Top Nav Breadcrumb

7 steps to master the university quarter system

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Seerat Chawla shares ­­­her tips for success in the university quarter system. This is her second story in our graduate voices series.

Multiracial students are walking in university hall during break and communicating.

By Seerat Chawla

“These four years can be a blur, but hopefully you come out with defining memories.”

Imagine having ten weeks to learn and master a new subject. Now imagine doing so in a new environment with countless opportunities and distractions. That is the experience students enrolled in the quarter system are subjected to every term. As a high school senior, I never paid much attention to the debate over the quarter versus the semester system, overlooking it entirely in my decision-making. So, it was no surprise that I, along with many other of my peers, was thrust into the term unprepared for the blur of midterms and experiences that is one quarter. With three quarters of experience under my belt, here is some knowledge that I gleaned through my struggles and successes:

1. Week 0 is your ally: live it to the fullest!

Most universities offer a period of few days for students to move in and acclimate before the start of classes in the fall. At UCLA, we call this week 0. It is a week of fairs, free merchandise and events and information all over campus. This is the one week the entire year where you are unburdened with school and extracurricular commitments. Therefore, make the most of it! Go to events, explore the city and spend quality time with your friends before the rush of the quarter system hijacks your calendar. As an incoming freshman, this week can be rather tough because you do not yet have friends to accompany you on all these adventures. However, do not let that stop you from making the most of the week. These events and fairs are there for you to meet new people and interact with your peers so it’s okay to show up alone. Make the memories now that will carry you through midterm and final season.

2. Yes, two weeks of learning can be more than enough material to test on.

In high school, the first two weeks of fall semester were spent learning more about your peers and teachers rather than learning much course information. However, in the quarter system, every single lecture is planned down to the minute to ensure that the information is covered in ten weeks, and that often means that your class has learned enough to be tested in two weeks. I think this is the most difficult area of adjustment for freshmen. I recall that my year, we all were still basking in the glory of Los Angeles and the fun of week 0 that we forgot that midterms were around the corner. With the quarter system, there is no easing back into school. Instead, you have to hit the ground running to keep up. The best way to prepare for this is to take a free afternoon before the start of week one to read and reread the syllabi for your classes toughly. These documents will be your savior for the next ten weeks. Given the speed of the quarter system, professors usually plan the class according to each week and convey this information in their syllabi. Mark important days such as midterms and finals in your calendar in order to start planning your studying schedule. If you have free time beforehand, you can also review concepts or read ahead for each lecture to make the transition back to school easier after a long break. It is better to plan ahead than to be caught by surprise by midterms, especially when the test is a large component of your performance in the course.

3. Be resilient.

“Remember to give yourself breaks through the chaotic weeks”

Midterms never stop. All weeks can be midterm weeks. Depending on your schedule of classes, midterms can start week 3 and not stop until week 8 or you could have a midterm week 9 right before finals. These seemingly endless weeks of learning and revising can become rather harsh and challenging but remember that resilience is key to conquering the quarter system. Some quarters will be worse than others and you will start to notice patterns and learn from your mistakes. One thing that I learned from my first quarter was that most of my general education (GE) classes in the humanities only had one midterm while my STEM courses had two midterms. Knowing this, I balanced my schedule for the following quarters, allowing myself a break with a GE. University is great and terrible in that you decide your schedule. Though this task sounds fun, it is definitely not always the easiest. If you keep pushing head, you will be able to see what works for you as an individual. Remember to give yourself breaks through the chaotic weeks or an easier quarter after a challenging one!

4. Go to class.

This one seems self-explanatory, but as college students, we can take lectures to be optional especially when there is so much going on around us. However, in the quarter system, a missed lecture can be an entire period of Greek history missed. With each lecture missed, you add more studying to catch up on to your already full plate and the information can all pile up in the latter half of the quarter when you are already stressed preparing for finals. So, while it may seem impossible some days, go to class. Your stressed-out week 9 self will thank you. (As a bonus, go to office hours. Professors and teaching assistants are extremely knowledgeable about their subject areas and are an invaluable resource.)

5. Learn about the resources available on your campus.

University comes with the freedom of living alone and making your independent decisions. While exciting, this can soon become overwhelming and the quarter system’s speed does not necessarily make it any easier. That being said, there are numerous resources available on your campus to assist and support you as an individual, and as a student. Between classes, extracurriculars and social activities, it might be hard to find the time to seek out these resources, so try to do so before the storm. At the beginning of the quarter, search for groups that offer tutoring for your classes, seek out your professor and teaching assistant’s office hours, start going to the gym with a friend and visit the health center. My high school was rather small compared to UCLA and all the opportunities and resources were broadcasted to the student body easily. However, in the college setting, I soon came to learn that it is expected that independent students are able to find the resources that meet their individual needs. This has been made surprisingly easy, though, with booths, presentations and advertisements on university platforms. I know that I would not have been as successful as a freshman without their assistance, so please reach out!

6. You have the credits to explore. Add a major/minor!

“There is much more knowledge you will gain from your experiences during these coming three quarters.”

Since you are taking three to four classes each quarter, you actually end up graduating with extra credits than students on the semester system. In other words, you have extra credits that you can apply however you want. Explore a subject area you never thought about before or add another major or minor! This can balance out your academic schedule during the quarter even. Most students think that the quarter system takes flexibility out of the equation; however, it is actually the opposite: while you have less time to master a subject, you have more time to explore different realms in your academic journey.

7. Don’t forget to enjoy the college experience.

In the hustle and bustle of the week, it is easy to forget about yourself. Remember that college is a self-enriching experience and you come first. Take breaks for yourself and surround yourself with supportive relationships. Enjoy late-night conversations in your dorm lounges, the meals in the dining halls and the people around you. These four years can be a blur, but hopefully you come out with defining memories.

There is much more knowledge you will gain from your experiences during these coming three quarters. You will probably start to refer to dates as weeks of the quarter rather than actual days of the year. You will also feel like you are starting a new academic year every quarter and there will never be enough time to finish that book or that show. Nevertheless, as you develop your own love/hate relationship with the quarter system, remember that you are joining the few people in the world that can truly learn something in ten weeks.

seerat square

Seerat Chawla graduated from Quartz Hill High School with the IB diploma in 2018. She now is a first-year at the University of California Los Angeles. Between classes, you can find her working in a research lab, debating or exploring LA. Joining this year as an alumni contributor, Seerat is looking forward to sharing her experiences as a recent graduate with fellow IB students.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

If you enjoyed this story, consider reading more below: