In 2000, researchers Ranjita Misra and Michelle McKean looked at the interrelatedness of academic stress, anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction in a sample of 249 undergraduate college students. Misra and McKean cite previous research in a 1996 study which concluded that a major source of students’ academic stress is an awareness of the immense knowledge base required of them, and a perception of inadequate time to develop it. In other words, students’ awareness of what they do not know, combined with a belief that they do not have enough time to master it, causes academic stress.
Misra and McKean’s findings indicate that time management, rather than leisure satisfaction, had a greater buffering effect on academic stress. Where increased leisure activities may take students’ minds off of their stress (a band-aid solution), more effective time management actually solves the problem of not having enough time to learn what is required of them, and decreases stress.
This is particularly key when taken in combination with new studies on the effect of homework on academic performance. In 2006, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 50 previous studies that examined the relationship between homework and student outcomes. While many studies in recent years have found no correlation between homework and increased student success, this meta-analysis found consistent evidence for the positive influence of homework on academic achievement, with a stronger correlation in grades 7-12 than in K-6, and a stronger correlation when students rather than parents were reporting time spent completing homework.
In another survey of over 700 students, researchers found no correlation between the amount of homework assigned and increased student achievement. However, when researchers looked at the amount of homework students actually completed, they found a strong correlation between the proportion of homework completed and increased academic achievement, particularly in grades 6-12.
Further, in a randomized controlled trial in 2006, 38 surgeons-in-training were placed into one of two groups and taught a new procedure. While the groups had the same amount of time to learn the new procedure, the first group’s training took place in one block of time, while the second group’s training took place across a week. The group who practiced the procedure on multiple days across one week outperformed the first group in all measures. Both competency and retention fared better when students learned through repetition.
So what does this mean for your student? It means that the answer to more stress is not less work. It means that plain old repetition and hard work is the best way to make up academic ground. Most importantly, it means that when your student starts to drown in their work or despair over their grades, you have a way forward. Go through their schedule with them. See where they can save time or complete work more efficiently. Find more practice problems and schedule a regular time to do them. Every student has the power to turn things around; all it requires is structure and support.