Removing reading week won’t solve finals stress

The Washington University School of Engineering & Applied Science recently released a survey to gauge student interest in eliminating reading week in favor of a longer final exam period. Citing student concerns, the school hopes to alleviate some students’ overcrowding of exams during finals week. While taking multiple finals in one day—or even on subsequent days—isn’t ideal, the solution to this problem does not lay in the axing of reading week.

Students across campus recognize reading week as a refuge. After a semester of hard work, including an oftentimes grueling final week of classes, reading week marks a time to recharge and rejuvenate, and student groups pack a host of performances into this time as a sort of artistic catharsis. Reading week serves to let us catch up on any work we may have fallen behind on over the course of the semester. Who among us hasn’t spent part of reading week holed up in some forsaken corner of the library, reading through a semester’s worth of books before the exam Thursday?

But keeping reading week does nothing to ameliorate the stress of having multiple exams in close proximity. The Office of the Provost lists Wash. U.’s finals policy in detail, noting “students should not register for courses that result in three or more final examinations on one day” and that “students anticipating conflicts in their final examination schedule should seek to resolve these with the course instructors involved before enrolling.” Such a policy leaves open the possibility of a professor not accommodating student requests; therefore, the implementation of a more explicit policy allowing for one or two official make-up dates would be a step in the right direction toward diminishing student stress levels during the last weeks of school.

The University, though, does not appear to have any stand on the last week of classes, which is perhaps the most demanding time for students outside of actual final exams, papers and projects. Many professors unofficially schedule final assignments and assessments during this time, creating an overload between the normal workload expected in classes and the increased workload required of finals. A university-wide crackdown on these practices would help level out the strain of the end of the semester by placing exams where they belong—on final exam days. As the official policy states, “A final examination schedule is published each semester, having been carefully designed to achieve three goals: 1. to protect valuable classroom instruction time at the end of the semester 2. to make efficient use of the entire period of reading days and final examination, and 3. to minimize overcrowding of students’ schedules.”

As leaders of a university that ranks near the top of lists for both academic excellence and student stress, the administration should recognize the rigor of a Wash. U. education, particularly near the semester’s close. Part of the answer to reducing student anxiety exists in maintaining reading days so that we can prepare to do our best on all our work.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.