Keeping up with the quarter system

by Lea Ozdere
Illustration by QingQing Su, UCLA Student Media

Illustration by QingQing Su, UCLA Student Media

Ten weeks. Three to five classes. Twelve to nineteen (or more) units. A lot of stress. And a social life? Must be the quarter system!

You’ve heard the debate between whether the quarter or semester system is better. I can start by saying the quarter system does reign supreme, but that’s a topic for another time. Just like with everything, the quarter system comes with its pros and its cons. Ten weeks fly by when the days are filled with classes, papers, deadlines, exams, and seemingly endless cramming and stress. And then of course, there’s the eleventh week all quarter-system students dread: finals.

The quarter system has a lot of advantages, but you have to know how to handle it in order to reap the benefits. I’m sure the phrases “time management” and “procrastination” are deeply ingrained in all college students’ brains, but those words aren’t necessarily helpful when you’re not told how to exactly do or avoid those things. Easier said than done, right? Well, here are some tips and words of advice on how to keep up with the quarter system.

Create a self-rewarding system to keep yourself motivated and on top of things.

We would all much rather go out and spend time with friends than be cooped up inside, finishing up our assignments. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can do often without facing any consequences (i.e. bad grades). The best way to handle this situation is to make ourselves do both by using one as a reward for the other. Want to go out by 8 p.m.? Fine; just finish today’s work by 7. Want to spend the weekend going out and not stressing about school? Go for it; just finish your weekend’s assignments first.

Rewarding yourself with something you want to do is the best way to encourage yourself to finish something you don’t want to do. The key with this self-rewarding system is that you actually have to hold yourself accountable. If you don’t finish your work by the time you want to go out for dinner and drinks on Taco Tuesday, then you don’t go out for dinner and drinks on Taco Tuesday. It may be hard to build this accountability, but it’s the only way this system actually works. Sometimes it’s good to have a studious friend you trust to hold you accountable as well, since we can be more inclined to listen to others instead of ourselves.

Exams come quickly … but you have to act quicker.

The quarter system is notorious for having back-to-back exams because once they start, they never really stop. Midterms week four or five? More like midterms weeks four to 10.

The best piece of advice to use here is that as soon as you finish one exam, start preparing for the next. This sounds insanely time-consuming, but when you spread out your studying like this, it feels less like cramming for an exam and more like understanding and mastering material. Think of it as less work for your future self; they’ll thank you later.

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You better know your schedule and deadlines like the back of your hand.

Deadlines may not be your friends, but knowing them certainly will be useful. Mapping out when assignments, papers or projects are due ahead of time helps to avoid leaving them to the last minute and prevents any surprises the night before the deadline. This is also an important way to balance classes because deadlines may overlap; while you may think work for one class can easily be done before a deadline, it can get complicated with multiple classes. This also allows for easy planning for anything you want to do outside of school.

Keeping track of exam dates will help you keep in mind what you are working toward. College can be weird in that it can throw some exam dates on weekends, which is definitely not something any student wants to find out at the last minute or worse: forget about. If there are any exams or big projects due at the start of the week, it is best to block off the majority, or at least some, of the weekend to work and study. Knowing about these dates and deadlines can help manage weekend plans.

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Your peers are your teachers. Learn from others around you.

It’s easy to feel like a little fish in a big sea in college, especially in a big public school. Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate courses and ask questions because class sizes and staff-to-student ratios are so big. This is where other students come into play. You’re surrounded by people that have taken the classes you’re taking, had the professors you have, are majoring in your major, and have gone through this whole process before. These are the best people to learn from, and the greatest part about it is that there is no need to feel intimidated or shy because they’re students just like you.

Forming student study groups and group chats will definitely help keep you on top of your tasks. It’s hard to miss a deadline when you have 50 classmates texting about it. These chats can be overwhelming at times, but they’re definitely still helpful. Most class group chats also have upperclassmen or former students for that course who help answer questions that first-timers don’t know the answer to. College is definitely a place to take advantage of all of the resources around you.

Optimization prime: university edition.

You definitely need to know how to be efficient in the quarter system. Know what is worth your time and effort, and know how to spend time on those things productively. Knowing the weight of each item from your courses can help you decide what to focus on. There is no point in spending 2 hours perfecting an assignment worth less than 5% of your grade when you can earn the same grade by completing it in under 30 minutes. You can use that extra time instead to start preparing for an exam that is worth a much larger portion of your grade and will likely be much more difficult to do well on.

Time is of the essence, especially when the time in question is just ten weeks. If you think you have something down, don’t waste time studying it more. Move on and focus on a new topic you actually need to learn. You can always come back to briefly overview everything, including what you already know.

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities. Know them. Act on them.

If you take away anything from this list of tips, I would absolutely want it to be this: figure out your priorities and act on them. College offers so many opportunities, and there isn’t nearly enough time to do everything. And of course, college isn’t just about assignments and work. It’s about the people, the experiences, the new environment, the independence, the extracurriculars and so much more. Each quarter is a contribution to establishing yourself and gaining new experiences, and ten weeks at a time is not enough to do it all.

Figure out what each thing means to you in the short and long run, and devote your time and effort accordingly. Be logical, but also be passionate and be real. Being smart about school doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice everything else.

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