All of those problem sets that you get for class – the ones that take FOREVER to finish – how do we get them done more quickly?
In this video I talk about how to do homework FAST.
I think at some point we’ve all wanted to figure out how to spend less time on homework and more times on things that actually matter to us – like our projects, jobs and internships, and enjoying ourselves. But how do we do it? Is it just a matter of getting organized, having a homework space, and just “sitting down to do it” like your typical study website recommends?
Ohhhhhh, now I get it. It makes sense now. You just have to sit down and do your work… Please.
Instead, here’s my two-pronged approach that will actually get you results in terms of getting your work done faster.
A quick caveat before we jump in: there are no magic bullets. You’re not going to be able to understand everything right away coming off of lecture and jump into your homework sets and bust through them like some sort of finely tuned super computer. Yes, Limitless was a very cool movie, I know, but this is reality. You’re going to need to put in the work, but I’ll show you how to do it so that you can got the biggest bang for your buck and not waste your time.
Jump into solving problems as quickly as possible
First off, I think a lot of the time we get caught up in the process of what we should be doing when it comes to studying in college. You do some reading before you class, you go to class, you take the notes. You finish up the notes, you come home, you start your homework, your review your notes, you read the textbook. Then you do that over and over and over again until you get to the exam and cross your fingers I can actually solve the problems on the exam. More often than not, we’re pretty much lost when it comes to solving difficult problems, and it takes a ton of time to do it that way.
The problem is, this formula that we’re used to is incomplete. It takes you directly from the hearing information for the first time and then somehow magically remembering how to do it, to being thrown far into the depths of difficult problems, getting stuck and frustrated. It doesn’t really leave us with any high quality understanding that we can then take to the exams, let alone save us time by being able to solve problems more efficiently. Instead of spending all your time jumping through all these hoops, my first recommendation is to jump into solving problems as quickly as possible.
Now, I covered this briefly in my How To Avoid Falling Behind In School video, but let’s establish this as our one baseline thing that we can do right off the bat to start getting our homework problems done faster. Don’t feel like you have to read through your notes or you have to perfectly understand exactly what equations to use, what assumptions to make before starting to solve problems. Because as a general principle, the quicker you start on solving problems, the faster you’re going to be able to get them done.
Plus, as a side benefit, like I’ve talked about before, the research shows that the quicker you start testing yourself by jumping into solving problems, even if you’re not doing it right, even if you don’t get it right the first time around, it’s going to help you remember it better the next time you do it. That’s saving us time more in the future.
But what do I do when I sit down to do my homework and I’m completely stumped??
Now I know the immediate next question is:
“What the hell do I do when I sit down to do my homework and I’m just completely stumped, and I have no idea what to do?”
Then I spend all of this time trying to go back through my notes or try to look it up online, trying to figure out how to actually solve the problem. This ends up taking forever, and is pretty much what I end up doing anyway, and is why it takes so long in the first place. Okay, yes, that’s a fair point. But, here’s where we get into a little bit more nuanced view of how to approach the problem solving process when you’re actually doing your homework.
Like we said, a lot of the time we get stuck and then we continue to bang our head against the wall trying to work through these problems. Maybe we don’t have that good of a sense of how to do them yet, but we’re trying to power through and grind it out. Maybe you get stuck and you type in a problem to Google. You pull it up on a forum or something that gives you a step by step solution and viola, there’s your answer.
We go ahead and take that problem solving method, plug it into our problem, we get some sort of final answer and then we’re off to the next problem. Then the cycle repeats itself because we get stuck again, because we didn’t really understand what we did the first time around. This shallow level of understanding that we get from trying to shortcut the problem solving process actually makes it so that we take longer to get our homework done.
Slow down so that you can go fast
To combat this, the other thing that we want to keep in mind when we’re doing our homework problems is this idea of slowing down so that we can go fast. Now I’ll repeat that because it sounds completely counterintuitive, but we want to slow down so that you can go fast.
What does this mean? It means that when you hit that point in the problem where you get stuck and have no idea what to do, don’t try to work it out quickly. You want to stop, pause, take a step back, and switch into questioning detective mode to figure out what’s going on here that I don’t understand.
When we start off a problem initially, we’re in this “answer-focused” thought process. We’re trying to remember what to do, what equation to use, how to get to the next step. We’re very focused on finding the answer, but the problem is when we hit the point where we don’t know the answer, this answer focus actually prevents us from figuring out what to do. This is why we want to switch into this questioning mode of trying to understand why it’s the case that we don’t understand it, what we’re missing, things of that nature.
This “questioning mode” is actually the basis of this whole Reverse Learning thing that I talk about all the time. What we’re doing here is asking questions that lead us in the direction of understanding what concepts are at play, or what variables mean what in this situation, or what equations am I using, or why am I using these things in this particular situation. This is what you need to spend your time on when you get stuck when you’re solving your problems during homework. It’s going to allow you to develop a deeper understanding of what’s going on, which will then allow you to go much, much faster when you jump back into solving problems because you’ll actually understand the principles at play instead of just memorizing some specific answer to a specific problem.
For example, take this integration problem (from Paul’s Online Math Notes).
I could be going through it, get stuck, and have no idea how to solve it because I have never done this “u-substitution” thing before. And then I could go over here and type it into Google and look at Yahoo answers for the specific type of problem I’m working on, and then move on.
Or I could really dig in and try to understand what are we doing when we’re substituting this section of variables for u, and then doing all this other calculus on the side, and then plugging stuff back in. What it is that we’re actually doing? How do I pick what the u is and what the du is, and how does this help me in different situations? Maybe I have two exponents or maybe I have an exponent and a trig function, or maybe I have a natural log, so on and so forth…
Like I said, this deeper understanding will not only benefit you long-term, so that when you get to the exam you’ll actually be able to deal with those curveballs thrown at you, but it’s also going to help you short-term because chances are the next five problems that you have to do on your homework set are going to involve the same principles that went into solving that first problem. The better you understand how to do those in this particular integral, it will help you to knock through those next four integral problems that much faster.
Okay, that’s my recommendation, Ashley. To get your homework problems done faster, first jump into the problems themselves as quickly as possible, and don’t spend too much time rereading through your notes or going through the textbook examples before getting started. Then, once you have started doing the problems, as soon as you get stuck, apply this idea of go slow to go fast to the problem that you’re working on. Put in the time and the work now to develop this deep, high quality understanding that will help you solve the rest of your homework problems faster and help you solve future homework problems faster.
You can also view the video above on Youtube.