Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Xin Ma

Second Advisor

Dr. Xingkai Luo


The present study addressed a core research question of “Can less be more?” concerning study load, which has become increasingly worrisome and controversial around the world. This idea reflects the philosophy of pursuing efficiency and effectiveness on learning, namely that a lighter study load may result in more successful academic achievement. The study adopted the IPO (input-process-output) model to address five interrelated research questions: 1) What are the structural characteristics of study load? 2) Is there any individual difference in study load? 3) What are the characteristics of teachers and schools under which students tend to have a heavier study load? 4) What are the effects of study load on science achievement without and with adjustment for student, teacher, and school characteristics? and 5) What characteristics of teachers and schools can moderate the relationship between study load and science achievement?

Data were drawn from the 2016 Program for Regional Assessment of Basic Education Quality (PAEQ). The sample included 40,536 students and 946 teachers in science (biology, physics, and geography) from 118 Chinese middle schools. Ascribe to multiple memberships existed at the teacher level for most students, meaning most students were taught by more than one science teacher, the current analyses employed three-level multiple membership multilevel models (MMMM), in which the Marko Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method was utilized to estimate parameters.

The present study revealed that among Chinese eighth graders, on average a daily study load was nine hours on weekdays (six hours in-school learning, two to three hours doing homework, and half an hour after-school learning) and eight hours on weekends (three hours learning in school, three to four hours doing homework, and one and half an hour learning after school). Overall, students with higher SES, students who came from both-parent families, and native students had a heavier total study load. Under homeroom teachers, male teachers, teachers who had been teaching more than 10 years, and teachers who more often applied inquiry-based approaches to science classes, students tended to have a heavier study load. Meanwhile, in schools with higher mean SES, higher mean academic pressure and parental involvement, higher school autonomy, as well as less principal demographic leadership, students tended to have a heavier study load.

Furthermore, the present study displayed that, after we adjusted for student, teacher, and school characteristics, in-school learning time on weekends was the only component of study load maintained a significant and negative effect on science achievement. Teacher gender and several school characteristics, such as mean SES, mean academic pressure and parental involvement, principal leadership, and school autonomy, were salient moderators of the association between study load and achievement. In order to answer the core research question, using the established equations from full MMMMs, three examples were illustrated that reducing individual study load and fostering school climates with lower academic pressure and less parental involvement in academic activities can result in more successful students’ achievement in science. Consequently, we argue that the answer to the question of “Can less be more?” is likely on the “yes” side. Finally, implications for policies and practices in education as well as directions for future research were discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)