Have there been any studies done into the effect of having fewer classes per term on a student's comprehension of their mathematics course material? Also are there any examples of schools that have shorter class terms with fewer classes per term?

I was an undergraduate at a California State University where there are two 15-week terms per year, and each student takes five or six classes per term. Now I'm a graduate student at University of California campus where there are three 10-week terms per year, and students take about four classes per term. I've noticed that my own study habits and the attitudes of the students seem different at these two schools. I was wondering if this is just my perception, or just a result of the different culture at these two Universities, or if there is something more general that can be said here.

Specifically for mathematics, I think that among the classes in a typical undergraduate's schedule, their mathematics class is probably their least favorite. Then if an undergraduate has many classes per term, I'm worried that their least favorite class will get put on the back-burner and the student will tend to do the bare minimum to pass that class in favor of studying for classes they like more.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know whether you'll be able to isolate the 3x10x4-vs-2x15x6 factor from the UC-vs-CSU factor. $\endgroup$
    – shoover
    Jul 26, 2017 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, in, say, the community-college statistics course that I teach, the self-reported number of hours studying for other courses is entirely uncorrelated to performance in the the math course's tests, final exam, weighted total, or passing frequency (N = 135, R^2 = 0.00 for each). Similar to study hours vs. grades in general. Smarter students can take more challenging course loads and still get high grades. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2017 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ I taught DEqns this summer and I found the same students did better. Why? They had less time to study than in calc III. Surely they didn't get suddenly smarter. What's the difference? Exactly your suspicion. Focus. They were just doing math, there were no other more "important" courses to distract them. Of course, for deeper math courses where time is needed for abstract concept percolation this will not work. But, for typical service courses, shorter is better. Probably going back to the quarter system would be wise given the attention span of the general public. Maybe smaller, like 6 terms. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2017 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ According to CA College Transfer, UC Berkeley and UC Merced are on the semester system, whereas the other campuses are on the quarter system. My understanding is that the number of courses each student takes depends more on their major, than on whether their campus has semesters or quarters. $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Aug 8, 2017 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ There are colleges that have just one course per term (in the US), such as Cornell College in Iowa. It would be interesting to ask and see if they have anecdotal evidence (or more) about this from that perspective. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    Dec 7, 2018 at 23:44


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