Optional homework: a trap to set you up for failure

October 11, 2017 — by Vivien Zhang

The first day I walked into my AP Statistics classroom, I had already imagined the countless hours of homework I’d have to do for the next year. As I read the syllabus, I realized that I had been given the choice of optional homework. While I hate doing homework, I was immediately suspicious.

The choice of having optional homework is mainly offered in math courses such as Trig Pre-Calc Honors and AP Statistics but is also available in some history and language classes. In these classes, homework tends to account for a measly 5-10 percent of a student’s overall performance in the class, so many students think that all the effort put into homework each night may not be worth the grade. In fact, if you can earn near perfect scores or extra credit on your tests, your homework category could actually drag down your grade. So why not take the alternative optional homework?

Especially for math, the point of homework is to prepare students for tests and other assessments. It acknowledges the lesson we’ve been taught since we were little: Practice makes perfect. As I stared at the choice before me, I could not stop questioning why I had been given the choice of not doing my homework. My conclusion? It’s most definitely a trap.

From experience, I have found that when I don’t do my homework either because I simply forget or choose to make it up later because of other assignments, I go to class the next day not knowing what is being talked about. Classwork alone just isn’t enough for me to fully understand the material and apply it to other problems or situations.

Many teachers are also strongly aware that homework is essential to understanding difficult material. They know that students can be lazy, especially senior year (because who wants to do homework when you have college essays to write), so the students who choose the optional homework choice are sometimes set up for failure. If you select optional homework, you’ll also be less motivated to learn during class because you have nothing to apply it to later other than the test.

While there are a few very select students (read: math geniuses) who readily take this option because they can easily ace the tests without doing the homework, the majority of the students can’t. This option should only be available for those considered to be “elite” in their subject.

Nevertheless, teachers do state that if your grade falls below a C- you will be required to turn in homework. Unfortunately, at a C-, your grade has already been neglected to the point of no return, which still makes the no-homework option a bad choice for most.

Teachers should either revoke this option or make the threshold a much higher grade, such as a B. While teachers are trying to be generous with this offer and it is the student’s fault for choosing it, those who choose this path are more likely heading in the direction of a less comprehensive knowledge of the subject.


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