Student Perception of the High School Workload


When walking down the halls of John Jay High School, you can almost certainly hear the grumblings of students describing the comically large mound of work they have to do for their classes that week. As I entered high school, I too had heard of the intense rigor and workload involved with many high school classes, so I prepared myself for the worst. Truthfully, there is a lot of work in high school. However, now three years later I believe that instead of asking how much work students have, it’s more significant to ask how they perceive their workload. When talking to two different of students (both fairly different), I found that regardless of the time spent on homework or studying, students perceived the work differently depending upon their interest in the subject as well as some other factors.

The first student that I talked to about this subject was a junior girl, currently taking 3 AP courses and 2 honors classes along with some other electives. She said that she spent an average of 5 hours on homework a night (however, it varied day to day). This student did say that she thought homework/studying given out of school could be helpful depending on the subject and the assignment. More importantly, the junior emphasized the fact that the work from each class was greatly impacted by her interest in the subject, saying “If you love math, you’re not going to mind doing a packet of math every night.” This alteration in perception is especially important in student selection of classes. The junior believed that “if we spent less time taking classes that we didn’t want, we wouldn’t complain as much” and rather than merely taking some classes, she said students should take classes they are genuinely interested in, as these don’t add as much to the heavy workload that some might experience in high school.

Conversely, the second student that I talked to was a freshman boy taking no honors or AP courses. Interestingly, while his day to day time spent doing homework (one and a half hours) greatly differed from the previous student’s time (5 hours), many of the same ideas reappeared. The freshman believed that the work done outside was valuable and ultimately useful in the long run. Furthermore, when asked how he thought the high school workload compared to his expectation prior to freshmen year he said “It’s not that bad in most subjects…the workload seems like it’s bigger in some classes, but it’s not. It just seems that way because I don’t like it.” This closely mirrored the junior’s perception of her workload mentioned earlier.

The idea that student perception of workload was dependent upon interest in the class was the most significant pattern that I observed when talking to both of these vastly different students. Whether the students were dealing with 5 or 1.5 hours of work, they both emphasized that the time spent doing the work wasn’t necessarily a direct indication of their perception of their work. Furthermore, from freshmen to junior year, the phenomenon seemingly maintains itself. This may be important to note as the time for course selection approaches. Students that pick classes they are more enthusiastic about will likely have a less stressful perception of their workload and, overall, a more enjoyable time in school.