Reading week — that glorious week when university students are let off from classes — has a bad reputation.
Better known as spring break in the US, it brings visions of scantily clad undergrads, beach parties, and flowing booze.
But it seems this is an unfair picture, as many students are actually very productive during their week off.
At this time of the semester, many students are buried in homework and tired from staying up all night to study for midterms. Reading week is a welcome reprieve from the daily grind.
The question is what to do with all this newfound free time?
For Anna Hynd, reading week is all about getting things done.
“I’m planning on getting caught up on school. It’s boring I know, but I haven’t done anything this semester,” says Hynd, an evolutionary biology student at the University of Toronto. “I have two midterms, a writing project, two labs and a lab report due all the first week back.”
Reading week began about 40 years ago, says Professor John Scherk, the Interim Vice-Dean at the University of Toronto Scarborough. It was placed in February because most classes lasted a full school year, and a break was needed in addition to the holiday in December.
“It was felt that a week’s break in the middle would enable students to catch up on their studies where they might have fallen behind, or more generally to just catch their breath and take a break,” he says.
Even though classes at UTSC are now one semester in length, reading week has remained the same throughout the years.
The most glamorous thing to do on reading week is to travel. In the US especially, spring break is famous for allowing hardworked university students to let loose and party, preferably in sunny destinations. While vacations are still a popular choice for students, not everyone gets in on the fun.
“It’d be nice, but there’s still work to do,” Gisonni says. “Besides, I’d rather save a vacation for the end of the semester. Then I feel like I’ve earned it, and there’s nothing else to worry about.”
Hynd and Ivy similarly have never really planned to go away, citing money and time as reasons. Hynd has big plans to go away in May and June, and so all her funds will be going to that trip.
There are plenty of rigors involved in a full university course load. It seems there’s always another reading or assignment to do. And even though reading week is meant to be a break from classes, schoolwork is a necessary evil.
“I have an essay due the Thursday we go back. I’m actually a little annoyed that we have something due right after reading week,” says Rachel Gisonni, a third-year University of Toronto student. “We have so many readings, there’s already so much to catch up on without having to write an essay too.”
Besides working on her essay, Gisonni also plans to take time to relax a bit, watch some television, and visit friends who are back home for their own reading weeks.
For Kathryn Ivy, reading week is basically the same as a regular week, with one key difference: no classes. The University of Toronto student will be spending her time working her regular hours as a server at Kelsey’s, volunteering at an elementary school, and studying for a midterm. Still, she wouldn’t give up her reading week for anything.
“Everyone wants a break. It’s a nice time to relax,” she says. “I like being able to go out with friends and sleep in and not have to go to class in the mornings.”
In fact, some students want more time off. Specifically, another reading week during first semester, something that currently isn’t offered at most schools.
“I definitely think we should have a first semester reading week. I think it’s stupid we don’t,” Hynd says. “There’s a chemistry class that people can take either semester. I think it gives people who take it second semester an unfair advantage.”
Gisonni even thinks this week has an impact on her final marks.
“My second semester marks are usually better. I don’t know if having a reading week is exactly why, but it is helpful.”
While reading week is a staple, it is unlikely a first semester reading week will happen in the near future. Scherk says it would be too difficult because first semester is too short — it’s book ended by Labour Day and the Christmas holidays.
The goal at the end of reading week is to head back to class feeling refreshed and ready to go for that last half of the semester. Hopefully, Ivy says, students return having had a lot of fun as well.
So perhaps something like ‘break week’ would be a more accurate name for this week off. While some students may choose to party hard, the reality is most do choose to spend some time catching up on schoolwork.
But the bottom line is, no matter what students do on reading week, not having to wake up and head to class everyday makes for one relaxing and fun week.
And I can’t wait for mine.