By: Saad Ejaz and Salman Surangiwala
This year marked McMaster’s second fall reading week since its inauguration in January 2015 for the 2015-2016 academic year. The break provides students with a full week recess mid-way through the semester with the goal of improving academic performance, student mental health and well-being.
Marking the second fall reading week, the Silhouette conducted a survey looking at the current student views and whether the full-week recess was successful in achieving its intended goals since its inauguration. The survey seems to suggest that students are in favour of having a reading week, however some may reconsider its placement at a different time of the semester.
In total 307 responses were collected from students across all undergraduate faculties. The survey asked students how they used their fall reading and whether it helped them relax and recharge before facing their academic and extracurricular workload for the rest of the term.
From the data collected, it was clear that students were overwhelmingly in support of a fall reading week, with 91.9 per cent of students being in favour its inclusion.
Professor Gregg Flynn from the department of political science states the new addition of a fall reading has changed the delivery of courses.
“The insertion of a fall reading week has rather changed the way we have to think about the delivery our courses… with fall reading week coming right at the point we need an assessment, it has forced all of us to push our assessment up or have them earlier,” he said.
Due to the fall reading week, instead of assessments being spread over a three or four week period, they are either right before or after reading week.
“Its not done intentionally on our part to take advantage of the fact that students have a week off, rather it is we have to assess students early enough so that they can make a decision of whether they want to stay in a course or not.”
Students were also asked how they spent their reading week. The results indicated that most students used their week to relax and spend time with family, followed by studying for school, working for pay and volunteering.
Many students are in favour of the current reading week and its structure, referencing the importance of rest during the school year.
“It is necessary, especially for first year students who may be away from their family for the first time. It gives them a good opportunity to go back home and visit,” said Elise Lin, a fourth-year Chemical Biology student.
The survey also asked students about the stress and workload before and after reading week. When asked to rank stress levels during midterms on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest levels of stress, 88.6 per cent of students responded that their stress levels were at either a four or a five. When surveyed if the fall reading week was helpful in reducing stress levels, 90.2 per cent of students answered “very much” or “somewhat”.
Under the new academic schedule that includes the fall reading week, there is no longer time for a break between classes and fall end of term exams.
“This means that final exams are more squished together, and students are more pressed for time when studying for them,” said Lin.
Imaad Ali-Mohammed, a third-year Electrical Engineering student states, “I think reading week could be placed better near the end of the semester so that students can take advantage of it to catch up on their work. At the time reading week is given to us, students for the most part are already caught up on their work,”
The survey indicated that a fall reading week was successful in accomplishing the objectives that it was implemented for. Student stress levels were reported to decrease, giving them a much-needed rest from daily university activities, in addition to a time to relax and enjoy time with family.
However, the amount of study days received before final exams and increased workload after reading week leaves some debating whether the break was effective for its purposes. Nevertheless, the majority of upper-year students appreciated the break, despite the backlog it created.