By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Super common question: How long should high school students study?
I know you want me to answer 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 refer to studying, I’m referring to the actual act of real studying – not completing basic homework assignments, reading or writing essays.
Based on my personal experience tutoring thousands of students one-on-one, most “average” high school students spend around 30 minutes a day studying for tests.
However, I strongly argue that high school students should study for tests for around 45-60 minutes per day.
Why students should study for 45-60 minutes a day
Where did I come up with the recommendation that most high school students should study for 45-60 minutes a day?
Studying is most effective when you use spaced repetition. Spaced repetition involves studying in short frequent intervals of 20-40 minutes over a period of several days. No epic 2-hour study sessions allowed.
If you are using space repetition, which you should, then your total study time will equal around 45 to 60 minutes a day. That’s assuming you have multiple tests to prepare for at once.
Let’s look at an example of a typical school week where you have two tests: one on Thursday and one on Friday. In the image below, you’ll see how studying for just two tests using spaced repetition quickly adds up to 45-60 minutes per day.
Factors that affect how long high school students need to study
How long you really study each day depends on the following factors:
- The course content (Math? Science? ELA?)
- How much time (days) you have to study
- What type of test you’re taking (open notes? 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 topic (we are often stronger in topics that we enjoy learning about)
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 might take you longer to study for your biology tests than it would if you were in a lower-level course. If you have ADHD, it might take you longer to study because you need to take more breaks.
How to find time to study for 45-60 minutes a day
Most high school students involved in at least one extracurricular activity don’t have more than two hours a day to dedicate to schoolwork. This includes completing standard homework assignments, doing assigned readings, and studying.
Look at the image below to see what a typical high school student week looks like. You probably notice far less “free time” than you expected.
Finding time to study takes a little planning, but so do most things. The strategies below should help you maximize the time you do have:
- Make a weekly calendar [insert google tutorial] (insert study planner landing page)
- Put your phone and video games away
- Consider pockets of time like study halls, commutes, etc. Have you considered these time pockets?
How to spend less time studying
High school can be demanding. You probably have multiple tests each week, in addition to essays, reading and regular homework. Without proper study techniques, you could end up studying for hours a day, which is ineffective and unhealthy.
The key is to use legitimate study strategies so you can learn more material within a reasonable amount of time.
In addition to using the study tips and strategies I feature in my various blog posts, the following methods will help you study in less time:
- Know what’s on the test and study the right things. Get absolutely clear about what the test is on so that you can spend your time studying just that.
- Use active recall. Active recall is the most important study technique I could ever teach you. Using active recall is hard, it really is. It forces you to confront that you don’t know things – and that is an icky feeling. But because active recall is such a concentrated study method, you will learn the information more quickly and thoroughly.
- Focus on what you don’t know. Spot the gaps in your understanding and then study that. We sometimes like to make ourselves feel better by reviewing what we already know – but doing so doesn’t move us forward. Studying only what we don’t currently know helps us study in less time.
When to start studying
Most ordinary high school tests need about 5 days of studying. Five days enables you to use spaced repetition; anything less than 5 days and you won’t get the most out of spaced repetition. Here’s my 5-day study plan that tells you exactly how to plan out 5 days of studying.
For more significant tests such as AP exams, midterms and finals, you will need more than 5 days to prepare. I have a Free Study Planner template that helps you plan out 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 how long you study
You might think that you need way more than 45-60 minutes to study each day. (Or, you might think you need way less time. If that’s the case and your grades are solid, then cool. But if that’s the case and your grades are not solid, then you need to be studying for a bit longer.) If you’re thinking “No way! I study for hours and still don’t get a good grade!” then I need you to really, really be honest with yourself. Consider the following list of the top factors that dramatically increase how long you study.
- Phone: Put it away. Put it away. Put it so far away. Out of the room. Get it ooouuuuuttttt.
- Distractions: Studying is a cognitively demanding process. It is psychologically impossible for us to focus on studying while we are semi-interested in what’s going on around us. Get rid of your distractions during your 45-60 minute study session. Distractions can include TV, 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 will study for far longer than 45-60 minutes per day – and it will be a waste of your time. Have a laser-sharp study plan so you can get in and get out.
- Studying with the wrong people. Friends are great. But friends don’t always make great study buddies. Either study solo or pick a group of people that will lift you up (academically).
- Not knowing how to study. This deserves to be said again: if you don’t know how to study, you will end up studying way longer than you need to. And you won’t learn the information as well.
There are various factors that can affect how long a high school student studies. The most significant factors include course content, student interest, and the presence of learning disabilities or ADHD. With that being said, most high school students should plan for 45-60 minutes of studying 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.