Goodman: How to fix the quarter system

Goodman: How to fix the quarter system

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

For my first two years at Northwestern, I defended the quarter system vigorously against criticism. When concerned prospective students and their parents inquired about the fast-moving, high load of classes, I offered supporting arguments like,“you can take twelve additional classes during your entire college career,” and “you can double major, or have a major and two minors or even have a triple major!”

But at the end of my most stressful quarter at NU, I find my cheerful defenses of the quarter system harder to sustain. With one midterm — and sometimes more than one — every week and only 10 weeks to learn and master complex material, I am drowning in schoolwork. When a well-meaning Evanstonian asked me in October if I enjoyed the quarter system, I could barely hide the frustration in my voice. After all, I had to go back that afternoon and study for three midterms over the next two days.

There was a time when I fully appreciated all the quirks of the quarter system. As a prospective student and freshman, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose my classes three times a year. In fact, the quarter system gave me the flexibility to take several classes before deciding on my major. Even with this period without a chosen major, I can still graduate a quarter early with an economics major and a certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications.

But as a junior, I find the frightening pace of multiple midterms per week confusing and stressful. Even my underclassmen friends have complained that they have had two, three or four weeks of midterms in a row. I believe the semester system at other schools could offer a solution or at least a possible modification to the quarter system.

In talking to friends and family at semester schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University Chicago, I learned that most schools have one or two defined periods of midterms, as well as a finals period, for each semester. Students are offered a reprieve from classes to prepare for midterms and are usually given a break after their completion.

Here at NU, I have had midterms as early as the third week of class and as late as Reading Period, when Weinberg students are technically not allowed to have midterms. With all of these varying times of the quarter, who can call an NU “midterm” a true middle-of-term examination?

NU should create a consistent examination schedule that adheres to the true definition of “midterm.” I would be willing to come a week earlier to campus in the fall in order to have even half a week off to study for and take midterms. I could even go without the fall break that other Midwestern schools allow — having a common midterm period would be reward enough. With a consistent midterm period, all of my exams would align, and I could have the strength and mental energy to focus on each individual midterm. Of course, each midterm would count for a higher percentage of my grade, but I would rather focus my mental energy on one midterm than be frazzled over several weeks of the quarter.

Maybe the mental fog of midterms has made me cranky, but an exam almost every week is not a sustainable pace for anybody. To be more successful in classes and promote a balanced lifestyle, NU should consider altering the quarter system to give students a much-needed break.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].