A middle school student should do math and science homework by themselves, and they shouldn’t have too much of it.
That’s the conclusion of a recent study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology.
Researchers determined that homework in those two subjects shouldn’t exceed an hour a day. They also recommended the assignments be handed out on a daily basis and that students do their work alone.
“Our data indicate that it is not necessary to assign huge quantities of homework, but it is important that assignment is systematic and regular, with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-regulated learning,” said Javier Suarez-Alvarez, Ph.D., co-lead author with Ruben Fernandez-Alonso, Ph.D. “The data suggest that spending 60 minutes a day doing homework is a reasonable and effective time.”
The researchers studied the performance of 7,725 students in public and private schools in northern Spain. The students had an average age of just under 14. Girls made up 47 percent of the group.
The students were given questionnaires asking how much homework they had and whether they did their assignments on their own or asked for help.
Their academic performance in math and science was then measured using standardized tests.
Researchers said students whose homework was assigned on a regular basis scored 50 points higher on the tests. Those who didn’t ask for help scored about 54 points higher.
Overall, the students were given an average of 70 minutes of homework per day. Students who were given 90 to 100 minutes of homework showed a decline in test performance.
There was a small gain among students who did 70 to 90 minutes of homework, but researchers said the slight increase was not worth the extra time students spent on the assignments — two hours every week.
“For that reason, assigning more than 70 minutes of homework per day does not seem very efficient,” said Suarez-Alvarez.
Researchers also determined that students who did 70 minutes of homework and required assistance could expect to score in the 50th percentile on the tests. Those who did the same amount of homework on their own would be expected to land in the 70th percentile.
“The conclusion is that when it comes to homework, how is more important than how much,” said Suarez-Alvarez. “Once individual effort and autonomous working is considered, the time spent becomes irrelevant.”