Homework and Responsibility

Every semester, a few students end up shocked or surprised by their final marks, until I remind them that homework was part of the course.  Forgetting your homework is no excuse for not doing it. You, too, can be responsible when it comes to homework, and it will be reflected in your grades!

Here are some tips:


Make sure that the Header of every page of homework you hand in contains your name, student number, the date, the name of the professor receiving it, the title of the project, and a page number. All of this information is necessary and important. You can access the Header section of your document in most word processors by looking under the View or Insert menu.


Most professors have to deal constantly with a lot of paper. The best way to make sure your homework is handled without mixups is to staple your paper in the top left-hand corner of the page. Don’t use plastic folders or covers unless your professor specifies it. Don’t fold the corners: you should always staple, or maybe paperclip, your homework for your professor.


Different professors will have different preferences, but in English-language courses, the usual formatting expectations are these:

  • Font: use a monospace font at 12 point size. (I strongly prefer Courier New.) I can recognize 12-point at a  glance, and will know if you used 10 or 11 point, or 13 point. I will return these to you unread, and you will be a week late. So please submit something with a 12-point font. Treat my eyes nicely.
  • Line spacing should be double-spaced, NOT 1.5 spaced or 3x spaced. See Format-Paragraph for the settings for line spacing. With anything less than double-spaced, you will receive exactly zero comments on your essay.
  • All margins should be 2.5 cm, or 1 inch. Headers should be at 1.25 cm (or 0.5 inches) from the edge of the page.
  • Place page numbers in the header of your document. Top right is the appropriate placement.
  • Headers should be in the same font as the rest of the document, and should contain your name, your professor’s name (preceded by the word Prof. in case someone finds the essay lost), your student number, the title (or part of the title followed by ellipsis (…), and the course name.
  • Paragraphs should be indented using TAB, not SPACE. This makes them much easier to read.
  • Text alignment should be left justified, not LR justified or any other format. I showed you how to do this in class, as well as how to access the left-justify button if it’s hidden on your installation of Word. (It often is in Korean PCs, for some reason.)
  • Your Bibliography page (where you list your sources) should be on a separate page at the end of your essay.

This advice should not only be followed for essays: it should be followed for all written homework in any of your classes.

Most people learn this the hard way. When you start your homework at the last minute, it is almost always of a lower quality than it would have been if you had worked on it ahead of time. Good homework takes time to complete. You need to spend time preparing or researching, working on it, reworking (or rewriting) it, polishing it, and then formatting it for submission to your professor.

If you start at the last minute, you throw away most of the process. Your grade will almost always be lower than it could have been. The best way to avoid this is to set up a homework schedule — using, say, a daily calendar — for yourself and stick to it.


When you are not sure what you need to do for homework, ask your professor when the homework is assigned in class. If you don’t understand, probably others are confused too. Talk to classmates if necessary, but remember: it’s your job to make sure you know what you need to do, and then do it.


This means, your homework should be ready at the beginning of the class for the day on which it is due. You should not still be printing your homework somewhere when class begins. The best way to avoid this is to make sure your homework is finished at least one day early. If you can achieve that, you will be in good shape for the semester, or at least will have more time for proofreading.


Remember, as an adult it is up to you to make sure that your homework gets done. Making a schedule was mentioned above as a good way to take control of your homework. If you are required to write regularly on a website or class blog, you can set your web browser on your computer at home to open to that page, to remind you to visit it regularly.

You can also use online services like 43things or Google Calendar (or similar Korean web page services) to schedule regular reminders that will be emailed to you. Many students use their email accounts to store copies of their homework, or to remind themselves to do an assignment by a certain date.

If you miss class, don’t bother your professor with questions about missed homework — first, check with classmates to find out what you missed, and what homework was assigned. If you still don’t understand the homework assignment after discussing it with a few classmates, then make sure to approach the professor after class, in his or her office hours, or by (polite) email.

(Read more about writing polite email to your professors here.)

When you are working in groups, take responsibility for your duties. Often, professors will use peer-evaluation to find out which group members made a real contribution and which group members did little or nothing to contribute. Even when professors don’t use formal peer evaluations, the truth usually comes out eventually. If you are in a group and don’t do your share of the work, you’re taking a big risk. Meanwhile, if you try your best to be a leader, motivator, and helper, your group will achieve a better result and it will be good for everyone’s grade.


Finally, and this is a very important point, don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism should have been discussed in your class. If it has not been, then please ask your professor to explain it to you.

You can also read more about plagiarism and how to avoid it here.


Many students ask, “How many pages should I write?” This is alright when you are asking for an approximate number of pages expected. But often, students ask this to know how many pages is the minimum required for the assignment.

You should never think of schoolwork in terms of doing the absolute minimum of work required.

Writing the minimum amount of words is a major sign that you don’t care about your homework, your learning, or the class. Putting in the minimum effort will get you a minimum grade, that is, a D. When you are supposed to hand in a page of homework and you write only two lines, you deserve an F. When you hand in five pages because that’s how long it takes for you to honestly, seriously answer the questions asked, explore the idea you’re exploring, or discuss whatever issue the class is working with, then you look like you’re making a real effort.

Making a real effort also means making your work enjoyable and easy to read. A first draft is never easy to read. Spend the extra time to rewrite your work, edit it, to spell-check it, proofread it, print it on a decent printer so that it is legible, and staple it. And do all that before the beginning of class.


Make an effort to say something interesting in your homework. The more interesting your homework is, the more pleasurable and memorable it will be for the professor handling it. One of the secrets to being an A-level student is to be consistently thoughtful, interesting, and thought-provoking. If you make your professor say, “Wow! What an interesting idea!” while reading your homework, your chances at an A+ just got better.

And in fact, if you make an effort to make your homework interesting, you might even discover a way of making homework fun and exciting for you. When you do this, you’ll definitely do better in school than you ever imagined.


I try to write comments and feedback on the majority of student work submitted to me. This takes an enormous amount of time and energy. If your professor goes to the time of writing feedback comments on your homework, read them. There will usually be good advice that will help score better on later assignments. This information is much more valuable than the grade, because it will help you do better on subsequent assignments.


If your professor gives you back homework, keep it all together in a single file at home. Don’t throw away the assignments, in case there is a bookkeeping problem or the professor accidentally records the wrong grade beside your name for a given assignment. You may need all of your homework on file to clear up such a problem, and besides, you can review the professor’s comments the next time you take a class with him or her, to ensure you get better grades from the first assignment onward.

All of these suggestions will help you to stay in control of your homework, and enjoy a more productive university life. Good luck!