Your guide to a successful reading week
Reading week offers students a mix of rest and stress, emphasizing the need to balance academics with enjoyable activities.

The first few weeks of the semester are often spent speed-scrolling through lecture slides and cramming notes into some semblance of a coherent revision plan. After a grueling midterm season, reading week comes as a welcome respite. A few blissfully empty days offer students the chance to catch up on sleep, indulge in extracurriculars, and finally address the laundry basket that’s been marinating for several weeks too long. Some find this the prime opportunity to network or seek in-depth academic advice, while others struggle to stay afloat with a host of at-home responsibilities. The diversity of career goals and living situations among students creates a vast spectrum of what reading week looks like for everyone.

Many of us might have every intent of being productive. It’s a familiar feeling: you set your alarm the night before, grumpily hit snooze when it startles you awake, then end up rolling out of bed in the late afternoon, disoriented and disappointed with yourself. Others jump at the opportunity to plan socials and end up having a blast with friends. But when the end of the week rolls around, the five readings you planned to do when you had a spare minute still haven’t been touched, and three of them are due tomorrow. 

Those who struggle with overworking themselves rather than procrastinating might follow through with their plans of using the week to work on several assignments ahead. But all too soon, the break is over, and it didn’t end up being much of a break at all. So, what exactly are the benefits of reading week, and how can we plan our time to make it worthwhile?  

A study by McMaster University assessed the benefits of reading week by having students complete a two-part stress survey both before and immediately after reading week. The first part of the survey measured the number of stressors recently experienced by students while the second part asked students to indicate their perceived stress levels. In general, the number of stressors decreased over reading week, but students’ perceived stress was higher following the break. 

For most participants, stress before the break was related to general worries about the future whereas concerns following the break were tied closely to academics. On top of that, an analysis of students’ saliva samples after reading week showed a lower ratio of cortisol to other circulating hormones, indicating less stress. 

The positive impacts of a break from school cannot be understated. Studies have shown that they give students the chance to rest and recharge, improving focus and productivity. But while a break can reduce stress levels in a measurable sense, the empty days also provide ample opportunity for pondering school-related worries surrounding the second half of the semester. So, how can we make reading week a time of actual rest rather than nervous anticipation? 

It’s important to remember that there is no set-in-stone model for a worthwhile reading week. A mental break can look different for everyone, so it’s always a good idea to keep your options open. Hang out with friends, invest in a new hobby, plan for the next few weeks of school—priorities will vary from person to person. Take some time to figure out what works best for you. 

Staying realistic is another thing students can find themselves forgetting. If you spent the first half of term procrastinating—no judgement there—then a one-week break won’t be enough time to catch up while still consuming a safe amount of caffeine. Not only is it unrealistic, but it’s also unsustainable. The last thing you want to do during your break is burn yourself out. If studying is on your to-do list, set achievable goals and divide them into small, easy steps.

Of course, a break from school shouldn’t be spent thinking only about school, so be sure to plan activities you enjoy with as much care as you plan out your academics. We often tell ourselves we’ll have fun once we’re done with schoolwork, but schoolwork can easily sap your energy, and once it’s drained, planning an outing just becomes another chore. Next time you’re compiling a list of everything you need to get done, add a reminder to shoot your friend a text and check when they’re free. Or try to use your study breaks to research new places around town in which you can destress. Finding small ways to make the reading week enjoyable can go a long way in helping you feel motivated and well-rested.

If you find yourself at the end of the week having abandoned any kind of plan you had for rest and productivity, don’t beat yourself up. Learning to manage your spare time is a skill, and not one learned overnight. Even a reading week that feels wasted away can be a valuable learning opportunity. For instance, after spending the better part of seven days in bed, you might realize just how much more sleep you need to function. Use the break as an opportunity to see how you pass the time when you have so much of it and adjust your regular schedule accordingly. 


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