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Kristina Iliopoulos: UCLA needs dead days to combat students’ quarter-system stress

(Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Kristina Iliopoulos

May 26, 2016 9:39 p.m.

There are a few things I love about UCLA. As a South Campus student, I thoroughly enjoy the even spread of midterms every other week. It adds a sort of consistency to my life, and has gained me a permanent seat in Powell Library. I put “Sorry, I can’t. Midterms,” as an automated text response, just in case any of my friends have any hope left that I’ll ever be able to do fun activities.

And this is a common theme at UCLA. Technically speaking, a midterm is a test that occurs in the middle of a term. Schools on the semester system, such as UC Berkeley and private schools, loyally follow this definition. In contrast, the quarter system, like at UCLA, derives a relaxed loose notion of classes starting midterms on week four, sometimes even week three, and leading right until finals, allowing for very few breaks.

UCLA boasts that its students excel at balancing schoolwork and a plethora of extracurricular activities. Sure, on paper our resumes look great, but walk into Powell Library at 3 a.m. almost any week and students will still be hard at work, chugging coffee, about to fall asleep at their desks.

According to the 2014 National College Health Assessment Report conducted at UCLA by the Student Affairs Information and Research Office, students reported the two top impediments to academic performance being stress and anxiety. Furthermore, 85 percent of participants reported feeling overwhelmed and only 6 percent reported they got enough sleep within the previous week.

The semester system boasts the classic dead week to combat this. It’s a week between the end of classes and the beginning of finals designated for students to have enough time to study the material learned in the last term. The quarter system, however, quickly goes through an entire course in 10 weeks. Students can learn new material during 10th week and then be tested on it a couple days later, if not the very next day.

A dead weekend at UCLA would help alleviate stress the quarter system induces and allow for more general study and a small break from the constant midterms.

Many UCLA South Campus classes will disregard the definition of a midterm and have two, and many North Campus classes will have one that is usually during fifth or sixth week. So, students taking a mix of both are very likely to have a midterm every other week, starting from week three or four and going until week eight.

This system of having an important test every other week until finals puts a large amount of stress on students, since grades are of the utmost importance in college. The fast-paced system leads to cramming, lost nights of sleep and an increase in anxiety.

Furthermore, our testing system’s fast pace is flawed because a university should not only give their students the best opportunity possible at achieving the highest grade they can, but they should also have the best chance at genuinely learning the material without simply memorizing for a test and then forgetting it. Cramming is not healthy and usually not a productive way to learn information for more than a week. According to the American Psychological Association, “Cramming routines work against the memorization of key ideas. … If the ideal setting is an all-night marathon, you’re less likely to remember what you’ve just learned.” But cramming is what the quarter system promotes.

Our student council has been advocating for this issue as well. One of the platforms of Heather Rosen, outgoing USAC president, this past year was establishing the Academic Advocacy Committee to promote dead days along with other movements designed to reduce any new workload during 10th week. This was an unusual move for any USAC president because it was a platform which was not expected to be accomplished within a year, and was accordingly not achieved. According to Sarah Brown, the Academic Advocacy director, incoming 2016-2017 USAC president Danny Siegel is continuing Rosen’s initiative. This is an important platform for future USAC presidents to continue, since the only way it will be accomplished is through persistence.

The Academic Advocacy Committee is also advocating for limiting new material taught during 10th week and a moratorium on projects and papers that are not in place of a final exam during 10th week to further alleviate the stresses of the quarter system. This advocacy is in the very least showing administration the need for change.

The most obvious argument against a dead weekend is that it would drastically change the academic calendar or the final schedule. But, according to University Registrar Frank Wada, the proposed dead weekend can be considered with no changes to the academic calendar, but would reduce each final from three to two hours, and one more final slot per day. These changes are easily feasible.

UCLA and other schools following the quarter system should implement measures such as dead days in order to relieve some of the unnecessary stress the quarter system entails in order to benefit students’ general health, grades, ability to effectively learn material and the amount of zombies trudging down Bruin Walk.

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Kristina Iliopoulos
Kristina Iliopoulos was a columnist from 2015-2017.
Kristina Iliopoulos was a columnist from 2015-2017.
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