Time off during the fall semester could help students with their workload and mental health
The midterm break has come and gone. Some of us had a rather productive week, others feel rested, and some are now less motivated to go to class, having tasted the joy of a break. While we may have varying opinions about the purpose of reading week, it seems odd that it only happens in one of two semesters. Where is the fall semester’s reading week?
Although it doesn’t exist at Concordia, some university students in Montreal do have a fall break. For example, a few faculties at the Université de Montréal offer students a chance in the fall to catch up on their homework and relax. So why aren’t Concordia students given this opportunity?
It is true that implementing an additional break in the academic calendar would come with potential downsides. Those school days would not just disappear; the semester would have to start earlier or finish later in order to maintain its current 13 weeks. Starting before Labour Day could be a problem though, because some students would have to pay an extra month of rent if the semester started at the end of August instead of the beginning of September.
Extending the semester in December isn’t ideal either. This would shorten the holiday break, which is an important time to spend with family and on ourselves. Many students have family outside of Montreal, making it hard enough already for them to see their loved ones during the school year.
Another solution would be to shorten the examination period, potentially by having more exams on the weekend. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. The longer examination period schedules exams on consecutive days for some students anyway.
Although these solutions all have their costs, I think they are worth it if a break could help students’ mental health. Research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario and published in 2017 hinted at this benefit.
The study tested the saliva of participants from two universities—one with a reading week and one without—to determine stress levels. Participants also filled out a questionnaire, which indicated that the numbers of stressors in a student’s life after the reading week diminished. An analysis of the hormones in participants’ saliva also indicated higher levels of stress in the students who didn’t have a reading week.
However, the group of participants who had a reading week scored higher on the Perceived Stress Scale, a psychological instrument used to measure stress, after their break. This means they were more stressed than before the break. Although this might seem to contradict the benefits of having a reading week, it’s important to note that the type of stress was different. According to the study, before the break, the highest reported stressors were “worried about the future,” “sitting through a boring class’’ and ‘’having too little sleep.” After the break, students were more concerned about deadlines, projects and a difficult upcoming week.
The study does not provide information about the group that did not have a reading week. Nonetheless, most of these findings seem to indicate that students without a reading week do experience more stress than the other group, since their saliva was tested and indicated higher stress levels. Mental health aside, a reading week is also a great opportunity to catch up on your homework. If you are like me and switched classes or registered for courses at the last minute, you might have welcomed that break with open arms, or wish you’d had one in the fall.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin