So you find yourself in a third quarter slump

Why do so many students experience a third quarter slump? How can one overcome a third quarter slump or avoid it altogether?



Were you really going to complete all that schoolwork anyway?

As the pace of second semester classes picks up, many students will likely soon find themselves facing a dreaded and widespread academic obstacle: the third quarter slump. Over the years, the New Trier News has run several news articles about this phenomenon.

Looking through these articles recently, I noted that while they do an excellent job of detailing what a third quarter slump looks like, they fail to sufficiently examine why it occurs or how a student can overcome or avoid it. The reasons are elusive—a problem I would like to correct, somewhat, in this article.

I have always noticed a slight drop in my grades third quarter. Based on my own experiences and interactions with other students, it seems to me that the third quarter slump is an altogether expectable phenomenon.

There is likely some human nature behind the third quarter slump, and lacking balance in one’s life, as many of us plainly do, exacerbates the problem. Cultivating balance between schoolwork and other areas of life is therefore crucial to overcoming a third quarter slump.

With that in mind, let us now step into the head of a typical New Trier student at the end of first semester finals, right before the start of third quarter. Regardless of what classes a student takes or whether they are an “A” student or a “C” student, I believe we can say with confidence that just about everyone feels relieved to have the pressure of finals behind them.

I, for one, always feel a tremendous amount of relief after first semester finals are over. At that point, I have done all that I can. With the pressure off me, I want to relax.

Wanting to decompress after completing a challenge is only natural. It is a crucial part, for instance, of why so many second semester seniors experience “senioritis” each year. It makes sense that, once a senior knows his or her post-high school destination, motivation declines.

So, in a way, it makes sense that after finishing first semester, many students will take their foot off the pedal for a bit. The problem with this attitude is that the end of first semester is not the finish—it is only the halfway point.

As most students can attest, once third quarter gets going, it hits like a 250-pound linebacker. Therefore, a false sense of completion represents a reason for many students’ third quarter slumps.

I used to run track, which, upon reflection, offers a pretty good metaphor for third quarter slumps. It is quite a simple sport, an ostensibly pure test of athletic ability: Whoever can finish the race first wins.

Upon joining the Track & Field team, however, I soon learned that, in distance races, good pacing often supersedes physical prowess. When I first began racing the 1600 meters (approximately one mile) as a freshman, I frequently flew through the first half of the race, fueled by adrenaline, before crashing in the second half.

The lesson? The key to finishing with a good time was to navigate the precarious boundary between going out too hard and pacing myself. In other words, I learned that correctly balancing out one’s effort is crucial in a track race.

This concept of balance also applies to the third quarter slump. In my experience, I often put excessive pressure on myself to perform academically in first semester, which makes me somewhat burned out for the second half of the year. So the alternative is to exert equivalent effort, motivation, and focus between first semester and second semester.

Simple, right? No, definitely not. How does one go about developing this sort of balance?

I have an answer to this question, though I must note that I cannot provide a definite response for anyone but myself, and even then, I struggle. Anyways, I believe that in order to develop this broader semester-to-semester academic balance, one must cultivate balance in day-to-day life.

Developing this balance requires self-care, a term about which there is much misunderstanding. While self-care can mean treating oneself occasionally (side note: I love ice cream), I like to think of it as setting oneself up for success.

Real self-care means pacing yourself and coordinating all areas of your life—doing the math homework you know you should get done before the weekend, taking a nap, eating a full breakfast, etc. This day-to-day balance serves to prevent people from burning themselves out, which helps in terms of overcoming or avoiding a third quarter slump altogether.

Of course, finding the perfect balance in life is impossible. We are human, which makes us fallible, so no one could ever pace themselves flawlessly in all aspects of life.

As previously stated, third quarter slumps are a somewhat natural response. I honestly believe that so long as we seek to cultivate balance in our lives as much as possible, and we do not allow our grades to slide to dangerous levels, a little third quarter slump is nothing about which to worry.