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Advice On How You Can Survive The Quarter System At UC Irvine

Before starting university, going to a high school in California meant that I’d be familiar with the University of California (UC) system. It also meant that one of the things I was warned about long before becoming a student at UC Irvine was the infamous UC quarter schedule.

Instead of the typical two semesters that most academic calendars follow, UC schools (with the exception of UC Berkeley and UC Merced) are divided into four quarters: fall, winter, spring, and (optional) summer. UC grading periods are 10-week terms instead of the typical 16 weeks that most universities follow. These 10-week terms also mean there’s much more information compacted into a shorter amount of time, therefore, there’s less time in between exams, midterms, and finals. Whenever I talk to other students that also attend UCs, one of the first things I hear them say is how much they struggle throughout the quarters.

I was aware coming to UCI as a freshman meant that I’d face a new environment that I’d quickly have to adapt to if I wanted to do well and maintain my grades. I fully expected the 10 weeks to catch up to me quickly. From my experience, here’s how to survive the late nights and cramped schedules in the quarter system.

I identified any and all strengths that would help with the handling of my course load. Time management is crucial. Before the school year started, I bought a small pocket planner that had enough space to write checkboxes for all my school tasks. There’s a sense of gratification from coloring in the squares of checkboxes instead of just checking them off. It gives me motivation to complete everything on any given day.

For nights lacking energy and motivation, like when I’m studying or writing essays, I institute a reward for myself that would also boost my energy and effort. For example, something sweet or a song that gets me excited are small rewards that will increase my energy. I set small goals in my work, such as for every section read or every paragraph finished, I’ll listen to one song that gets me energized or eat a piece of candy

Truthfully, midterm week was a huge discrepancy to my productivity streak. I was used to a consistent flow of just completing my tasks and then being done for the day, but the overload of studying I had to do, and the intimidation of being in college courses for the first time, meant that I put a lot more stress on myself to do well. Stress, however, is not always something that is helpful for me. This new type of stress instead resulted in a lot of late nights and even days where I’d skip my work just to preserve some mental health and sleep.

With midterms approaching, I had to get myself together if I wanted to do even moderately well. I kept my previous habits of the checkboxes and small rewards, but I realized that my primary issue is that I got distracted too frequently to get stuff done in a reasonable amount of time. Even if I finished everything I had to, I would rarely finish before midnight. 

My methods helped me get the job done, but midterm season is much too brutal for me to stick to only those tactics. To try and lessen my procrastination problem, I used timers and set limits as a new method of getting what I needed done for the day. I’d allow myself 30 minutes for every assignment, for example, and one hour a day for every class I needed to study for. What I discovered was that with a timer, there was a slight pressure for me to complete what I needed in addition to the motivation I got from the checkboxes and rewards. This ended up being my lifesaver. I often finish assignments before the 30 minute mark, now, and have extra time to study. 

Of course, every student is different. Some students may do better under pressure than others, and are able to balance doing everything last minute. Other students may not like having to stick to a strict schedule, or might stick to their own personal technique for getting work done. For the type-A students out there, these methods provide a form of gratification and motivation. As the quarter comes to a close and we approach our next one, it’s important we know the best method we can properly handle to be successful in our academic ventures.

Overall, my first official midterm and finals week at UCI was successful! By sticking through this schedule with all my tasks and methods, I pushed through the procrastination and stress to maintain my GPA. I hope to maintain this streak and hopefully not get lost in all the stress and procrastination again. I am more confident knowing I have tried-and-true methods I can use to be successful.

Kayla Hoang

UC Irvine '25

is probably drinking more green tea than recommended.
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