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How much homework should you be doing at high school?

Discussions about the merits of homework and how much or how little you should be doing have been raging for decades, but there is no one definitive answer about what the optimal amount of homework is or should be.

But you’re not here to hear how hard it is to work out how much homework and study you should be doing, you just want to know how much is enough.

We’re going to get to that in just a minute, but there are a few things to cover off first…

  1. Excessive studying is unlikely to dramatically increase your academic outcomes.
  2. Excessive study can be extremely bad for your physical and mental health.
  3. Academic results are just one factor in your success, and excessive study can reduce the time and energy you have for other resume-boosting activities.

Too much study could be detrimental

Nothing is more important than your physical and mental health.

If you are:

Then it’s really important that you speak to your parents / guardians as well as your teachers at school to let them know what’s going on and get some help.  All of the above have been linked to excessive workloads and poor life balance in students across multiple studies.

Working over the recommended limits of homework could also be reducing your motivation and focus, which won’t help you kick your academic goals.

You’ll also have less time to rest, exercise, play sport or take part in other hobbies, work, and spend time with family and friends which are all important factors in your development and social-emotional wellbeing too.

There’s lots of research to back this up

Homework and study is helpful to consolidate what you’ve been taught in the classroom, in learning to manage your own time successfully and to develop your study skills. But it’s not the only thing that counts.

Quality homework and study is far more important than spending mindless hours covering the same work again and again. Educational guru John Hattie ranks the effects of homework at 88 out of 138 influences on learning.

“Homework that is meaningful and driven by student input is linked to improving attitudes, knowledge and student retention…” (Corno, 2000)

In fact, there’s no link between the volume of study and academic outcomes – Korea, Japan, and Finland, for example, are countries who assign the least amounts of homework but are ranked among top countries for reading, maths and writing (Programme of International Student Achievement (PISA) results from 2015).

Regardless of the quality of study, if it exceeds a certain limit then it will lead to a decline in performance.

Moderate amounts of time spent on homework are linked to better results, but a great deal … of time spent on homework is actually less productive. This means when middle school students spend more than an hour and a half a night there is a correlation with lower scores. (Cooper, et al., 2006)

A 2015 study also found that middle school students assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework began to see a fall in their maths and science test scores (Fernández-Alonso, Suárez-Álvarez, & Muñiz, 2015).

One more thing to bear in mind

If you decide to go university after high school, the expectation is that you’ll be studying for around 40 hours per week, and that includes all of your lectures, seminars, and tutorials (it’s the also the equivalent of a full-time working role).

So if you’re doing 30 hours of school and thinking that you need to do a further 20 or more hours of study each week, then you’d be doing more than if you were studying at university or working full-time.

Remember that work-life balance is important at all ages and is a great skill to master early in life.

So, how much homework should you be doing?

We have looked at a number of scholarly articles and studies and this is what we’ve found:

  • Students in middle school should aim to do up to one hour of homework per weekday.
  • For students in lower senior school between one and two hours a day is reasonable.
  • If you’re in upper senior school then studying for 2 hours per day is a good amount of time to aim for.

Bear in mind that these times could vary depending on your workload. For example, if you’re taking more subjects than other students in your cohort, or if you’re taking part in extra programs, then the amount of study you may have to do could increase.

Around assessment and exam time then you might find you’re reaching the upper limits of the recommended homework times too, and that’s normal, but it shouldn’t be the norm for your entire school year.

The other thing to remember is that you don’t need to do all this study in big blocks – you can break it up. Read your notes on the bus or train on the way to school, watch a documentary that relates to your classwork, or start a project that extends what you’ve been doing at school. You can also count time spent studying with friends, or even talking with peers about your subjects, as long as you’re either learning or revising.

Ready to start studying?

Great! To get the most out of your study time we recommend that you:

  • Get organised. Make sure you have everything you need including a work space that helps you to focus without distractions if possible. Your school or community library perhaps if home is too busy?
  • Work out when your peak study times are – are you an early bird or a night owl?
  • Write a Study Plan and, most importantly, stick to it.
  • Remember to incorporate breaks into your study time.

“After about 15 minutes of learning and practising something – such as the Pythagorean theorem in maths – the regions of the brain activated in spatial-numerical learning get fatigued and need to rebuild the neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that get depleted. The restoration only takes a few minutes if the break is timely, but if they are pushed to stay with that same process for too long, stress builds, neurotransmitters drop way down and it will take twice as long to restore full efficiency to that area of the brain.”  – Judy Willis

If you’re looking for more study tips and ideas, we’ve got lots to share – head over to this page.


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Time management hack – the Pomodoro technique

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