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Editorial: Spacing out assignments

To say that the average Brown student is overcommitted is probably an understatement. From juggling work, holding office hours as a teaching assistant, completing their assignments, working out and having a social life, many Brown students are in a constant state of negotiating their time with their many commitments. Given hypercompetitive admission practices, it is no surprise that today’s students are historically among Brown’s busiest. Being a student at Brown is about more than attending classes, and as such, we believe all professors can be more compassionate about major assignment deadlines — proactively working with to students avoid the experience of having multiple midterms or essays due in a single day. A more communicative and expressive culture on our campus can do wonders for our collective mental health and ensure we focus more on learning than on completing assignments and moving on to the next one.

Depending on their concentrations and interests, some students have a tendency to map out their schedules in such a way that they lump certain classes together. For instance, it is common for pre-med students to take PHYS 0040: “Basic Physics” and BIOL 0280: “Introductory Biochemistry” together, and public health students might take PHP 0850: “Fundamentals of Epidemiology” and PHP 1501: “Essentials of Data Analysis” concurrently. Unfortunately, significant bouts of stress arise when midterms are scheduled to be only days apart, or large assignments are due on the same day. Faculty members in departments that offer courses in which students often double enroll in should communicate major assignments with one another and avoid scheduling things on the same day.

Critics may argue that students should learn to tackle multiple midterms on a single day because graduate schools such as medical or law schools organize such overwhelming schedules regularly. While this may be true, Brown prides itself on having students who genuinely enjoy learning. It is often said that students savor rather than dread their problem sets, classroom debates and reading. But the hectic sense of being overwhelmed is fundamentally taxing, and more often than not prevents students from properly learning course material.

Understandably, academic anxiety does not necessarily come from a difficulty or distaste for classroom work, but rather the lack of time. It is common for students to say things like, “I would really love this class if I had more time.” Essentially, when different faculty members place midterms or homework due on the same day, students are forced to race against time, and learning the course material is no longer the goal. Instead, they may choose to emphasize studying only the essential pieces, or they may not spend as much time as they should developing an understanding of concepts.

In an ideal world, Brown would have a rule where students could only have one midterm or large assignment per day. Understandably, this is not always possible, but the effects of stressful situations do take their toll on students. In the unfortunate situation where midterms or papers for courses often taken concurrently have to be placed on the same day, departments should encourage faculty members to be lenient and offer students the opportunity to reschedule. The cultural shift we envision is not designed to promote student slacking but rather to recognize that the purpose of college is to learn and learn well. The University should do what it can to make sure that anything obstructing a student’s path to success is minimized. Timing and scheduling conflicts are an overwhelming, unfortunate and frequently unnecessary nuisances that can impede students’ performance and learning.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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