There’s good news and bad news about your homework this week.
The good news is that a recent study found that the homework load hasn’t increased for the average student. The bad news is that another study shows that the average homework load — three hours a night — may make students feel too overwhelmed.
Everyone has had the experience of being overwhelmed by too much work or feeling the crunch of final exams. But how much homework is too much homework? And what can you do when you feel like you’re getting way too much of it?
Signs of Unreasonable Homework
If you’ve experienced any of the following, you may be suffering from homework overload:
- Constantly feeling like you’re behind on your work
- Anxiety over simply setting a schedule to help manage your work
- More papers due in a week then there are days in the week
- Unreasonable course requirements compared to similar classes in your school
- The difficulty seems to skyrocket, and even older students/parents have trouble helping you
- Less time — or motivation — to go out or spend time with family
- Lower energy levels
- Noticeably decreased health
Of course, some of these symptoms may have other causes, like a learning disability or taking a class without having learned the prerequisite materials. But if you've ruled them out, then it’s time to advocate for yourself.
1. Assess the Homework
The first thing you should do is be introspective, rather than reactive, says Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, author of "The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers" (Wyndmoor Press, 2012).
“Look at the entire situation,” he says. “Consider what is doable and what seems fair on a regular basis. Change the question from how I feel about homework to how much homework I think I can reasonably do. Think in terms of time, not volume. Educators use as a rule of thumb of ten minutes per night per grade.” Dr. Goldberg personally thinks that’s a lot, but suggests using that number as a starting point.
You can also check this chart to see the recommended lengths for K-12.
2. Include Your Parents
If you’re still living at home, this is an important step. Before meeting with teachers, talk with your parents, recommends Dr. Goldberg. “Keep in mind that it is they, not the teachers, who are the heads of the home. Advocate your position with them. Discuss your ideas in a rational, non-reactive way, come up with an agreement, and get their support for a reasonable homework plan.” Don’t forget to ask them to be ready to support you if and when you need their support, he adds.
3. Talk to the Teacher
For all students — even through graduate school — ask to meet with your teacher one on one to discuss your concerns.
Psychoeducational expert Dr. Steve Imber’s strategies include asking your teacher questions about the homework as you get it, and asking for assistance or submitting components several days prior to the due date in order to obtain feedback.
Your teachers are competing with each other for your time at home, says Dr. Goldberg. “Discuss with them how to prioritize the assignments to fit into the time you have,” he says.
Teachers are usually supportive and reasonable. Keep the dialogue respectable, and remember, “addressing issues around homework is usually a process, not a one-shot solution,” says Dr. Imber.
If All Else Fails...
If after assessing your homework load, discussing the frustration with your parents, and talking to your teacher doesn’t yield results:
- Try to organize your work into small batches of tasks to make the work more manageable.
- Create or join a study group.
- Take some time to exercise or get some fresh air to help clear your mind. It may seem like we're promoting procrastination, but exercise can help get the endorphins going, and help you be more efficient and more optimistic about the workload ahead of you.
Galloway, M., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Nonacademic effects of homework in privileged, high-performing high schools. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(4), Retrieved from The Journal of Experimental Education
Loveless, T. (2014). 2014 brown center report on american education: How well are american students learning? Brookings, Retrieved from Brookings
Imber Ph.D., S. (n.d.). Interview by L.A. Goldstein.
Goldberg Ph.D., K. (n.d.). Interview by L.A. Goldstein.