By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Very frequent question: How long do high school students have to study?
I know you want me to respond with something simple, like 30 minutes a day. But you know I can’t do that. You know the real answer is “it depends”.
To be clear, when I say studying I am referring to the actual act of actually studying – not completing basic homework, reading or writing essays.
In my personal experience of one-on-one tutoring thousands of students, most “average” high school students spend about 30 minutes a day studying for tests.
However, I strongly argue that high school students should study for the tests for around 45-60 minutes a day.
Why students should study for 45-60 minutes a day
Where did I get the recommendation that most high school students should study for 45-60 minutes a day?
The study is more effective when you use spaced repetition. Spaced repetition involves studying at frequent short intervals of 20 to 40 minutes over a period of several days. No epic 2-hour study sessions allowed.
If you use spatial rehearsal, which you should, your total study time will be around 45-60 minutes per day. This assumes that you have several tests to prepare at the same time.
Let’s look at an example of a typical school week where you have two tests: a Thursday and a Friday. In the image below, you’ll see how to study for just two tests using spaced repetition quickly accounts for 45-60 minutes a day.
Factors that influence the length of study of secondary school students
How long you really study each day depends on the following factors:
- The content of the course (Math? Science? ELA?)
- How long (days) you have to study
- What kind of test do you take (open grades? multiple choice?)
- Your level of familiarity with the content
- Your personal academic strengths and weaknesses
- The presence of learning disabilities or ADHD
- Your level of interest in the subject (we are often strongest in subjects we like to learn)
If you have a reading-based learning disability, it might take you longer to study for English tests. If you’re in AP biology, it may take you longer to study for your biology tests than if you were in a lower-level course. If you have ADHD, you may need more time to study because you need to take more breaks.
How to find time to study 45-60 minutes a day
Most high school students who participate in at least one extracurricular activity have no more than two hours a day to devote to schoolwork. This includes completing standard homework, assigned readings, and studying.
Look at the picture below to see what a typical high school week looks like. You probably notice a lot less “free time” than expected.
Finding time to study takes a bit of planning, but so does most things. The strategies below should help you maximize the time you do have:
- Make a weekly schedule [insert google tutorial] (insert study planner landing page)
- Store your phone and video games
- Consider pockets of time like study rooms, commutes, etc. Have you thought about those pockets of time?
How to spend less time studying
High school can be demanding. You probably have several tests each week, in addition to regular essays, reading, and homework. Without proper study techniques, you could end up studying for hours a day, which is inefficient and unhealthy.
The key is to use legitimate study strategies so you can learn more material in a reasonable amount of time.
In addition to using the study tips and strategies I present in my various blog posts, the following methods will help you study in less time:
- Know what’s on the test and study the good stuff. Be absolutely clear about what the test is about so you can spend your time studying just this.
- Use Active Callback. Reminder active is the most important study skill I can teach you. Using active callback is difficult, it really is. It forces you to admit that you don’t know things – and that’s an unpleasant feeling. But because active recall is such a concentrated study method, you’ll learn information faster and more thoroughly.
- Focus on what you don’t know. Identify gaps in your understanding, then study this. Sometimes we like to feel better by reviewing what we already know, but that doesn’t move us forward. Studying only what we currently don’t know helps us study in less time.
When to start studying
Most ordinary high school tests require about 5 days of study. Five days allows you to use spaced repetition; anything less than 5 days and you won’t get the most out of spaced repetition. Here is my 5 day study plan that tells you exactly how to plan 5 days of study.
For larger tests such as AP exams, midterms and finals, you will need more than 5 days to prepare. I have one Free Study Plan Template which helps you plan your study sessions so you know what you’re studying and when. (It’s a simple pdf, so you can print it or use it digitally.)
Factors that negatively affect the length of your studies
You might think you need way more than 45-60 minutes to study each day. (Or, you might think you need a lot less time. If so and your grades are solid, then cool. But if it is and your grades are not solid, then you need to study a little longer.) If you think “Certainly not! I study for hours and still don’t get a good grade! so I need you to be really, really honest with yourself. Consider the following list of major factors that significantly increase the length of your studies.
- Call: Tidy. Tidy. Put it so far. Out of the room. Get it ooouuuuuttttt.
- Entertainment: Studying is a cognitively demanding process. It is psychologically impossible for us to concentrate on our studies when we are only half interested in what is happening around us. Get rid of your distractions during your 45-60 minute study session. Distractions can include television, people, music, pets, food, someone around us playing video games.
- Not knowing what to study. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to study, you’ll be studying well over 45-60 minutes a day – and it will be a waste of time. Have a specific study plan so you can get in and out.
- Studying with the wrong people. Friends are great. But friends don’t always make good study buddies. Study solo or choose a group of people who will elevate you (academically).
- Not knowing how to study. It bears repeating: if you don’t know How? ‘Or’ What to study, you will end up studying much longer than necessary. And neither will you learn the information.
Various factors can affect how long a high school student stays in school. The most important factors are course content, student interest, and the presence of learning disabilities or ADHD. That being said, most high school students should schedule 45-60 minutes of study per night, structured around the concept of spaced repetition. Study sessions should be focused on knowledge gaps, free of distractions, and full of active recall techniques.