Doing the homework

LSE Professor Martin Anthony offers advice on formative assessment and homework grades.

Regular homework assignments will give you an opportunity to actively engage with the material covered in the lectures in a number of different ways. For example, procedural questions may be used to train you to correctly apply a particular method or technique, while more abstract ones may require you to look more critically at some ideas to ensure you that you have truly understood them rather than memorised them.

Good assignments should challenge you if they are to help you develop your skills. Therefore, do not feel that there is a requirement to turn in flawless assignments each week. Remember that homework grades are provided as a form of formative assessment, and are intended to support your learning by helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to get the most out of these assignments is to approach them in a prepared and honest fashion.

Preparation

Make sure, when attempting an assignment, that you have done all the required reading for it: homeworks cannot be a substitute for reading or attending lectures.

  • Familiarise yourself with the concepts, and review any worked examples that may be provided.
  • Identify any areas you have difficulty in understanding and make a note of these. Note that it is not uncommon for homework assignments to address the trickier part of the course.

Finally, note that homeworks are not exams: we fully expect you to have your lecture notes and textbooks available to you when attempting them, so make sure that you do!

Attempting the homework questions

Many quantitative subjects, and in particular first year courses, will provide detailed solutions to most or all of the weekly assignments.

It is possible that virtually identical solutions are available from previous years.

While it might be quite tempting to use these model solutions to aid you with your homeworks, ultimately this denies you the opportunity to tackle the problem solely with your own knowledge and abilities, and therefore obscures how much you really understand.

A poor, but honest, answer is more meaningful as it can identify the difficult parts of the course for you to focus on and therefore help your learning.

After all, it is better to do poorly in your homework assignment, where there is time to do something about it, rather than in your final examination, where there really is not.

Reflection

Once a homework is graded and reviewed in class, it is tempting to cast it to one side, particularly when next week's assignment is looming.

Take the time to review the homework grade and feedback provided by your teacher.

Note that:

  • Low grades do not necessarily indicate that you have failed in any sense, but that you had particular problems with the homework topics and that you should review these some more.
  • Falling grades do not necessarily indicate that you are somehow 'getting worse' in the subject. Quantitative courses will naturally get more complex over time, and falling grades might indicate you need to work more on the later topics, or that you need to review their foundations more.

In these cases, make sure that the feedback you receive helps you identify the reasons for your grades and thus the best way to improve your learning.

For more on reflecting and reviewing your work, see Review and reflect on your learning.

For some advice on solving quantitative problems, see Solving quantitative problems.

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