As the semester nears completion, the anxiety provoked by yet another semester of masking, COVID-19 cases and general uncertainty will grow exponentially. In 2019, we published an editorial that asked Tufts to extend the reading period beyond just three days. In hindsight, three days sounds luxurious; fall semesters at Tufts tend to only have a two-day reading period, and this semester is ending with a disconcerting one-day reading period.
What used to be at least a two-day window for students to organize, study and prepare for final exams is now a single day off from classes. There could be multiple reasons for this. As Tufts generally begins classes after Labor Day, a late Labor Day this year forced final exams to end on Dec. 23 — just one day before Christmas Eve — and possibly impacted the reading period. Additionally, the university delayed the start of classes to accommodate Rosh Hashanah, causing classes to begin on Sept. 8. The last two times classes began this late were in fall 2020 and fall 2015, but these semesters were designed such that the single day of reading period fell on a Monday, providing a three-day cushion between the end of classes and the beginning of exams. This semester, the cushion is only one day, the shortest at least since 2009, which is the earliest year the Tufts academic calendar extends back to.
Tufts stands out among its peer institutions in giving students the least amount of free time to prepare for final exams. This semester, Bowdoin and Wesleyan are giving students a four-day reading period, Brown is giving students a five-day reading period and Harvard is giving students a six-day reading period. Princeton’s reading period is eight days long. Yet Tufts students have only a single day to transition from a semester’s worth of classes to challenging final exams.
The reading period is a valuable resource for students as they enter the most stressful and high-stakes part of the semester. Of course, it allows students to perform better on exams and work on final papers. The packed corridors of the library, the bustling atrium in the SEC and the line at The Sink depict the stress of students. After such a long semester, students need time to prepare for exams — only a break between classes and final exams can provide that. One day is simply not enough to review nearly 14 weeks worth of rigorous course material for four to six classes.
The benefits of extending the reading period go beyond raising GPAs. The reading period also provides students with time to recoup their mental health; this is something regularly needed following a grueling semester, especially since the pandemic has had an adverse effect on college students’ mental health nationwide. In the past two years, students have noted a general feeling of burnout, resulting in calls for rest and more time off that have gone unanswered.
Further, the reading period provides a time for Tufts students to reconnect with friends and de-stress. It is during this time that many clubs, sports teams, fraternities and sororities hold bonding events, formals or end-of-year performances at night. This period traditionally fosters community, as, after a long day of studying, students can get together before exams to bond one last time before the end of the semester.
The benefits of the reading period are immense, from improving academic performance and mental health to promoting community bonding before the final, most stressful period of the year. Tufts should follow its peer institutions by extending the reading period and ensuring that a measly one-day break between classes and exams does not happen again, regardless of how the calendar falls.