Gutelle: Cramming is the quarter system’s biggest flaw

Sam Gutelle

When someone asks me what my least favorite part of the Northwestern experience is, I don’t even have to think. There are so many elements of this school that have added up to an awesome three and a half years, but one pesky negative always seems to drag me down. No matter what I do at NU, I can never escape my true nemesis: the dreaded quarter system.

There are many superficial issues with the quarter system. It packs a ton of work into a shorter time period, makes reuniting with friends from home difficult, and further complicates the summer internship search with its unusual and inflexible schedule. Some people are willing to forgive these flaws because they gain access to more classes over their four-year undergraduate careers, taking 48 or more as opposed to the usual 40 of the semester system. I, however, am not fooled. The extra eight classes are not even close to worth the drawbacks when you consider that the testing schedule of the quarter system actually deters the ability to make these extra classes correlate with extra knowledge gained.

We are currently in the middle of midterm season, and most of us know the drill by now: Upcoming midterm, cram session aided by coffee and junk food and every other vice, completion of midterm, repeat ad infinitum. This is a particularly vicious cycle in the quarter system, where professors who wish to have 3 exams (or papers, or projects, or any other stressful exercise) must cram material into a course that is not long enough to fit it, while others settle for two exams to create a staggered effect where many students have an exam or due date every single week.

When I am studying for a test, I am not in a learning mood. I focus on exactly what will be on the exam, and ignore everything else – including my other classes. How many times have you put off a reading or small activity because a looming deadline took precedent? During exam time (which, in the quarter system, is all the time), learning is simply not a priority. Good grades are a priority. I am preparing to dump a ton of info that, after I have turned in my exam, I will promptly forget. Class time is for learning. Test time is for satisfying the requirements of the system.

This is how it should be. A class without grades gives no incentive to learn, no reason to soak up all the interesting information presented during classes. Of course, this is easier in the semester system, where students can have some time to learn without having to always worry about the next big exam. The illusion created by the quarter system is that more classes equals more learning, but all that actually occurs is the collision of a bunch of compressed syllabi that all interfere with each other’s didactic ability.

Thus, learning is sacrificed, and for what? For the ability to say that we have spread our minds across every subject known to man? Without learning as much as we can, that extra schooling simply turns into meaningless rewards; we are taking classes to say that we have taken those classes. I’m not trying to say that I haven’t learned a lot at this school, because I have. I think that with a semester system, NU’s superior faculty would have the chance to shine even more.

Sam Gutelle is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]