Is reading week a waste of time? Should we be getting more contact hours for £9,000 tuition fees? Natasha Smith and Louice Tapper-Jansson give their opinions on what many call the ‘half-term of university’.
In reading week, teacher led classes are cancelled for a week so that students could devote their time to self-study. The idea is to give students a break from classes so they can focus on revision. It gives them an opportunity to study for upcoming exams an . However, students might not see this week in the same light: a week without lectures and seminars also equals a week without obligations. Some might see it as an opportunity to do something else – not at all related to schoolwork. It seems, then, that the reading week is perceived by students as a vacation rather than as a ‘study break’. For instance, one of my housemates is going to France during her reading week. So, what is the point of reading weeks if they are not used for studying?
For some, reading week could be really stressful and might even be bad for health. Students might feel pressured and overwhelmed by everything they need to do. Also, that an entire week should be devoted to self-study could be questioned. Whereas some people can handle independent work, many may not feel comfortable with this setting and may need support from tutors in order to focus. The University cannot have an uniform picture of how students spend their time. Is it not better to emphasise the importance of an even distribution of workload throughout the academic year? Besides, many courses already have ridiculously few contact hours. All this questions the necessity of a reading week. With reading weeks you miss the opportunity of having someone to discuss and exchange ideas with – again the focus is on reading for exams instead of reflecting upon what you have read and learned.
The positioning of the reading week is also questionable to me. My school has a reading week, but I never experience the benefits of it as it is placed between Christmas break and the exam period. For me then, it only means a longer vacation. Some of my friends have a ‘guided study week’ just after Christmas. I support cancelling a week’s lectures and seminars for something similar. That way students could meet tutors to get help with issues they may have. I also wonder whether the reading week is viewed by lecturers as an opportunity for them to focus on their own research. As most of the university education is based on research, it is probably good that the staff can devote time to this part of their work. However, there should be a way to achieve this without giving students time off. We pay a lot of money for our degree – we deserve more contact hours, not less.
Conveniently, reading week comes at a time when our enthusiasm for the new academic year is beginning to fade. After the first month of a new semester, we begin to slip back into our old ways; dropping off to sleep in lectures, finishing assignments at 4am the night before they’re due, and so on. By November, the novelty of being back in Cardiff has truly vanished. Cue, reading week! Freedom from lectures and seminars gives us that extra time to recharge our batteries, and therefore makes the time we do spend working, more efficient. An afternoon writing an essay or reading a book seems a lot more plausible after having that extra hour or so in bed, as opposed to dragging yourself home from a 9am lecture in the pouring rain and a foul mood, vowing to never forget your umbrella again. More free time to relax allows students to muster up the strength to do some focused, productive work, as opposed to sitting at a desk, albeit with good intentions, though inevitably staring into space, preoccupied with thoughts about how soggy your feet are.
Reading week also means that those students who live far from Cardiff have time to go home. After finishing the last of the dried food you stocked the cupboards with on move in day, you need a good home cooked dinner to get your motivation back. Tucked up in bed with a book back at home, you also avoid the lure of Thursday night Walkabout or Soda’s Smack Fridays. Taking a holiday at home must be more productive than staring at the same four walls, confined to the same desk. A fully stocked fridge and a warm house are great fuel for study.
A reduction in contact time is controversial when fees are now so high. However, what’s the point in studying at university if we can’t keep up? With many important assignments due before Christmas, the majority of us will admit to innocently skipping lectures in order to prioritise other work, comforted by the thought that we’ll benefit more from spending the day making that 4th final draft, the actual final draft. When given reading week, the same benefits are achieved hassle free.
So why should those of us who genuinely need a break from traipsing to university everyday suffer, just because some students choose to spend their week shopping and catching up on Made in Chelsea? This labels reading week as a waste of time. Reading week is a waste of time for those who choose to waste their time. I think the majority of us are big and strong enough now to plan our free time effectively.