Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It


Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It

by Dr. Jennifer Davis Bowman

That was homework?’

‘That’s due today?’

‘But… it was the weekend.’

We hear a lot of stuff when students don’t do their homework.  Our cup runneth over with FBI-proof, puppy-dog eyes, procrastinated-filled homework excuses.  What we don’t hear, is the research on how to excuse-proof our classrooms for homework.  It seems, we are in the dark about engaging students in the homework process.  Specifically, what contributes to homework resistance?  How can we better support students in not only completing, but learning (gasp) from assigned homework?

To answer these questions, I examined a number of research articles.  I focused on interviews/surveys with classrooms that struggled with homework completion (to identify triggers).  Also, I used data from classrooms with high homework achievement (to identify habits from the homework pros).   Here are 6 research-backed reasons for why students resist homework- plus tips to help overcome them.

6 Reasons Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It

Students resist homework if…

Fact #1 The homework takes too long to complete.

In a study of over 7000 students (average age of 13), questionnaires revealed that when more than 60 minutes of homework is provided, students resisted.  In addition, based on standardized tests, more than 60 minutes of homework, did not significantly impact test scores.

Teaching Tip:  Ask students to record how long it takes to complete homework assignments for one week.  Use the record to negotiate a daily homework completion goal time.  As an acceptable time frame is established, this allows the student to focus more on the task.

Fact #2 The value of homework is misunderstood

Students erroneously believe that homework only has academic value.  In a study of 25 teachers, interviews showed that teachers’ use of homework extended beyond the traditional practice of academic content.  For example, 75% of these teachers report homework as an affective tool (to measure learning motivation, confidence, and ability to take responsibility).

Teaching Tip:  Communicate with students the multiple purposes for homework.  Reveal how homework has both short-term (impact on course grade) and long-term benefits (enhance life skills).  Identify specific long-term homework benefits that students may be unaware of such as organization, time management and goal setting.

Fact #3 The assignment is a one-size fits all.

In a study of 112 undergraduate chemistry students, the learners report interest in different types of homework.  For example 62% of students are satisfied with online assignments (this format provided immediate feedback and allowed multiple attempts), whereas, 41% are satisfied with traditional paper assignments (this format had no computer printing issues and it is a style most familiar).

Teaching Tip:  Assess student learning style with the use of learning inventories.  Differentiate homework to account for student interest and learning preference.  Educator, Carol Tomlinson provides examples of low-prep differentiation assignments that include negotiated criteria, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ projects, and choices of texts.  As teacher Cathy Vatterott emphasizes in The Five Hallmarks of of Good Homework, consider placing the differentiation responsibility on the learner.  For instance, ask students to ‘create your own method to practice the key terms’.

Fact #4 Feedback is not provided.

Acknowledging homework attempts matter. A survey of 1000 students shows that learners want recognition for attempting and completing homework (versus just getting the homework correct).

Also, students desire praise for their homework effort.  In a study of 180 undergraduate students, almost half of the learners agreed that teacher recognition of ‘doing a good job’ was important to them.

Teaching Tip:  Expand homework evaluation to include points for completing the assignment.  In addition, include homework feedback into lesson plans.  One example is to identify class time to identify homework patterns with the class (student struggles and successes).  Another example, is to give students opportunities to compare their homework answers with a peer (students can correct or change answers while obtaining feedback).

Fact #5 The homework is not built into classroom assessments. 

Students want their homework to prepare them for assessments.  When surveyed, 85% of students report they would complete more homework if the material was used on tests and quizzes.

Teaching Tip:  Allow students to select 1 homework question each unit that they wish to see on the test.  Place student selections in a bowl/lottery and pick a 2-3 of their responses to include in each assessment.

Fact #6 Students don’t have a homework plan.

It’s unsurprising that making provisions for homework, increases the likelihood that homework is completed.  In interviews with ninth graders, 43% of the students that completed all of their homework indicated that they had a plan.  Their homework plan consisted of the time needed to execute the work, meet deadlines, and follow daily completion routines.  Amazingly, the students with a plan complete homework in spite of their dislike for the assignment.

Teaching Tip:  Help students develop a homework plan.  For example, you may show examples and non-examples, offer templates for home-work to-do lists, or challenge students to identify phone Apps that help track homework planning procedures.


  • Bempechat, J., Li, J., Neier, S. B., Gillis, C. A., & Holloway, S. D. (2011).  The homework experience:  Perceptions of low-income youth.  Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2).
  • Kuklansky, Shosberger, & EsHach (2016). Science teachers’ voice on homework beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.  International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 14(1).
  • Letterman, D. (2013).  Students’ perception of homework assignments and what influences their ideas.  Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 10(2).
  • Malik, K., Martinez, N., Romero, J., Schubel, S., & , P. A. (2014).  Mixed method study of online and written organic chemistry homework.  Journal of Chemistry Education, 91(11).
  • Science Daily (2015).  How Much Math, Science Homework is too Much?
  • Vandenbussche, J., Griffiths, W., & Scherrer, C. (2014).  Students’ perception of homework policies in lower and intermediate level mathematic courses.  Mathematics and Computer Education, 48(12).

Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It