in the most effective way possible.

Revising for mock exams

Sometimes in an exam year, e.g. in the build-up to mocks, students are going to have to increase their work rate if they really want to do well, investing a few extra hours. Most mocks are strategically timed just after a school holiday e.g. October half-term or the Christmas holidays, which makes this easier for students to do. And, a considerate school will ease up on the homework in anticipation of mock exams.

There's no doubt that it's tough, but the students who consistently stick to their weekly routine, do their homework and fit the revision in that they can will be much better prepared for mocks. It's really about mindset – acknowledging the situation and going with it, rather than trying to ignore or fight it, which too many teens try to do.

Homework is more important than revision

The big message you should take from this article is that homework is more important than revision, apart from in the immediate build up to exams.

The rest of the time, fit revision around the edges of your homework.

If you'd like more help with how to revise effectively, check out my next Revision Kickstarter Workshop. One happy mum, who's year 11 son signed up said:

“Wow! My son sat attentively throughout Lucy's workshop this morning scribbling notes and commenting repeatedly “that's brilliant”  “oh right!” “good idea” and the like.  That was the best money I have ever spent!  To hear him feed back how much more confident he feels now he has a framework within which to work, how he feels that snatching 5 minutes here and there is valuable and that he hasn't left it too late is simply wonderful.  Hopefully some of that stress and frustration will start to fade away!”


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