Class-Time to Study-Time Ratio

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe typical ratios of in-class to out-of-class work per credit hour and how to effectively schedule your study time

Class-Time and Study-Time Ratios

After Kai decides to talk to his guidance counselor about his stress and difficulty balancing his activities, his guidance counselor recommends that Kai create a schedule. This schedule will help him set time for homework, studying, work, and leisure activities so that he avoids procrastinating on his schoolwork. His counselor explains that if Kai sets aside specific time to study every day—rather than simply studying when he feels like he has the time—his study habits will become more regular, which will improve Kai’s learning. 

At the end of their session, Kai and his counselor have put together a rough schedule for Kai to further refine as he goes through the next couple of weeks.

Although Kai knows that studying is important and he is trying to keep up with homework, he really needs to work on time management. This skill is challenging for many college students, especially ones with lots of responsibilities outside of school. Unlike high school classes, college classes meet less often and college students are expected to do more independent learning, homework, and studying.

You might have heard that the ratio of classroom time to study time should be one to two or one to three. This ratio would mean that for every hour you spend in class, you should plan to spend two to three hours out of class working independently on course assignments. If your composition class meets for one hour, three times a week, you’d be expected to devote from six to nine hours each week on reading assignments, writing assignments, etc.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the one-to-two or one-to-three time ratio is generally more appropriate for semester-long courses of eighteen weeks. More and more institutions of higher learning are moving away from semesters to terms ranging from eight to sixteen weeks long.

The recommended class-time to study-time ratio might change depending on the course (how rigorous it is and how many credits it’s worth), the institution’s expectations, the length of the school term, and the frequency with which a class meets. For example, if you’re used to taking classes on a quarter system of ten weeks, but then you start taking courses over an eight-weeks period, you may need to spend more time studying outside of class since you’re trying to learn the same amount of information in a shorter term period. You may also find that if one of the courses you’re taking is worth one-and-a-half credit hours but the rest of your courses are worth one credit hour each, you may need to put in more study hours for your one-and-a-half credit hours course. Finally, if you’re taking a course that only meets once a week such as a writing workshop, you may consider putting in more study and reading time in between class meetings than the general one-to-two or one-to-three ratio.

If you account for all the classes you’re taking in a given semester, the study time really adds up—and if it sounds like a lot of work, it is! Remember, this schedule is temporary while you’re in school. The only way to stay on top of the workload is by creating a schedule to help you manage your time. You might decide to use a weekly or monthly schedule—or both. Whatever you choose, the following tips can help you design a smart schedule that’s easy to follow and stick with.

Start with Fixed Time Commitments

First off, mark down the commitments that don’t allow any flexibility. These include class meetings, work hours, appointments, etc. Capturing the fixed parts of your schedule can help you see where there are blocks of time that can be used for other activities.

Kai’s Schedule

Kai is taking four classes: Spanish 101, U.S. History, College Algebra, and Introduction to Psychology. He also has a fixed work schedule—he works 27 hours a week.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
8:00 AM
9:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
10:00 AM U.S. History I U.S. History I U.S. History I Work
11:00 AM College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra
12:00 PM
1:00 PM Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)
2:00 PM Work Work
3:00 PM
4:00 PM
5:00 PM
6:00 PM
7:00 PM
8:00 PM

Consider Your Studying and Homework Habits

When are you most productive? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Block out your study times accordingly. You’ll also want to factor in any resources you might need. For instance, if you prefer to study very early or late in the day, and you’re working on a research paper, you might want to check the library hours to make sure it’s open when you need it.

Kai’s Schedule

Since Kai’s Spanish class starts his schedule at 9:00 a.m. every day, Kai decides to use that as the base for his schedule. He doesn’t usually have trouble waking up in the mornings (except for on the weekends), so he decides that he can do a bit of studying before class. His Spanish practice is often something he can do while eating or traveling, so this gives him a bit of leniency with his schedule.

Kai’s marked work in grey, classes in green, and dedicated study time in yellow:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
7:00 AM
8:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
9:00 AM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
10:00 AM US History I Spanish 101 US History I Spanish 101 US History I Work
11:00 AM College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30) College Algebra
12:00 PM Spanish 101 Spanish 101 Spanish 101
1:00 PM Spanish 101 Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Work (start 12:30 end 4:30) Spanish 101
2:00 PM US History I Work Work Intro to Psych
3:00 PM
4:00 PM
5:00 PM College Algebra College Algebra College Algebra
6:00 PM
7:00 PM
8:00 PM Intro to Psych Intro to Psych
9:00 PM U.S. History I U.S. History I
10:00 PM

Plan Ahead

Even if you prefer weekly over monthly schedules, write reminders for yourself and keep track of any upcoming projects, papers, or exams. You will also want to prepare for these assignments in advance. Most students eventually discover (the hard way) that cramming for exams the night before and waiting till the last minute to start on a term paper is a poor strategy. Procrastination creates a lot of unnecessary stress, and the resulting final product—whether an exam, lab report, or paper—is rarely your best work. Try simple things to break down large tasks, such as setting aside an hour or so each day to work on them during the weeks leading up to the deadline. If you get stuck, get help from your instructor early, rather than waiting until the day before an assignment is due.

Schedule Leisure Time

It might seem impossible to leave room in your schedule for fun activities, but every student needs and deserves to socialize and relax on a regular basis. Try to make this time something you look forward to and count on, and use it as a reward for getting things done. You might reserve every Friday or Saturday evening for going out with friends, for example. Perhaps your children have sporting events or special occasions you want to make time for. Try to reschedule your study time so you have enough time to study and enough time to do things outside of school that you want to do.

Try It

Kai’s Schedule

When you look at Kai’s schedule, you can see that he’s left Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings open. While he plans on using Sundays to complete larger assignments when he needs to, he’s left his Friday and Saturday evenings open for leisure.


time ratio: in an academic context, this refers to the number of hours a student should plan to work for each hour spent in a scheduled class