Monday, September 24

Selby Kia: Quarter system keeps students from exploring courses in-depth, causes stress


The quarter system is a mainstay of student culture at UCLA. Students and faculty lament the fast pace of the 10-week structure – and rightfully so. Universities such as UC Berkeley employ the semester system and give more time for students to explore the depth of the subject matter – something sorely lacking at UCLA. Perhaps it’s time to retire the quarter system for good. (Habeba Mostafa/Daily Bruin)

The quarter system is a mainstay of student culture at UCLA. Students and faculty lament the fast pace of the 10-week structure – and rightfully so. Universities such as UC Berkeley employ the semester system and give more time for students to explore the depth of the subject matter – something sorely lacking at UCLA. Perhaps it’s time to retire the quarter system for good. (Habeba Mostafa/Daily Bruin)


It’s that time of year again, when UCLA students start to see Snapchats from their semester system friends of post-exam celebrations, hometowns and summer bliss.

Meanwhile, weary Bruins have just finished week six of spring quarter.

Instead of two 15-week semesters, UCLA has three 10-week quarters. The 10-week quarter system keeps UCLA students on their toes, to say the least. It’s hard to expect less with an overwhelming amount of material packed into 10 weeks: Midterms start as early as week three of the quarter and end as late as week nine, and professors frantically try to make the most of what always seems like not enough time.

The quarter system offers little breathing room for missed lectures or holidays like Thanksgiving break. This seemingly endless, unforgiving race can often make students wonder: Why is UCLA even on the quarter system?

The university has been on the quarter system since the mid-1960s, said Katherine Alvarado, a UCLA spokesperson. The quarter system was designed to accommodate more students by encouraging them to take classes during the summer quarter to graduate sooner.

UCLA has considered switching to the semester system in the past, most recently during the Chancellor’s Leadership Retreat in September 2001, during which faculty and administrators addressed barriers to improving undergraduates’ learning and writing skills. The switch did not happen because the efforts didn’t garner enough momentum, Alvarado said.

UCLA should consider switching again, though.

A semester system at UCLA would allow students to spend more time interacting with material and would prevent professors from having to rush through course material and adhere to tight schedules.

After all, there’s a reason why less than 15 percent of universities around the nation are on the quarter system.

The greatest difference between the semester and quarter systems is the time crunch students face. Semester students have the luxury of time on their hands to study a subject in-depth and, arguably, better engage with it. Students at institutions like Harvard and Yale even get a “Reading Period” – a week before final exams without formal instruction, during which students can spend time exploring special topics, working on papers or doing projects.

 

While some might say the quarter system is manageable as long as students stay on top of the material, keeping up with the fast pace can prove difficult when students do not have enough time to fully work through tough concepts before being tested. The quarter system doesn’t just discourage mid-quarter breaks – it also stifles the trial and error and questioning that is necessary for mastering a subject.

Semester students don’t have this same lack of time. Joya Manjur, a second-year society and environment student at UC Berkeley – a school that has been on the semester system since 1983 – said she likes the semester system and doesn’t think she would do well on the quarter system.

“I always kind of mess up in the middle on at least one midterm, but I have time to bring (my grade) up with the semester system,” Manjur said.

Manjur said she likes that her classes consider material in-depth and added she gets to form more relationships with the people around her under the semester system.

Meanwhile, Shatakshi Mohan, a second-year statistics student at UCLA, said she feels a constant, underlying rush and stress because of the quarter system and argues that the pace is not always conducive to learning. Mohan said she thinks the brevity of the quarter system gives little chance for students to rebound after bad midterm or assignment grades.

“If I mess up early on in the quarter, there’s no chance for redemption,” Mohan said. “It feels like you’re a lab rat continuously running on a wheel.”

And the quarter system isn’t living up to its name. Originally, the system was intended to cover a full year’s worth of material with summer session as part of the yearlong academic calendar, Alvarado said.

But it is infeasible for many international and out-of-state students to take classes over the summer. Summer session courses are also inconvenient for students who want to do summer internships. Summer courses are truncated to an even more grueling six-week time frame to allow for not one, but two summer sessions. The academic year feels fast, but a summer session is like a quarter on steroids.

One argument in support of the quarter system is that it enables students to take, on average, six more classes than semester students over the course of their college careers. While this flexibility allows students to take courses they might not otherwise explore, the benefit of taking a handful of additional classes is marginal compared to the cost of compromising the quality of all the courses students take. The perception of being able to explore and take more classes is also idealistic since it can cause students to take on too much coursework, Mohan said.

Certainly, students in the quarter system only have to suffer through 10 weeks of courses they don’t like. But one would hope that the majority of courses students are taking in college are ones they do in fact have an interest in – and more importantly, would want to explore in-depth.

The time constraints and stress involved in learning 15 weeks of material in 10 weeks makes coursework feel more like checking off a box than diving deep into subject matter.

And that slash into quality alone is enough to make any student wonder whether a quarter system is really worth their quarters.

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Opinion columnist

Kia is an Opinion columnist.


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  • Dennis Rice

    The semester model would either give exams after a long winter break or begin classes in mid-August. As a semester student, I had five-six courses at a time. In the quarters system I had 3-4…which allowed me to focus rather than skip superficially over the surface of topics. I vote for the quarter all the way.