I am designing a course for the upcoming fall semester, and I am tossing around an idea in my head. While planning which topics to cover each week and how to set the pacing of the course, I figured I might as well plan ahead for all of the homework problems I'd like to assign. And if I've already done that before the semester starts ... well, Why not make every homework assignment I plan on giving to the students during the semester available on the first day?

I plan on giving one assignment per week, due on Fridays. Each assignment will have a specific due date, and students will be required to turn in those designated problems by that date (but I will, of course, accept early submissions).

Potential benefits for students:

  • They can see the "story arc" for the course, beyond just a list of topics in the syllabus (which might have terminology they don't understand anyway)
  • They might be more motivated to engage with the course, seeing the kinds of problems they'll be able to solve later on
  • They can get started on problems ahead of time, alleviating time pressure during future busy times of the semester
  • They can set their own pace, rather than waiting for each week's problems to be "released"

Potential downsides for students:

  • Seeing the difficult problems posed later on, or just seeing the sheer number of problems, might demotivate some daunted students
  • They might feel like standards will be higher, knowing that every problem has been available for so long
  • Some students might get distracted from the current topic of the course by working on later problems too far ahead of time

Potential benefits for me, as the instructor:

  • While introducing a topic in class, I can point to specific problems they can now solve with this knowledge (instead of vaguely saying, "You'll see this later on, trust me")
  • I anticipate more office hours visitors as the students work on the problems ahead of time and realize they need help
  • I'll have a set schedule and can use this as an impetus to keep the desired pace of the course going throughout the semester

Potential downsides for me:

  • Having such a rigid schedule might be too restrictive, and small tweaks to the pacing/content of the course will be difficult to implement. (For instance, I would feel uncomfortable adjusting an assignment if some students had already started working on those problems.)
  • Might this lead to more student collusion?
  • It might be difficult to keep students on task if they're generally disinterested in the current topic, for whatever reason

Main questions:

  • Is this worthwhile?

  • Do you have personal experience with doing this? How did it go? Do you have any suggestions for how to do this well?

  • If you'd recommend against it, why? What are the major downsides that outweigh the benefits?

  • Even if you don't have direct experience, do you have any items to add to the lists of benefits/downsides that might help me make this decision?

(For reference, I'm planning this for an introduction to combinatorics and graph theory, a 3000-level course, so mostly 3rd and 4th year students, and almost surely entirely math majors. If your answer takes this into consideration, even better, but this is not a requirement for a good answer!)

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    $\begingroup$ Some students post their assignments on question and answer sites like StackExchange so that others can answer the assignments for them. There is a bigger chance that they will get answers this way if you hand out all the assignments at the start than if you hand out an assignment a meeting before it is due. $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ Another benefit you didn't list is the additional trust/confidence students have that you as the teacher know what you are doing. Having a plan for the semester gives your students much more trust in this. It makes you look prepared and helps show you care - which obviously is not always true at all for professors... $\endgroup$
    – enderland
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ I find what works best for me in service courses is to pass out a list of all homework problems for the semester, organized by the section of the textbook from which they come. Then each week, I assign which sections students must do problems from for the following week. This gives me the flexibility to adapt the schedule to whatever pace we have (and deal with things like class cancellations that happen unexpectedly from time to time due to weather or other circumstances), but it also allows the student to know what is coming and to work ahead if they anticipate the need to do so. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Is it good to have solutions of homework published? $\endgroup$
    – user19239
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 23:01

5 Answers 5


I always organize my courses with the totality of the course set from the outset whenever I can. I see this as being closely tied to your question concerning homeworks assigned.

The benefits I see:

  1. Keeps me and my students on track. The semester invariably gets busy, it's nice to have a go-to place where everything is set from the outset. I can always tell the students to go look at my "course planner". This is technically distinguished from the syllabus which I am bound by various university regulations to clutter with useless information no one cares about. My course planner is usually like 2 pages at most with a spreadsheet with the day by day for the class including both reading from the text, my notes and upcoming assignments.
  2. When test time comes, I've already told them where the test gets to and what they should have done to prepare. If they happen to be absent it doesn't matter. It's all in writing and they have no excuse (well, no me-based excuse let's say)
  3. Organization of the course. If you organize the whole course in one sitting there will probably be more continuity in exposition than there might be otherwise. At least, that is the case for me. For others, it might not matter.
  4. Allows students to work ahead this is a somewhat rare event. But, in principle, if a student was like me, they might want more homework to attack if they finish what is due soon. Or, if they have some family reunion or honeymoon etc... they can work ahead to not destroy their semester.
  5. Unless you're making your own homework solutions are available online already. It doesn't matter if you give them a week or 12 weeks when the solution-pdf is just a google search away. Anecdotally, my colleagues who make no course planner have the same trouble with textbook based problems. For problems I write, the trouble is much more with bad group work. I encourage working together, but, I insist they write their own solution. I am often troubled by the group apathy.

In many course delivery systems there is this idea the course unfolds as it progresses. As a student this would have been quite annoying. I mean, am I an adult? Can I work towards a clearly defined goal, or do I need to be tricked into climbing a hill half as high before I climb the rest? The students will respect your honesty and see the hard work and care you've placed in the course from the outset. It has value.

Words of caution:

  • do include the word "tentative" somewhere prominent.
  • use your best judgement when test time comes. Students rarely complain about pushing a test back a week and covering new material. Yet, if you plan to cover new material before the Test officially this is greeted differently.

Here are links to a few of my past plans:

Linear Algebra

Differential Equations

Physics I

And, for a non-example, since this was something I updated as the course progressed:

Elementary Differential Geometry


I did this for an introductory calculus course at a US state university. My reason was that I wanted to assign more homework than my colleagues typically do. On the first day of class I warned students that there was a lot of homework, explained why I think it's important, and told the students that they could see exactly what was expected of them.

The same semester, I also decided to promise that all the exam questions would be taken, essentially randomly, from the homework. Again, my rationale was to set a standard of being tough, but fair and highly predictable.

This avoided nasty surprises on the students' part, and I was pleased with the results: the students (mostly) did the work, kept a positive attitude, and gave me good teaching evaluations.

I should also mention that there were small modifications to the homework as the semester went on, but just deletions.

This worked because I had taught calculus at the same university before, and had a near-exact plan for what I wanted to cover. As far as I could tell there were no disadvantages, and I would certainly do this again. However, I would personally not try this if I were designing a new course from scratch: as you say, it would make it difficult to switch gears if needed.

  • $\begingroup$ Exam questions from the homeworks sounds like a bad idea $\endgroup$
    – whoisit
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 10:25

It seems you've done a good analysis of the student <--> course and the instructor <--> course relationships with regards to your proposal. One factor you may not have considered is the student <--> instructor relationship.

Posting homework ahead of time in this way will make students feel that you are a careful planner, but also inflexible and rigid. You will be seen as less creating a learning experience for them and more as a conduit for knowledge, such as a talking textbook. I see such a policy as being mildly negative in this regard.

Since in the U.S. there are typically student evaluations in which the students share their satisfaction with the instructor and course, such a policy in my view would have a small but negative impact on your career. I would not recommend it; instead I suggest using the creativity and enthusiasm for teaching that you clearly have, to find ways to better engage and delight the students.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding a talking textbook, this I think is the biggest problem. Many will see this homework list as all they need and forsake going to class (or forsake paying attention, if attendence is mandatory). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 2:53

I teach at community college. I often publish the homework problems at the beginning of the semester, listed by section.

I have never had a student work ahead (that I know of). And I have had a few students who loved math, asked deep questions, and were interested in doing extra. I don't think that is likely to happen, except in very rare instances.

One benefit for me (and my students, really) has been that I don't have to tell them the homework. I used to forget sometimes to tell them what homework to do, and they would do none. That got us behind. Now I tell them, whatever sections of the textbook we work on in class, those sections of homework are due the next day (or at the end of the week).

My students know that I am completely willing to change my plans depending on what they bring to class (questions, misunderstandings, stuck points), so I know that no one will take my homework list as being inflexible.

Since the problems are just numbers on pages, they do not help students to see the "story arc" of the course. I have considered giving them a practice final at the beginning for that purpose. I do talk about this arc in my first lecture, and repeatedly during the course.


I am dismayed that nobody has mooted students who work part time, or who suffer from chronic conditions or disabilities? They may need to work and submit homework ahead of schedule, and the extra time. This posting ahead of schedule can accommodate disabilities!

I quote UC Santa Cruz's Disability Resource Center on Legal Obligation for Accomodations.

There are two federal laws that protect students with disabilities that protects them from discrimination and ensure they have equal access to all aspects of university life.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): "prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation." "A public entity shall make reasonable modifications in policies or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity."

  • Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States... shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance... Program or activity is defined as... a college, university, or other post-secondary institution, or a public system of higher education."

Quest University in B.C. Canada on Accessibility + Equity.

Quest affirms the right of applicants to Quest and students of Quest who are academically qualified and who have a protected characteristic within the meaning of the Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210 to be welcomed as equal members of the Quest community; to have full access to services Quest customarily provides to applicants and students; and, on matriculating, to participate fully and freely in student life at Quest.


Students experiencing chronic medical conditions, mobility limitations, disabilities, learning exceptionalities, mental health concerns, and other such protected characteristics may qualify for special academic or non-academic adjustments (accommodations).

Disability Rights UK on Adjustments for disabled students and apprentices.

If you have a disability, health condition or specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, you may need certain facilities, assistive technology or support services to enable you to make the most of your studies or training. This can include alternative exam or assessment arrangements. The Equality Act 2010 calls the arrangements that your education or training provider makes to meet these needs ‘reasonable adjustments’. For more information about the Equality Act please see section 7.

University of Dundee's Academic Adjustments for Disabled Students Policy

3.1 Under the Equality Act (2010), Universities are required to make reasonable adjustments in anticipation of, and in response to, disabled students’ needs and must ensure that disabled students are not treated less favourably than other students for reasons relating to their disability. These duties apply to all services and facilities the University provides for students, including all aspects of learning and teaching.

As this is a duty to disabled students generally, it applies “regardless of whether the education provider knows that a particular person is disabled or whether it currently has disabled students”.


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