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I spend way too much time on homework. I find that I eventually get the material, but this goes after perhaps 7-8 hours wasted daily. I tend to get bogged down by the details of readings, etc.

What is a way to stay consistently on track, moving quickly, and finishing homework ruthlessly and efficiently?

I know some people simply do not do homework that is not graded, and I don't see how it is possible to do well in a course if you don't keep up with the concepts presented in class and reinforced by the homework. Therefore, not doing it is not an option for me.

Any suggestions?

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    You spend 7-8 hours learning. That means you are a full-time student. There is nothing wrong with that. Had you managed to get things done in 2-3 hours that would mean that you are not using all your time for studying. – Boris Bukh Sep 17 '14 at 0:49
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    I agree with Boris. I've found that those people who power through stuff aren't learning it very well. The only way to learn a topic is to spend time with it. Sometimes when things 'come naturally' to other people its because they have already seen similar material, so 7-8 hours now may be hundreds of hours saved later. – Micah Sep 17 '14 at 1:36
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I have to disagree the first couple comments, "7-8 hours wasted daily" certainly does not sound normal. The amount of time is not necessarily an issue, but it is far longer than I ever spent on homework and if you feel that you are being inefficient you're most likely correct. It sounds to me like you are indeed getting bogged down in unnecessary things or (perhaps more likely) just struggling to piece all the little things together into the big picture.

A big part of higher education is learning how to learn efficiently. In your career and in life, this will most likely be much more useful than the actual material you cover in your courses.

I think there are a few things you can do that might help:

  1. When reading a textbook focus on items that are formatted in a way that stands out. Textbook authors format material to emphasize critical and major points. A good lecturer will also make an effort to highlight the big picture topics and build up the details around them.
  2. You might try studying or reviewing notes with a classmate before starting homework assignments. Ask for their insights on what the most important things are and try to formulate your own judgments as well.
  3. Visit office hours. Ask conceptual questions about the topic at hand. You might also consider explaining to the TA or professor that you're having a hard time picking out the crucial material from the details and ask if they can help you focus in on the key topics.

It has been my experience that many students get bogged down in peripheral details when learning new topics, not seeing the forest for the trees. It has always helped me to ask myself what the most critical concepts are and then be sure to understand the details as they support these concepts. Hopefully, with practice, you will soon improve at picking out the key concepts and building a mental framework around them rather than getting bogged down in all the details from the start.

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