Four years ago, students voted in a referendum that brought fall reading week back to arts and science students at U of T, something that the Arts and Science Students’ Union also plans to encourage other faculties to adopt in the long-term.
While students voted for adding a fall reading week, the timing of the break was not voted on. Rather, an administrative working group, which included student representatives, selected early November as the dates for the week and extended a pre-existing two-day break into a week. It also reasoned that it would provide a break between the two major stressors: midterms and finals.
But many students feel, and have felt in the past, that this reasoning is misguided. While, of course, a weeklong break is welcome after the chaos of midterms, a break preceding midterms would likely help students practice healthy study habits, like many other universities and in our satellite campuses. In fact, an October reading week would benefit us both academically and mentally.
A recent survey at McMaster University found that students overwhelmingly felt that their pre-midterm break reduced stress across the entire fall term. In comparison, U of T students spend two-thirds of the fall semester without a break.
Academically, we are faced with both existing assignments and upcoming exams, with many students experiencing cognitive fatigue and sleep deprivation, both of which are scientifically known to impact cognition and student performance, even at minor levels.
Sleep, in particular, is critical to learning new facts and committing them to memory, a technique which is vital to any student taking an exam. Something as simple as having the time to sleep restfully the week before midterms, rather than cramming in time to study between other assignments, would certainly benefit students academically.
Reading week is an opportunity to rest and enjoy a much-needed opportunity to have some social time.
An October reading week would reap these benefits by giving students time to alleviate mental and physical stress through periods of self-motivated study, rest, and relaxation. Moving forward, the administration should seriously consider making this change for the benefit of students.
James Yuan is a first-year Life Sciences student at Victoria College. Yuan is a columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.