We’ve all been there — 2 a.m. Snapchats from fellow APUSH scholars, frantic AP Chemistry lab questions and Facebook messenger rants about the latest Physics lab grade at midnight. But what is the reason behind this widespread lack of sleep?
While AP and honors classes, by nature, were never meant to be sleep-killers or anxiety magnets. Yet, we still see many occurrences of juniors and seniors stressing out over seemingly insurmountable homework loads. And right there lies the problem: homework.
On an average night, a junior or senior taking two APs — the recommended quantity provided by Paly — expects to have around three to four hours of homework, not including studying for quizzes and tests. Often, this homework is due within one or two nights after being assigned. However, a closer look at these classes in a college setting reveals a much different agenda.
Homework in college is nothing like homework in high school. A typical college homework assignment is a problem set, or pset, that is assigned but not due until a week later. Similarly, readings, essays and projects are rarely due before a one-week deadline, which gives students enough time to space out assignments and work on them at a reasonable pace. Additionally, classes meet only once or twice a week, rather than the three times a week we meet in high school. The combination of six or seven classes meeting three times a week with homework often due the next block period creates a dangerous situation for students.
In a 2014 research article published by the Washington Post examining 10 high-achieving California high schools, researchers found that too much homework might actually be harming students, as it results in “excess stress, physical problems and little or no time for leisure.” The researchers added that current homework loads were found to be around 3.1 hours, while the optimal workload is around two hours.
The statistics from student surveys speak for themselves. Of the 4,317 students surveyed in the same 2014 study, more than 99 percent listed homework as a stressor, and more than half indicated it as their primary stressor. Moreover, a majority of students expressed concerns over health problems, such as sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety, as a direct consequence of high homework loads. But possibly the biggest toll homework takes on students is in their lives outside of academics. In the same study, many students stated that they had trouble balancing extracurriculars, time with friends and family and the occasional break for themselves.
If this survey were to be done at Paly, the responses would surely match the results of the study above. One of the aspects of homework not observed in the studies above is the fact that homework often detracts from studying for quizzes or tests. While homework is designed to prepare us for assessments, it often turns into dreaded “busy work.” Students must complete tedious homework before they can actually get to studying material for tests.
There are two possible solutions — a moderate one and a radical one. The moderate solution entails spacing out homework assignments so that there is more time in between the assigned date and the due date. It also involves teachers selecting only the most useful problems to assign for homework. But this solution is not enough because, essentially, the homework levels stay the same, there is just more time to do it.
Another solution is one that allows a student to skip any minor assignment, such as worksheets, notes or textbook problems, as long as their grade in that class does not suffer. While major assignments like labs, essays and projects are non-negotiable and have to be turned in, what students call “busywork” right now will become a thing of the past. Since Paly students are already highly motivated, if homework serves as a hindrance to deeper learning of the material, it can be taken out of the equation so real studying can begin.
By eliminating at least a few assignments from a student’s packed day, we can work toward bringing homework time closer to the recommended two-hour mark, while allowing students to study in the way that works best for them. The principle of studying in college is doing what works for the individual, and removing homework from the to-do list does exactly that, while preparing students for post-Paly education.
In this solution, students who find homework helpful or want homework grades to be taken into account in their overall grade are still welcome to continue turning in assignments for points, but they are not required to do this if homework is not the study tool they personally need. Teachers who are concerned about student performance can always make assignments mandatory if a student’s grade drops below a certain level.
In a case study of an AP Biology class described in a Healthline article, a teacher cut down her assigned homework by first a third, and then by a half. Student test scores did not drop during this time, which can be explained in a couple of ways. Either the students were using the new-found time to learn in ways that worked for them or having the extra time to relax was helping them as well.
Research has shown that an excess amount of homework can take a toll on a high school student’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. And while college students are working just as hard, if not harder, because they are working on something specific to their interests. They are learning in ways that are tailored toward the individual, rather than toward everyone. It’s time Paly reforms their homework policies.