Next time you want to complain about the amount of homework you do, remember that students in Shanghai spend an average of over 14 hours per week on take-home work.
A recent brief from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that American 15-year-olds spent an average of six hours a week on homework in 2012. By comparison, students from all OECD countries were spending an average of about 4.9 hours a week on homework. On the low end of the spectrum, teens from countries like Korea and Finland spent less than three hours a week on after-school work, while teens from Russia spent about 10, and students from Shanghai spent about 14 hours.
Since 2003, the average amount of time 15-year-olds spend on homework per week dropped by about an hour. In the United States, the average time spent on homework remained unchanged, as shown in the graph below:
Source: PISA in Focus 46, OECD
Still, the brief found that socio-economically advantaged students tend to spend more time on homework than their low-income counterparts, leading researchers to speculate about whether homework helps perpetuate existing inequities in education.
"The bottom line: Homework is another opportunity for learning; but it may also reinforce disparities in student achievement," says the study. "Schools and teachers should look for ways to encourage struggling and disadvantaged students to complete their homework."
Source: PISA in Focus 46, OECD
Overall, the brief says that while the amount of time an individual student spends on homework may be correlated with their exam scores, the average amount of time students in a country spend on homework does not hold such correlation. To glean this conclusion, researchers looked at countries' scores on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.
Source: PISA in Focus 46, OECD
"The amount of time students spend doing homework is related to their individual performance in PISA and to their school’s PISA performance: students who spend more time doing homework tend to score higher in PISA, as do their schools," says the report. "But PISA also finds that the average number of hours that students spend on homework or other study set by teachers tends to be unrelated to the school system’s overall performance."
According to the report, this likely means that factors like teacher quality and school system organization have a bigger impact on a country's overall performance than homework.
Suzane Nazir uses a Princeton Review SAT Preparation book to study for the test on March 6, 2014 in Pembroke Pines. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A recent study may be putting the “you should study three hours per credit hour” motto to rest.
According to the National Survey of Student Engagement’s findings, the average student spends about 17 hours each week preparing for classes. Preparation for classes includes homework, reading and any other assignments.
“There’s the reality of how much students study,” says Roger Mancastroppa, associate director at the Academic Skills Center at the University of Richmond.
He says the classes a student is passionate about may not require as much time as others, but the reality is that students are not necessarily studying 45 hours a week. Mancastroppa says this is because coming out of high school, students have been taught that memorization is the best way to achieve success.
Mancastroppa’s helps students start thinking and studying using more of a critical thinking model rather than memorization.
Zayna Williams, a sophomore pre-nursing major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, says that she studies at least 15 hours every week at this point, which is just below the average of 17 hours for health majors, according to the NSSE’s study.
“Coming from high school studying was memorization,” Williams says. “In college you sit and memorize things, but you realize that memorization won’t help.”
She says she realized she needed to learn the material long-term, rather than just learning it to pass an exam.
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Carl Thum, director of the Academic Skills Program at Dartmouth College, disagrees with the general rule of thumb of studying three hours per credit hour.
“You shouldn’t be paying attention to ‘If I put in this much time then I’ll do well,’” Thum says. “A much better question is ‘What are you doing before and after class to prepare for class?’”
The study also included how students spent the rest of their time outside of studying through extracurricular activities, jobs or service in the community.
Seana Mohr, a senior social work major at the University of Central Florida, says she spends about 12 hours per week doing work outside of the classroom, below the average of 14.4 hours. She says most of that is writing papers, not traditional studying. She disagrees with the study’s findings that those majoring in social services “spend less time doing volunteer work than you might expect.”
Mohr says that some of her classes require a set amount of volunteer hours for the semester. This past spring, she spent her time outside of the classroom working 30 hours and volunteering 20 hours each week.
Both Thum and Mancastroppa agree that extracurricular activities and organizations outside of school are essential to the college experience.
“College isn’t a preparation for life,” Thum says. “College is life.”
Thum says learning how to study, deal with roommates and navigate campus are all important aspects of being a college student. He says maximizing the experience includes learning to work with other people, whether it’s athletically or artistically is important.
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“For many students, learning how to balance your time and your commitments is part of growing up,” Thum says.
Amanda Baughan, a junior at the University of Miami majoring in Spanish and computer science, says she spends about two hours studying and doing work for each of her classes, falling under the average of 18.2 hours per week for computer science majors.
“I spend more time on computer science because I find myself getting tutors and going to study groups because it’s challenging material,” Baughan says.
She has managed to find a balance with her schoolwork and extracurricular activities. She says she spends between four and five hours doing her activities and her sorority takes up more time because of its requirements.
“I wouldn’t say that taking computer science classes mean that I have no life outside of studying,” she says. “I definitely feel like I have a very good study-life balance.”
Mancastroppa says that it all comes down to time management and being able to schedule whatever needs to be done so that you can be present in whatever the current activity is.
Thum suggests that students do their work earlier in the day and review material every day to make sure that they are really learning and applying the material.
“We all know things well not because we did them once. It’s because we did them repeatedly.”
Kathy Pierre is a rising senior at University of Florida
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