Why it’s better to do Homework late at Night

Welcome to our new show crossref:ed, a short podcast in which we take two articles or blog posts that cover a certain topic and either validate or invalidate each other. We are planning to release at least one episode per week, depending on what articles we find, of course.

Before we start, let me quickly thank our sponsor for this week: AcademicPub allows you to take content from their copyright cleared library of over 125 publishers, your files or anything on the web, and create custom course packs that are perfect, for you. Visit them at academicpub.com and follow them on Twitter @AcademicPub. We thank them for their support of crossref:ed.

In our first episode let’s take a look at a very classic topic in education: homework. And is it good or bad? Christopher dedicated his last episode of C12 here on EDUKWEST to homework, I gave a long rant on “the French Homework revolution” in last week’s episode of review:ed. So why not start crossref:ed with two articles related to homework, as well?

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The Guardian published a piece with the title “Two hours’ homework a night linked to better school results”. It is based on a study published by the Department of Education in the UK. Over 15 years the study has tracked the performance of 3000 students with the result that

“Spending more than two hours a night doing homework is linked to achieving better results in English, maths and science”

As a side note: A previous research referenced in the article found only modest links of homework related to achievement in secondary school, though. But that is not the second crossref:ed article I would like to talk about today.

The new study also controlled for social class, the environment where the homework takes place in and whether students generally enjoy going to school. All those factors seem to have played a role as well.

What I found interesting was the time the homework is done. It is not explicitly mentioned in the text but as the headline lets us assume, most homework is done in the evening or at night. And here comes our second article into play.

According to an article in Scientific American the “Ability to Learn Is Affected by the Timing of Sleep”. The sooner we go to sleep after we learned something, the better we retain that new information.

“In the 24-hour retest—where all subjects had a full night of sleep—those participants who went to bed shortly after learning the words did much better than those who went through an entire day before sleeping. And this leg up in memory was maintained on subsequent days.”

This basically means that if the students in the study did their homework before they went to sleep or at least pretty close to that time the actual amount of hours put in the homework might not necessarily explain the better performance.

If the study mentioned in Scientific American is right then it is all about when to do the homework, not for how long which would be a great basis for an experiment. Maybe I’ll try it out with learning Spanish at night.

Show Notes

  • Two hours’ homework a night linked to better school results
    Source: The Guardian
  • Ability to Learn Is Affected by the Timing of Sleep
    Source: Scientific American

Picture by cynwulf


Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.

  • Anonymous

    This is a tale of efficiency pure and simple. If the amount you remember peaks and then decreases at a constant rate over time, one could still get better results with two hours of homework than with one hour even through the efficiency for learning (depending on your measure) was greater at the last minute of the first hour than the last minute of the second hour.

    In all areas of human endevor you have this effect. Do you stop at the end of your most efficient last minute or do you continue on even though your efficiency begins to decline? 

    I can see it now:
    Employee: Boss, I just finished my most productive, efficient 15 minutes of work. I want to leave now because from here on it all goes downhill.
    Boss: Yeah, but I pay you for more than just 60 minutes of work. I’ll risk taking a less efficient you for the next 7 hours. Now, GET BACK TO WORK!

    • Well, here in France it is actually the case. They literally drop everything at the minute the working day is over, no matter if it is in the efficiency curve or not.

      I think there is something behind the study. As I watch a lot of tech webcasts late at night, e.g. before going to bed (or already in bed thx to the miracle iPad) I notice that I retain much more info from these shows. As I said, will probably give it a shot with some Spanish.