How Many Hours Should You Study a Day? (Answered!)
A college student must study 2-3 hours per week outside of class for every credit hour. That is 24-36 hours for a 12-credit hour course per week, which is about 5-6 hours per day, depending on if you study every day or six days per week.
Are you preparing for exams in school or professional certifications and wondering if you’re putting the right amount of time into studying?
You wonder, “How much time is enough?” One hour? Three hours? Four to six hours a day? Perhaps burning the midnight oil is better?
The truth is that the answers to these questions will depend on many factors. As such, the time needed to study varies from person to person.
That said, having a study time benchmark will help you contextualize the effort you’re putting in. It could also inspire you to do more if you’re seriously lagging.
In this article, we run the rule over the number of hours you should study daily. We also discuss the adverse effects of too much studying and provide tips to help you use your study time more wisely.
What is the number of hours you can study effectively per day?
You can study effectively from 30 minutes to six hours per day when you space out learning over a long period and integrate proven learning methods into your study time. Such methods include interleaved learning, retrieval practice, transforming notes into different formats, and self-explanation.
When studying, the phrase garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) remains salient. There’s a point of saturation where mental fatigue has set in, and you’re just going through the motions.
Many people, particularly students, struggle with study hours. How long is enough?
A wise man once said, “It’s not only how far, but how well.” You can study for long hours and accomplish very little. You can study for five hours and only be productive for two hours. So what does it mean to study effectively?
In simple terms, effectively studying is the efficient use of time and encoding course content and concepts into long-term memory.
The efficient use of time does not include cramming course content 2-3 days before the exam. You could get away with it for a course or test that does not have large quantities of information or if you have an exceptional memory. However, the average student cannot.
In essence, effectively studying is tied to what you do in a day’s study session and the cumulation of your repeated efforts over weeks.
How to study effectively
Effectively studying requires adopting two core learning methods: spaced practice and retrieval practice.
Spaced or distributed practice
Spaced practice describes studying that takes place over multiple sessions. It requires splitting the course content or syllabus into smaller chunks and then focusing on each lump per study session.
You must also distribute your study time between old and new materials. This means you’ll constantly have to revisit materials you’ve previously studied. For example, you can review what you learned in week one while studying in weeks 3 or 4.
Spaced-out learning schedule and revisiting previous lessons results in what psychologists describe as the spacing effect. Repetitions spaced in time are proven to produce stronger memories than repetitions massed closer together in time.
With this learning method, each study session may only be a few hours, except you’re studying for many courses at a time. Even at that, you’ll need to balance study time with caring for your physical and mental health.
In addition to spacing out your study schedule and repeatedly revisiting previous materials, you must also practice and test your ability to recall from memory.
At the end of each study session, put away your notes and other course materials and try to remember everything you learned. You can also write it down. A general rule of thumb is to try to explain the materials in a way even a child will understand.
After exhausting your recall ability, revisit the course material and your notes. Determine if you recalled the materials correctly and the topics and concepts you missed.
Peruse your notes to correct your errors and revisit the topics you missed. Then practice the recall part of the process again. Rinse and repeat.
There are over 200 research studies that show that retrieval practice enhances long-term knowledge retention.
Factors that affect effective studying
Research shows that aside from a student’s active learning strategies, other factors affect effective studying.
1. How far away the exams are
The closer the exams are, the more pressure to cram, especially if you’ve only covered a small portion of the course material.
However, you can easily embrace spaced practice when the exams are still far away, thus giving you the best chance to master the course materials and consign the same to long-term memory.
Crammers retain less information and have lower grades than students who embrace distributed practice.
2. Number of materials to cover
This factor ties to the above in that you’ll need more time to cover multiple materials. A three-unit course will have more study materials than a one-unit course.
But if the time to cover all the stuff is limited, you may be under pressure or resort to unhealthy learning methods.
If you have a lot of materials to cover, you can use a speed reading tool like AccelaReader. The web app will help you cover more ground quickly while still comprehending what you read.
3. Health challenges
Conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect a student’s ability to focus and pay attention. These are key components necessary to learn effectively.
There’s also a strong correlation between ADHD and poor working memory, which may affect their ability to commit information to long-term memory.
For some people, personal habits like sleeping late have impaired their memory.
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4. Personal peculiarities
Some students may exhibit an excellent understanding of some courses over others because of the quality of background knowledge or experience they possess.
Some people also learn faster than others. Some partly due to what they were exposed to in their earlier years. Such students may require to invest less time than other students.
A university student working a part time job to meet tuition fees or a professional working a full time job may already be mentally fatigued before their study time if at all the chance to study presents itself.
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5. Quality of materials and instructions
For any course or certification, the quality of materials and instructions matters and promotes student academic performance.
How the instructors introduce key concepts and build the foundation of the course may influence how much self-learning is possible.
The examples they give and how they tie those examples to real-life use cases can be the difference between easily understanding the course and some students perpetually struggling.
Is studying two hours a day enough?
As a student, colleges recommend studying 2-3 hours for every credit hour. So, you’ll need to commit 24-36 hours for 12 credit hours weekly. Therefore, studying for two hours every day is not enough. Two hours of study time may be sufficient if you’re preparing for a professional certificate.
As a professional preparing for a certification, fitting in two hours of study in your schedule may suffice, particularly if you’ve chosen an exam date very far away.
For a student, two hours a day will not suffice at all. Now let’s look at the math. Many colleges suggest devoting two hours for each credit hour of non-science courses and three hours for science courses outside of class time.
This suggestion is for a traditional 14-week course. If you’re running a short 7-week course, you will need more time commitment, like six hours for every credit hour.
So, if you have 12 credit hours per week, you must spend at least 36 hours studying outside of class for a science course. If you study every day, that’s about 5.14 hours per day. If you study for six days, this figure comes to 6 hours daily.
As a college student, studying for two hours per day only covers 30-39% of the recommended hours, depending on if you study every day or six days per week.
What is the maximum number of hours you should spend studying per day?
The maximum number of hours you can spend studying every day is about 11 hours if you also devote time to your health. However, the recommendation is to spend just over five hours daily on a 12-credit hour course and 6 hours daily for a 14-credit hour course.
We’ve already established that effective studying involves managing time efficiently and committing well-understood materials to long-term memory.
The maximum hours you commit to learning each day should allow you to do the above without compromising your physical and mental health.
How to take care of your health while studying
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) says that the six pillars of a healthy body and mind are:
- Physical activity
- Restorative sleep
- Stress management
- Avoidance of risky substances
- Social connection
There are 24 hours a day, and you need to devote time to the above, especially pillars 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Even if you’re not preparing and cooking your meals, you’ll need time to order your preferred meals, eat, and then allow the food to digest. Make sure you’re eating brain foods that aid studying.
Give or take, eating could use up 1-2 hours daily. So in one week, that tallies to 7-14 hours per week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and muscle-strengthening activities two days per week.
Let’s say the muscle-strengthening activities take an extra 50 minutes weekly. That sums up to 200 minutes or 3 hours and 20 minutes required for physical activities.
The CDC recommends that adults between 18–60 years should get at least 7 hours of good night’s sleep. That is 49 hours per week.
Research shows that those who socialized several times a month had better health than those who rarely did.
An old survey says college students in the United States spend 40 hours a week socializing.
However, we are going for a very conservative estimate of 10 hours of socialization outside of class.
How many hours is it physically possible to study a day?
If you add all the hours together, we have 69 hours and 20 minutes for doing activities tied to your good health. There are 168 hours every week. So you have 98 hours and 40 minutes left.
College students spend between 15 and 20 hours per week in the classroom. With 20 hours spent in class, the total hours left for the week is 78 hours and 40 minutes.
That’s just over 11 hours per day left to work with. Realistically, you can’t study effectively for 11 hours every day.
If you take a 10-minute break for every hour spent, at six study hours, you will have used up seven hours. From the remaining four hours, you’ll study for over three hours.
Therefore, the maximum number of hours you can study is 9 to 11 hours if you factor in time commitment to your health and mental well-being. How much of this should you study for?
How much you study depends on your course load or the number of course materials you must cover. If you’re running a 12-credit hours course, you may need to study for 5.14 hours per day or 6 hours per day if you’re running a 14-credit hours course.
What is the best time of day to study effectively?
There are two optimal periods when the brain is in “acquisition mode.” These time blocks are 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The worst period to learn is between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
Studying is different from reading. Studying requires reading to comprehend and commit the content to memory. It also means to actively and effectively engage the content. All these won’t be possible without the utmost concentration and focus.
The environment and time that engenders concentration and focus vary from person to person. Some people believe they study better in the morning, while others consider themselves night owls.
There are arguments for both periods. Let’s examine those.
Morning and daytime
The biggest argument for studying in the morning or during the day is that the brain isn’t fatigued during this period.
Also, the person remains fresh after a good night’s sleep and perhaps breakfast to provide energy for the day’s challenge.
There’s also the abundance of natural light keeping you alert.
Lack of distractions and the quiet of the night are some benefits the proponents of studying at night swear by. Sleeping after learning also helps consolidate information into memory and link it to previous knowledge.
Reading at night will most likely affect how much sleep you get and affect your health long-term. Many people also consume an unhealthy amount of coffee and energy drinks to stay awake.
What the science says
The University of Birmingham scientists found that night owls (average bedtime of 2:30 a.m. and wake time of 10:00 a.m.) “had lower resting brain connectivity in ways that are associated with poorer attention, slower reactions, and increased sleepiness throughout the hours of a typical work day.”
The reverse was the case in early birds (average bedtime of 11 p.m. and wake time of 6:30 a.m.).
Another research study found that there are two optimal periods when the brain is in “acquisition mode.” These are 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The research also found that the worst learning period was between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
Based on research, the best period to study is between 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., with a brief period of two hours midway. That’s many hours a day to fit your study routine.
Why too much studying is not healthy?
Not to be overly dramatic, but overstudying can cause your death. “Huh?!” Yes! All the time you spend sitting may cause blood clots to form in one of your main blood vessels leading to cardiac arrest.
Perhaps a cautionary tale is that of William T. Parker Jr., a Harvard Law School student who went wild during an exam. He died in the hospital a few days later due to “an abscess on the brain caused by overstudy.”
Most students that overstudy do so to the detriment of sleep. Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to mental illnesses and heart disease. It may cause death too.
Students also use caffeine-infused drinks to stay awake and alert. Too much caffeine can lead to health issues such as restlessness, headaches, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, dehydration, and an unhealthy dependency.
Overstudying also typically culminates in decreased efficiency, concentration, focus, and productivity.
How to manage your study time wisely?
Manage your study time wisely by shutting off all distractions, knowing the kind of learner you are, using interleaved practice, creating a study schedule and timetable, finding accountability partners, testing yourself after every session, and doing multiple, short intense sessions instead of long ones.
We established earlier how using time efficiently is part of studying effectively. Below, we share tips for how to manage your study time wisely to achieve more with less.
Know what kind of learner you are
You need to know what materials resonate with you more. For example, you may be a visual learner. If so, you must find credible visual resources to learn from rather than struggling with other formats.
Knowing the kind of learner you are also implies figuring out the environment you thrive in. Do you study better with background noise or do you need absolute quiet?
Knowing yourself better will help you develop better study habits.
Kill off all distractions
Ensure you’re studying where distractions are minimal or non-existent.
Put your phone on silent or leave it in the dorm if you’re studying in the library. A recent study found that having your smartphone nearby reduces brain power even when turned off. This is because you’re likely using more mental faculty to resist using your phone.
You may think you’ll quickly answer a text and return to reading, but research shows that doing so reduces the quality of learning and increases the time you have to invest in studying.
Create a study schedule
Break up your curriculum into chunks – topics and key concepts you must understand. Then develop a study routine for each week, such that for each session, you know the topics you will be covering.
Ensure that the timetable features time for rest. For every hour of reading, include 5-10 minutes of rest. The timetable helps you to stay consistent and disciplined rather than hoping for inspiration to prompt you to study.
Always revisit previous study sessions
Start your study sessions by quickly reviewing what you learned in class that day. This helps you reinforce the lessons and commit them to memory.
Next, revisit previous lessons you’ve studied in the past. Doing so keeps the material fresh in your mind. Your revision sessions should be about 30 minutes long.
Find serious study partners
This tip may not affect everyone, especially those who prefer to study alone. However, if choosing and sticking with a study schedule is difficult for you, getting an accountability partner might be key.
You can motivate and encourage each other, but more importantly, solve problems together.
Do short bursts of intense studying
Long-winded study sessions without short breaks create mental fatigue. Short, intense studying bursts of 30–45 minutes are preferable. You can then take a 5-10 minutes break afterward.
This strategy is similar to the Pomodoro method, which suggests intense work of 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break, and then a rest of 15-30 minutes after four chunks of intense work.
Test yourself during every study session
Always review if your session is productive or not. You can do this through many methods, including self-explanation and practice questions.
Self-explanation involves explaining concepts, ideas, and topics in your own words. Then you can review the material to see if your explanation captures the concept aptly.
Testing yourself helps you identify knowledge gaps and where you should focus your attention next.
Contextualize what you’re learning and use interleaved practice
Try to bring concepts and ideas to life by relating them to the real world, even the most abstract ones.
You can also contextualize what you’re learning by finding a nexus between other topics and the former.
For example, while learning baking, you may connect the knowledge of yeast in chemistry to the application of yeast in baking.
Interleaved practice is a studying method that says: If you have two related topics or concepts, study them together on the same day, alternating between the two topics.
This study technique is opposed to studying topic A one day and then topic B the next day.
Takeaway: Smash your final exams and certifications with the appropriate study strategies
Passing an exam or earning a professional certification requires dedication to studying the course materials.
You can maximize your study time by incorporating learning methods such as spaced practice, retrieval practice, and interleaved practice.
You can also manage your time wisely by knowing what kind of learner you are, creating a study timetable, and getting accountability partners.
One of the keys to effectively studying and getting good grades is having a good memory. Learn how to improve your memory with practical techniques in the Maximizing Memory course by Iris Reading.